Between busy schedules, heightened emotions, and expectations of perfection, stress can build up to unmanageable levels during the holiday season. Add to that the seemingly endless holiday parties from Halloween through New Year’s, and you could have a recipe for relapse. But fun, sober holidays are not out of reach! You can survive these stressful times with a few key strategies and the motivation to follow through with them.
Sobriety Is the Best Gift
Forget the crowded malls and overwhelming wish lists. Your sobriety is the greatest gift of all. Focus on staying sober during the holidays, and your loved ones will appreciate that more than anything you could buy. Keep your eye on the coming year and how staying the course of sobriety will set you up for physical, mental, and emotional success.
If you haven’t already noticed improvements in your physical health thanks to recovery, someone else likely will! This time of year you’re around friends and family members who haven’t seen you in a while. There’s a good chance you’ll get compliments on how healthy you look. Alcohol tends to dehydrate you, which leads to wrinkles and dry skin. Drugs have their own negative physical effects. When you leave those substances behind, your skin’s youthfulness comes right back to life. Sobriety can also grant you more energy to enjoy holiday festivities. Alcohol, for instance, is a depressive substance, so excessive drinking leaves you feeling down and physically drained. When you eliminate that addiction from your life, you’ll feel more present. You’ll sleep better, too, which contributes to increased energy and mental clarity.
As if the stress of the holidays weren’t enough, sometimes seasonal depression can make it tempting to turn back to your addiction to cope. This is called a co-occurring disorder. The good news is:
- You’re not alone – Many people struggle with both mental health issues and addiction. Treatment for a dual diagnosis is possible!
- Some of the same strategies for managing an addiction are beneficial for treating depressive symptoms – Seeking counseling, practicing relaxation, occupying yourself with productive activities, and finding a treatment center that addresses co-occurring disorders are all helpful.
If you stay strong and stay sober during the holidays, you can help fight off the winter blues.
Confidence often comes from experience. If you’ve been through a holiday season sober, you know it’s hard, but not impossible. You have the strength within you. You just have to prove it to yourself. The best part is, the longer you stay sober, the less likely you are to relapse. An eight-year study confirmed it. Researchers studied nearly 1,200 addicts and found that those who were able to stay sober for 5 years had a less-than-15% chance of relapse.
How to Stay Sober During the Holidays
With the right motive to move forward and these easy-to-follow strategies up your sleeve, you can shed the stress and enjoy those last few months of the year.
1. Carve Out Self-Care
Self-care is the number one stress-management tool. Wield it to your advantage, and you’ll notice how much calmer and in control you feel. All it takes is a few minutes of meditation, one heart-pumping workout, or maybe a local art class to harness your creativity. Whatever it is you love, make sure you engage in that activity every day to help you stay grounded. You’ll also enter the new year on the path to building self-worth.
2. Make Other Plans
From Halloween parties to Thanksgiving dinner to Christmas and New Year’s, social situations are everywhere at the end of the year. The best choice may be to completely avoid holiday gatherings that include alcohol (or other substances) or trigger bad memories. There are plenty of social situations and ways to spend the holidays that don’t involve alcohol. You could volunteer at an organization in Worcester. Volunteering has been shown to improve mood and lower stress. Find volunteer opportunities here, and set dates to be there instead of those triggering holiday parties. If it’s too hard to turn down an invitation, follow the rest of these tips.
3. Gather Your Support System
Ask a friend in recovery or even your sponsor to attend holiday events with you. Having their support physically present will help you make the right decisions, including leaving as soon as you feel ready. The worst situation is for you to be stuck at a party with no way out. If you can’t bring a plus-one to your event, try bookending the soiree with an AA meeting or counseling session. Going to these types of supportive spaces before and after a party can help keep your mind focused on the big picture: your sobriety.
4. Prepare a Response
Between Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve, you’ll be around a lot of people openly drinking or using drugs. Imagine yourself in that scenario and how you can handle it. Someone will likely ask why you’re not partaking. Think of the answer that’s simple and direct, such as simply, “I’m not drinking tonight.” Or offer up a more specific reason like, “I’m the designated driver” or “I’m in recovery.” Remember: You don’t owe anyone a lengthy explanation. If they push you, it’s time to walk away.
5. Keep Your Hands Occupied
Everyone in the room has a cup. Grab one, or bring your own to fill with a non-alcoholic drink. It doesn’t have to be water, though that’s always a healthy choice. If you feel more comfortable with a lookalike beverage, mix your own virgin cocktail and no one will be the wiser. Other options for keeping your hands busy include:
- Washing dishes
- Acting as event photographer
- Manning the music
- Playing with the little ones
- Checking coats at the front door
Anything that keeps you physically distracted is a smart move.
6. Don’t Overindulge
Too much of anything can be detrimental, especially for someone in recovery. Try not to substitute excessive drinking with another excessive habit. While Christmas cookies, comfort foods, and Black Friday deals may seem too good to pass up, overdoing it can backfire. To keep your energy up, your bank account in good standing, and stress at bay, work on everything in moderation through the holidays.
Take It One Day at a Time
Sober holidays are possible. While Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even New Year’s may dredge up hurtful or lonely feelings from the past, remember each one is just another day on the calendar. Take them on like any others, and you’ll be one step closer to long-term abstinence. And if the stress becomes overwhelming, know that you don’t have to manage it by yourself. Reach out to Washburn House to speak with a treatment professional. We are dedicated to your addiction recovery anytime of the year. Happy sober holidays!