Holidays = Booze
You’ve done the hard work. You’ve completed rehab. You are sober -- maybe a week sober, a few months sober, or a year sober. In my case, I was a year sober. I felt pretty confident. I had a routine, a job, and I was even starting to develop friendships, all around my sobriety. I have the BriteLife to thank for all of this. I was at my lowest when I went there, and because of their program, I regained sobriety. Anyway, I was living a sober life. And then the holidays hit.
A survey done by the NIH in the UK found that drinking rises exponentially during special occasions. It hit me like a ton of bricks. How was I going to maintain sobriety through the holidays? I don’t remember a time as a grown adult where I didn’t drink at a family event. I thought, “Well when I was a kid, I wasn’t drunk. I was fine, and I survived the whole event.”
The Path of Sobriety During the Holidays
When you are a kid, you don’t know any better. Furthermore, you have no choice in the matter in most cases. And you hadn’t yet tasted the world of booze. The NIH states: "The harmful effects of alcohol for recovering alcoholics, especially during the holidays when we overindulge."
I realized I might need some backup help for this. That is why I decided to go to BriteLife Recovery for a program specifically meant to address situations like this. And because of that program, I came up with a number of ways - a somewhat of a survival guide - to help those navigating sobriety for the first time during the holidays.
Plan Ahead When Attending Holiday Parties
Have a form of transportation so that you can come early and leave early. Hungry, angry, lonely, and tired are all relapse areas. Bring props with you. It’s difficult being at a party when trying to be sober, and every other person comes up to you offering a drink. Bring your own beverage (Egg Nog, soda, Kombucha, tea, water, etc.) and constantly keep it filled. This will give you a mission and fend those people off that want you to drink.
Have an escape plan in case you just feel overwhelmed and need to leave. If you are alone, it could be something like, “A friend texted me and asked if I could let her dog out.” If you came with a friend, you could possibly use them or each other as an excuse. For example, you could say your friend has work early in the morning. White lies are okay if it means you are not compromising your recovery process and long-term sobriety goals. You don’t need to be anything for anybody. You are where you are at in recovery.
Have a sober friend. Plan for them to come with you to help you stay sober during holiday parties. You two can have a plan to leave if there are triggers that could potentially lead to your relapse. You will have someone by your side, not rendering you alone at any time. This person can also serve as a reminder of your top priority - to stay sober during holiday parties and throughout the rest of your life. Have a group of sober friends and meetings lined up throughout the holiday season. If possible, have a therapist to talk with during any challenging times. I am introverted, so it takes a lot to want to go to large events or even smaller events. Alcohol used to be my crutch to deal with these events.
That is why rehab was so important. Britelife Recovery taught me to replace my crutch of alcohol with other crutches, and a support system is imperative. At least one other person out there has the same goals in maintaining their sobriety during the holidays. Find them through AA, a sober house, an outpatient treatment center, support meetings, and so forth. If you cannot find a person to attend these events with you to help you stay sober during holiday parties, assess the situation before you go, have your sponsor’s number handy in your phone, and know the risks involved.
Know Your Limits
Make a deal with yourself before going to any events or gatherings with your family and friends. If you start to feel triggered, execute your plan to leave. You may not even feel like going to holiday parties. It is perfectly fine wherever you are at in your journey of recovery. Or maybe you will feel like going, that is fine too. Maybe you will go to a party thinking it is a good idea and realize it isn’t where you should be after seeing a multitude of people drinking and acting drunk. Knowing your limits goes along with prioritizing. If your first priority is being sober, you need to put that over everything else.
The holidays can be stressful. They can also be a wonderful time to reconnect with friends and family. You decide what you can handle and what is in your best interest. If you don’t go out and party, you can learn to fill in the gaps with other holiday or non-holiday related activities. The most vital thing to remember is it is your choice, and you are in control. You have to put your health first. This starts with a plan.
Focus on Gratitude and Maintain a Spiritual Practice
Spend your time differently. For example, spend your holidays by baking cookies for family and friends. There are so many ways to give back and stay sober during holiday parties. If you are in a place to practice gratitude, make a list of positive things you can do for other people. Even if it means focusing on giving one more smile a day, you can bring cheer into the holiday season. There are various ways to involve yourself in the community.
You can volunteer at a local shelter or soup kitchen. If you are part of a church or spiritual practice, the church would also have resources on how to get involved. If you are not in a place to do any of the above, focus on yourself and what you need to get to a better place. Recognizing gratitude was one way I always could lift myself out of a funk, especially during the holidays. If you cannot make yourself happy, make it a goal to make another person happy.
Make Sobriety Your Top Priority
My first priority during the holidays used to be different. At times, it was about getting a difficult time having to be around families and friends when you don’t feel like it. Other times, it meant a lot of parties and good times. Whether it be work, family, and friends (or all three), celebrating the holidays was always a good time because of booze. Booze became my first priority in each of these situations. Now it is not. Britelife helped me understand how to navigate the holidays and make sobriety my top priority.
My first priority is being sober. Take a tough stance. If anyone messes with that priority, which ultimately puts your best self forward, that person needs to go. The holidays can be a reflective time. It can be a time where you can wish those the best, even if this person did not work out in your life previously.
The focus is on you and who brings light to your life. You may not be in a place yet where you can physically bring light to other people’s lives. You don’t have to solve anyone else’s problems this year -- whether it be your fighting parents, the strained relationships you have with mutual friends, or anyone you have a conflict with.
The first priority is sobriety; resolving anything else comes in a distant second. Staying sober during holiday parties is a full-time job, but once you commit to it, you realize it is possible. After practicing this a few times, you may begin to enjoy it. Even if you don’t enjoy the holidays, being prepared helps you successfully make it through them without relapsing.