It’s the time of year where everyone is stocking up on their best wine for Christmas dinner and making warm spiked eggnog for the adults while the children open their presents. For many, it’s joyous and a time for celebration, but for others, it can be overwhelming and overstimulating for those who struggle with addiction.
Maybe you’ve done this before, or maybe this is your first Christmas sober. Congratulations on making it to this holiday sober, and we applaud you for staying strong.
It can be difficult to stay sober with all of the stress of family gathering, spending money on gifts, carving out time for work to travel, and being present while you deal with your own personal things. Christmas is not always a stress-free and enjoyable time, so getting through it sober is something to be proud of!
We know it’s not easy, but if you follow these ten tips, it’s bound to be a little bit more manageable.
1. Plan for Stress
Christmas is not necessarily known as the most stress-free holiday. It can be overwhelming to spend money on gifts for several people, make plans with those you care about and endure the inevitable drinks that get passed around all night long.
By preparing and planning out your holidays this year, you can hopefully eliminate some of the stress while also setting boundaries for yourself so that you don’t put yourself in a situation where you are tempted to use substances.
Some ways that you can plan out your trip are by:
- Figuring out who it is you need to see and setting dates and times with them well in advance
- Setting a budget for yourself on travel, food, gifts, etc.
- Creating a relapse plan, so that you have a way out of a situation and have someone who you can call who understands your situation and can help
- Staying in touch with your sponsor and planning out phone calls
- Look for a 12-step meeting that you could attend if you need to
If you are looking for activities that make you feel good and don’t include alcohol or substances, you should consider spending your holiday season doing volunteer work.
There are always gift drives, soup kitchens, and food pantries that are in need. Helping others is a great way to focus on the purpose of the holiday season and stay clear of substances.
People who struggle with their sobriety can understand just how important community is for recovery. There are plenty of people in your own community that need support like you, and deciding to volunteer is one way for you to give back to your community.
3. Avoid Risky Situations
There will be many parties that you get invited to, and some will be more heavily influenced by alcohol than others. There might be times where there are multiple invitations on the table for you to choose from.
Opening gifts with your nieces and nephews might be considered a low-risk situation, especially if your family is understanding of your struggles and can hold alcohol-free events. Getting invited to a bar crawl through the downtown with a bunch of your old high school friends might be considered higher-risk for using, meaning that it’s okay to back out and choose the other option.
You are in charge of your choices, which means you can pick where you go and who you interact with. Not everyone is going to be understanding of your needs, so it’s important that you put yourself first and make decisions for yourself without the influence of others.
Christmas is a time when you are meant to celebrate those you care about, so make sure you choose people who care about you.
4. Bring a Sober Friend to Parties
If you end up going out and meeting up with friends for holiday parties, inviting someone who is sober to come with you can make the experience more enjoyable and less stressful. Being sober can feel isolating at times, but having someone who understands and is also sober can make saying “No” a lot easier.
People are less likely to question you if you are not the only one who is not drinking. You can feel some sort of solidarity with you being sober friends with you to places where alcohol is prevalent because you can have each other’s backs.
5. Say “No”
It might seem too simple, but saying “No” is something you should learn how to do without feeling guilty. You are allowed to say no to people and to decline their offers and invitations.
You don’t have to feel bad about turning something away that will do more harm than good, and others should learn to respect your personal boundaries. By saying “No,” you often set a boundary that many don’t know how to do themselves.
6. Join Meetings In Your Area
If you are traveling back home for the holiday and are worried about relapsing or coming in contact with substances, make sure that you know of different meetings you could attend to maintain your sobriety. There are usually plenty of resources around, but you just have to do a little bit of research to find them.
If you are local to Mesa, Arizona, or San Antonio, Texas, consider joining a meeting or working with the professionals at Soba Recovery Centers. Through one-on-one meetings or group therapy, you can talk with others about your issues and fears going into the holiday season. You aren’t alone; many people share the same fears!
If you are attending an event where you know there will be alcohol, BYOD (bring your own drink)! Make your own delicious mocktail to bring, or enjoy your favorite soda throughout the night so that you can avoid having to even talk about or turn down any alcohol.
This might also signal to others that you are trying to remain sober and avoid them asking you any personal questions that you don’t want to answer! This is one of the most foolproof ways to enjoy being sober throughout Christmas because you eliminate one of the hardest parts of sobriety, which is turning away a drink.
8. Prepare a Backup Plan
You are not going to be fully successful in all situations. While you might remain sober, you could end up feeling anxious or overwhelmed by being around so many substances.
Because you can never truly know what will happen, preparing a backup plan where you can take yourself away from the situation and put yourself in a safe environment is essential. No one has to know why you are leaving because you can continue to enjoy the season as long as you are comfortable.
A backup plan could look like having a friend call to come pick you up and take you home. Or you could prepare a breathing exercise if you begin to feel anxious or overwhelmed. You owe no one an explanation for your needs, but you can always tell the host in advance that you may have to step out earlier than anticipated to avoid any feelings of guilt.
9. Make a List of Safe People to Contact
Depending on if you’ve traveled or not, you might not have the same support system around you for the holidays. You should have a list of people you could contact in case of an emergency. This is also helpful if others need to step in to help you. You can more easily point them in the direction of who to call when you’ve planned it out in advance!
10. Understand Your Triggers
It’s important that before you put yourself into any situation, you consider all the triggers that could happen to you. This way, you can be more prepared if they do come about, but also, you can learn to avoid them completely.
You might be able to sense when a trigger is going to happen, and you can take yourself out of that situation, or you can catch it early on and find a way to cope so that it doesn’t actually influence you.
Seeing certain family members, discussing certain events, or being spoken to in a specific way could all be triggers that cause you to crave substances. This isn’t the answer! Find ways to prepare healthy coping mechanisms so that you can truly enjoy the holiday without having to worry about your sobriety.
Christmas is meant to be about spending time with family and enjoying each other’s presence, so make sure you make the most out of it and catch up on the time that substance use took from you!
What Is Addiction? | American Psychiatry Association
Focus: Addiction: Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery | NCBI
Identifying Triggers of Alcohol Craving to Develop Effective Virtual Environments for Cue Exposure Therapy | NCBI