Ahhhh, the holidays. For many of us, the one time each year that we gather with the entire family (parents and siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, distant cousins, great uncles, those aunts and uncles that aren’t even related to us, yet always seem to be around, step-everythings, in-laws!?… you get the idea) to celebrate the year and enjoy food and festivities. Whether you look forward to or dread these sacred events, there is no doubt that they can be a stressful time for everyone.

For many in recovery, we can easily multiply the stress and discomfort a handful of times. It is a time when we catch up with those that are close to us, a time when we lay out our accomplishments and hold them high for all to see, and sometimes, it is a time when our hardships and struggles are exposed, unable to hide in the comfort of distance and anonymity. More often than not, it is also a time when cocktail hours across the country creep closer and closer to noon. Ugh, the holidays…

Especially for people in early recovery, the holidays do need to be taken seriously. It might be the first time that we have even attempted to tackle this time of year without the use of drugs or alcohol. We most likely will have to talk to people about what happened, or at least recognize the fact that we are no longer drinking with everyone else. Many give up and succumb to the desire to numb the pain involved. Perhaps drugs and alcohol always worked in the past and we are certain that it will work again, just this once, to get through the holidays? With care and planning though, we can get through it sober! There are several tools we can turn to in any time of need and the holidays should be no exception. The following are some that will come in handy:

  • Talk about it. Hitting a meeting before the big event is a great way to talk to people about how you are feeling. No doubt, there will be other people in the room that are going through the same thing that you are. No matter where you are, there is most likely a meeting near you. Find local AA Meetings or SMART Recovery Local Meetings.
  • Bring a sober friend. This might not be possible for everyone, but it is certainly worth looking into. It is always easier to stay sober when you have someone else who is sober along for the ride.
  • Call a friend. Let people in your support group know that you might need to give them a call if things get tough. It is always easy to step away from any gathering for a few minutes to get some encouragement from someone you trust.
  • Have an escape plan. Letting a family member know that you might need to leave the party is totally acceptable. If they understand that your sobriety comes first, chances are they will support you.

Additionally, check out this list of ways to stay sober, from The Recovery Book by Al J. Mooney, M.D., Catherine Dold, and Howard Eisenberg. Ranging from the practical to the spiritual, there are some great ideas there.

Finally, it is important to recognize that the holidays can also be a time for celebrating the changes you have made in your life. If we look at it in a certain light, we can find an opportunity here. When the holidays are upon us, we have the chance to show our loved ones all the ways we have changed and grown since they last saw us. What better life accomplishment could there be than deciding to put down the drugs and alcohol that have caused us so many problems? We can take pride in the fact that we are working on our defects. For many of us, our family members are not used to us doing the right thing. They spent years worrying about us and probably dreaded the holidays as much anyone for fear of what we might do under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Now is our chance to do things differently. That spotlight that shined on us because we were struggling can now be a spotlight that shines on us because we are thriving.

So, Happy Holidays! While not always easy, it is within our reach to have a safe and sober holiday season this year. Take heart that we are not alone and this is part of a sober life. If we are truly committed to living in long term recovery, the uncomfortable situations are inevitable, but never impossible to get through. This could be the first of many happy and healthy holidays for you to truly enjoy.