Staying sober can be challenging under the most “normal” circumstances, but when routines are interrupted and stress levels are increased, avoiding alcohol and drugs can be exponentially more difficult.
1. Plan for Success
Staying sober requires a one-step-at-a-time mindset, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking down the road to prepare for the obstacles that may await you. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, those obstacles may be particularly daunting, but with proper preparation they can definitely be overcome.
Dr. Larry Smith, author of the book Embrace the Journey of Recovery: From Tragedy to Triumph!, advises recovering alcoholics and addicts to plan “each and every day of your holiday” to limit the likelihood that you’ll encounter situations that strain your commitment to sobriety. For example, inviting a dependable friend or a member of your 12-Step group to accompany you to a gathering where you know drugs or alcohol will be present can provide you with the support you need to stay sober.
In addition to preparing you for specific events such as a family dinner or company party, your holiday success plan should also incorporate more of a “big picture” philosophy to ensure that you get through the season with both sanity and sobriety intact. If you anticipate difficulties, you may want to schedule an extra session or two with your therapist or plan to attend more 12-Step meetings than you normally do. Also, make sure that you continue to eat healthy and exercise regularly.
2. Identify Your Triggers
Regardless of how long you’ve been sober, you need to remain vigilant for situations or events that may prompt to you take a drink. The holiday season is rife with triggers such as financial pressure, family conflicts and large gatherings where alcohol is served, so your success plan needs to include strategies for overcoming these enticements.
If your family members traditionally follow Thanksgiving dinner with a football game and a few beers, you need to prepare for this ahead of time by either making other after-dinner plans or enlisting your family’s assistance to get you through those potentially tempting hours.
If the stress and arguments that accompany your family’s get-togethers threaten to push you back toward drugs or alcohol, you may have to make the difficult (but ultimately healthy) decision to skip these events or limit your attendance to just an hour or two until you have a firmer grip on your sobriety. Regardless of what shape your particular triggers take, don’t put your health at risk by exposing yourself unnecessarily or without proper preparation.
3. Create New Traditions
Holiday traditions are designed to encourage a spirit of togetherness and continuity. But if these activities put your health at risk (and, if you are a recovering alcoholic or addict, using even once does just that), then you need to create a new method for celebrating.
Some alternative traditions are simple to implement. For example, if you previously welcomed the New Year with a quiet evening at home, highlighted by a champagne toast at midnight, substitute sparkling grape juice and keep everything else the same. But if you’re used to celebrating New Year’s Eve at a local bar or raging party, it would probably be wise to find another way to mark the year’s passing, such as hosting a drug- and alcohol-free party or attending an event that is sponsored by your local AA/NA chapter.
A great tradition to start this season is writing a letter to at least one person who has touched your life in a particularly meaningful way during the previous year. In addition to giving this person the wonderful gift of knowing that they have made a positive difference in your life, writing a letter like this will also benefit you in two distinct and important ways: by strengthening your connection with an important source of support, and by reminding you how far you have progressed in your recovery.
4. Ask For Help
When you were mired in the depths of alcoholism or drug addiction, you may have felt as though you were alone in your misery. But as you began to walk the path of recovery, you found that there were many others who understood what you were going through and were more than willing to lend whatever support they could to help you regain control over your life. During the holiday season, make an extra effort to connect with the members of your support network.
5. Reach Out To Others
One sad truth about our world is that there will likely never be a shortage of individuals who are in need of assistance. People who will be experiencing their first sober holidays, underprivileged youth, residents of homeless shelters and those who are hospitalized are just a few of the many folks who could benefit from your expertise, your advice or simply your company.
Volunteering to serve others is a fantastic way to take your mind off your own worries and problems, to give back to the community, and to remind yourself how valuable you can be (and how rewarding life can be) every day that you resist the urge to drink or use drugs.