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A Survival Guide: Handling the Holidays during Recovery

During the holiday season, it is a time for camaraderie and celebration – socializing, office parties, reconnecting, and overeating at dinner. But for many people, “celebrating” also means imbibing copious amounts of their favorite alcoholic holiday beverage. For sober people in recovery, successfully navigating all of these social events can feel a bit akin to running a gauntlet.

Recovery Is Different during the Holidays

During the rest of the year, it can be pretty easy for a recovering alcoholic to surround themselves with other sober people. In their everyday lives, they can set boundaries –

  • Where They Go – they avoid bars, nightclubs, and alcohol-fueled parties
  • Who They Are With – they avoid other alcoholics and addicts who are not in recovery
  • How Much Time They Spend in Situations Where Drinking Is Occurring – when they can’t avoid the situation, they can usually politely make their exit in short order

All this changes during the roughly five-week between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Eve. Attendance at family functions and office parties is usually inescapable. There, they will encounter family members and coworkers who like to drink and who do so with abandon, and these gatherings can last hours.

A Survival Guide for Sober Alcoholics during the Holidays

Everyday sobriety takes vigilance. A person in successful recovery from addiction must always be careful that their thoughts, attitudes, and actions support their abstinence efforts. During the holidays, safeguarding one’s sobriety takes more than just caution – it takes an actual plan. Think of this as a “survival guide” – literally, a roadmap that will help you navigate the minefield of dangerous social situations that involve drinking. Some strategies may include:

  • Always have an escape plan – Come in your own car. This way, if you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, you can leave.
  • Have another sober friend in recovery “on call” – Have someone who understands what you are going through standing by. If you’re feeling tempted or need to talk, they are only a phone call away.
  • Call upon your support system – There may be people at the party who know your situation. Use the “buddy system” with someone you can trust.
  • Practice the response you will give when people ask why you are drinking – it’s your business – and your business along why you are not drinking, but if you are self-conscious, it’s good to have a response ready – “I don’t drink”, “I gave it up”, or “I’m acting as the designated driver” are all good suggestions.
  • Take proper care of yourself before attending – Make sure that you have been getting plenty of exercise, appropriate rest, and eating well. Arriving too tired or too hungry can result in lapses in judgment.
  • Pick and choose which events you attend – Don’t feel pressured to say “yes” to events that you don’t want or need to go to.
  • Attend events and holiday activities that don’t involve drinking – You can celebrate the holiday with other sober activities – go ice skating, take in a movie, or volunteer.
  • Combat loneliness by keeping yourself busy – Don’t let yourself get too lonely, which may lead you to accepting invitations that you might otherwise decline. Volunteer, get involved with your church, pick up extra hours at work, or increase your social activities with sober friends.
  • Be careful about foods that contain alcohol – Even trace amounts of alcohol can trigger cravings, so watch out for holiday dishes like eggnog and rum cake.
  • Get your own drinks at parties – If you get your own drink, there is no need to politely drink alcoholic drink that someone innocently brought you.
  • Carry your cup around – Pick a favorite non-alcoholic beverage, put it in a party cup, and carry the drink around with you. Chances are, no one will ask you what you have in your cup.
  • Go to extra meetings – Relying on the fellowship found with other recovering alcoholics can be a life-saver during the holiday season. Each of you knows what the other is going through, so feel free to lean on and draw strength from each other.
  • Consider going to an AA-sponsored celebration – Many AA groups sponsor extra holiday events during this season. Try going to an “alcathon” – 24 hours of food, social interaction, and meetings held on Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
  • Always, always, ALWAYS put your sobriety first – If you are at a situation and you feel that your sobriety is in danger – LEAVE. Your sobriety, your sanity, and your serenity are worth more than a few ruffled feathers or hurt feelings.

For a person who is committed to their successful recovery, the holiday season does not need to be lonely or overly-stressful, regardless of your own personal situation. With a little imagination and planning, you can enjoy the festivities without risking everything you have worked so hard to achieve.