By John Kahal, C.E.O. Solutions 4 Recovery and Capo by The Sea
While the gift of sobriety is the best holiday gift of all, hanging on to it amidst a plethora of merry making during the holiday season is not an easy task. It seems every holiday celebration and office party is steeped in alcoholic toddies, taunting triggers that can trip up the newly sober.
So how does one go about enjoying the festivities that the holidays bring without losing the grip on sobriety? How does one not become reeled in to old habits when encountering the usual carousing that so often accompanies the season? Believe it or not, with some careful planning and strategizing, there is plenty of cheer awaiting those in recovery to prevent relapse.
10 Helpful Tips to Stay on Track With Recovery During the Holiday Season
When considering the potential recovery pitfalls of the upcoming weeks, it helps to remember that this period is no different from any other time of the year—it just consolidates many of the challenges to sobriety into a tight four-week timespan. All year individuals in rehab recovery navigate weddings, office outings, birthday celebrations, sports events, and parties by carefully sidestepping situations where there is too much risk to recovery. Recovery is a day to day effort, if not hour by hour, so all year long those in recovery are fine tuning their recovery skills. Putting these to work during the holiday season is no different—just possibly a bit more often than usual.
Here are 10 helpful suggestions to help you cope with the holiday festivities:
- Beverage in hand. When at a holiday gathering, having a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand all the time will ward off the offers of wine and booze. You just say, “No thanks, I’m good,” and that is that. You can bring your own beverage or order some sparkling water with lime, whatever suits you, and just enjoy some conversation.
- Have an exit strategy. Each person will have some sense of the risk they can take in recovery. If one is newly sober, avoid any high risk booze fests or pub crawls…just skip them entirely. When venturing into low risk holiday outings, drive yourself so you can escape if cravings hit.
- Take a sober friend along. Sometimes having that sober buddy next to you is a great insurance plan for avoiding trouble at holiday festivities. You can watch each other’s backs and have someone there in your corner to chat with if the scene becomes iffy. It also makes leaving early easy, just stating that so-and-so has to be somewhere.
- Go to extra meetings. During the holiday season sentimental emotions and wistful memories of holiday’s past can trigger the urge to use or drink. Regardless of whether you even plan to attend any parties, going to extra meetings during the holidays can help bolster your resolve and avoid slipping.
- Change it up. There is nothing written in stone that says you have to stick to old traditions. Why not host your own sober party? Have a pot luck, light a fire in the fireplace, play some party games, and have a white elephant gift exchange. Redefine what a holiday party looks like.
- Volunteer. The essence of the season is all about love and giving, so why not shift your focus to charity work versus partying? Find some local organizations that could use some help distributing food to the needy or collecting toys for kids from around the community. Find a soup kitchen and jump in there to cook or serve a holiday dinner.
- Have an excuse ready. When you are at an event that you can’t really get out of, and if someone gloms on and badgers you about why you are not drinking, just tell them you are on antibiotics and can’t mix it with alcohol, or some such fable. Practice your line a few times ahead of time so it will flow like honey when accosted.
- Remember H.A.L.T. As with any other time of the year, paying heed to the H.A.L.T. triggers is well worth it. Remember that being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired will set you up for caving in to the complete falsehood that you can enjoy “just one drink.” Do not go out if you are agitated or angry about something, and when planning to attend a gathering, it helps to eat something ahead and to be well rested.
- Manage stress. The holidays are insanely busy and stressful. It seems everything is ratcheted up a few notches for those four or five weeks, and stress is a trigger for using or drinking. Learn some relaxation inducing techniques to help manage stress, such as deep breathing exercises or taking some yoga classes.
- Access your support system. If you are feeling wobbly, contact your sponsor, a sober friend, or a supportive family member for support. Just a few minutes discussing the potential pitfalls of an upcoming holiday event can bolster your commitment to sobriety.
Additional Steps to Shore up Sobriety During the Holidays
Early recovery is especially fraught with potholes, so why not take extra measures during your first holiday season in recovery. Accessing outpatient services is an excellent source of ongoing support following the completion of a rehab program. By attending one or two therapy sessions or group counseling sessions per week, you can work through any challenges to recovery with your psychotherapist and/or the group.
Sober living is another layer of defense in early recovery. If you anticipate the home environment will be saturated with booze and parties during the holidays, opt for a month or two in sober living for added support and companionship. Sober living adds the deterrent effect of regular drug and alcohol testing to help you stay motivated as you wind through the holiday season. The peer support found within a sober living community will help stave off the dreaded loneliness that the holidays can sometimes stoke.
About the Author
John T. Kahal is the founder and CEO of Solutions 4 Recovery and Capo by The Sea, addiction and dual diagnosis treatment programs located in Southern California. The programs treat adults, males and females, for addiction to alcohol, heroin addiction, prescription drugs, cocaine, meth, and most other substances. After his own successful experience with the recovery process and journey, Kahal decided to create a unique program that was individualized for each client’s specific treatment needs. Kahal’s passion to share his own positive experience with others, while being a living example of the freedom found in recovery, is what motivates him to guide clients toward their own stable, long-term recovery.