The holiday season is a wonderful time of year, but it can also be incredibly stressful, especially for those of us in early recovery. Holidays are filled with family, parties, and shopping centers that are all but serene. These are a few of the suggestions that I picked up along the way that have helped me survive the season not only with my sobriety intact, but also get through them with a little bit of dignity and grace.

The first was a lesson that took me a long time to learn, and it is one that I am still not very good at. Being a people pleaser it is always hard for me to say no, but in my first year of sobriety being able to set boundaries and respectfully decline holiday invitations saved me from a heap of situations that could have put my sobriety at risk like attending big holiday parties where an enormous amount of alcohol would be present. It is okay to rearrange the usual holiday schedule and take more time for yourself, or start new traditions with your family that are less hectic and are more conducive for your sobriety. Just remember that it is okay to say no sometimes, and that “no” is a complete sentence that does not require an explanation.

For those of us who cannot get out of the usual family parties or work events, it will help to have a plan. If you can, try to drive yourself to the party and make sure you park in a spot that you can get out of. This way you can leave as soon as things begin to get uncomfortable, or the group begins to get tipsy. There is really no reason to stick around at holiday parties and no one is going to hold it against you for leaving a little bit early.

If you can, bring somebody with you that knows about your sobriety and will help keep you not only company, but also accountable. This can be a close friend or somebody from the program. This way you have someone to talk to when things get uncomfortable or you feel anxious and start thinking about drinking. If it is a family function, then you could speak to a family member beforehand that you are comfortable with, and tell them about your sobriety and your fears for the holiday functions. This way you can have somebody by your side when you begin to get frustrated or overwhelmed with saying “no thank you” a thousand times. Remember, there is strength in numbers, and it is always better to have someone by your side that will keep you best interests in mind.

During any sort of holiday function, it is almost inevitable that someone will offer you something to drink. To avoid to constant offers and questions, keep a glass of seltzer or water on hand. Hosts tend to notice the people that are without a drink much more often, and you most likely won’t be asked if you already have one with you. If you have to, you can always pull out the usual excuses of “I’m on a diet” or “I’m the designated driver”, but with a drink already in hand, chances are no one will even ask.

It helps to use your phone as much as possible during any sort of event, holiday or not. Talk to your sponsor before the holidays get here about what you are planning to do, and what your plan is to get through it sober. It helps to also call and check in with your sponsor or another alcoholic right after each party or event to help hold yourself accountable. Keep a few numbers on speed dial in case of an “emergency”; friends or people in your network who can help get you out of your own head. Also, please keep in mind that making a phone call on Christmas or any other holiday is never rude or imposing. Not only is it a part of the program to pick up the phone, but it also helps the person who receives your call to stay centered in AA and be of service.

Finally, don’t underestimate alcathons or holiday meetings. Bookending your holiday by going to a meeting before and after each stressful situation will help keep you grounded in sobriety and gives you a safe place to land. Alcathons are great because it doesn’t matter if the Christmas dinner goes until 4pm or 10pm, there will still be a meeting available.

The holiday season can be stressful to anyone, so it’s not surprising that it can be a huge trigger for those of us in recovery. Remember it is just one day out of the year, and support is all around you, all you have to do is ask. Be proud of yourself for choosing sobriety and remember that your health is the greatest gift you can give to your family this season.

From your High Watch Family, have a safe and sober holiday season!

Meet the Author:
Jenn Worthington, Alumni Relations Coordinator

Jennifer Worthington