3 Tips for Navigating Recovery During the Holidays

Navigating Recovery During the Holidays


Being a recovering alcoholic or addict is tough enough without all the temptations the holidays bring. Remember though, if sobriety doesn’t come first, nothing comes second. Missing out on some imagined ‘festivities’ is really not that big a deal, compared to living the whole rest of your life in sobriety with peace of mind. The holidays will pass, and then come round again. If you relapse, that relapse may not pass until it is too late for any other kind of party, ever.

Now that the holidays are in full swing here are a few tips to help you make it through, sane and sober. Recovery during the holidays isn’t easy, but with these tips you can enjoy the season, your loved ones, and maybe even a bit of holiday happiness.

While we have tried to put these tips in order, everyone’s situation is different. So keep that in mind and use these tips in a way that best suits you.

Tip #1: The Power of “No”

Being in recovery during the holidays is stressful enough without committing to everyone and everything that comes your way. To maintain sobriety during the holidays you have to keep your stress levels down. Overextending yourself by committing to too many things is a sure way to overwhelm yourself during an already hectic time of year.

Here’s how:

Find yourself a calendar. You can use a digital calendar if you like, but I prefer the real deal. Writing these things out, longhand, will help you remember your plans as well as stick to them.

Now, find two or three dates that you are both free and willing to attend events like office Christmas parties or family get-togethers. I would recommend choosing no more than three dates, but if you think you can manage more, go for it. Just be careful.You are now in the middle of navigating recovery. Talk it over with your sponsor.

With your calendar out, circle those days. If you already have invites for things on those days, go ahead and fill them in. If not, great! You have a few openings you can fill in when an invitation presents itself. Now that you have circled these days on your calendar, you will know, automatically, which dates are best for you and which ones aren’t. If you are asked to attend an event on any day besides the days you have circled, just say “No thanks.” Don’t say, maybe, or I’ll get back to you. Commit one way or the other. Doing otherwise only adds to your to-do list, and if you don’t go, or don’t get back to them about it, you will not be keeping your word. Don’t do this to yourself. It causes unnecessary stress.

Tip #2: Keep Your Head Up

It is quite common, especially in early recovery, for recovering alcoholics and addicts to feeling embarrassed or ashamed around friends and family, due to their addiction. While these feelings may be common for some addicts — and maybe even necessary for navigating recovery —  they can wreak havoc on your mindset during the holidays. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint; so while you may feel odd or out of place initially, it is important for you to open up and face these feelings head on. For those who were around to witness your addiction, it may take a while to convince them you are better now. This is a difficult thing to do but be glad you have the opportunity. You have to remember that you are not the only one in recovery, your loved ones are in recovery too. They are scared of the unknown, just like you were when you started down your road to recovery. It can be difficult to navigate family dynamics, especially during the early stages of sobriety. Keep your head up, stay positive. And talk with your sponsor.

Here’s how:

At Christmas parties or other events, walk outside or go into another room often and sit alone for a few minutes (five to ten max). This gives you plenty of time to gather your thoughts, reconnect with your Higher Power, regain confidence and keep stress down. You don’t want to be rude, but five or ten minutes every now and again can be helpful in staying grounded in your recovery. Also, try to stay engaged with others in healthy ways. Try to find ways to be a part of that respects what others want to do, as long as it is supportive of your recovery. For example, playing card games with family, playing with the kids, helping with the cooking — things will go better than you think when you reach out and interact with others in healthy ways that feel respectful to them. Navigating recovery can be fun when you give of yourself in mutually respectful and fun ways.

Tip #3: Don’t Be a Hero

Too often, recovering alcoholic / addicts think they can tap dance on the line between sobriety and addiction. They find themselves at bars, old friend’s places, and yes, even holiday parties where drinks and drugs flow like eggnog. These are the types of slippery situations that can ruin years, and sometimes even decades of sobriety. If you are invited to a party where drinking or drugs are present, don’t go. Don’t tell yourself, I can handle it, I’ll be fine. Why risk it? 

To emphasize the point, people with decades of sobriety have ruined it all because of one night when they thought they could handle it. This is probably THE hardest thing addicts in recovery have to contend with. They want to go out and have fun, hang out with friends and do all the things “everyone else” does, but most addicts choose to avoid those slippery places. Addicts are not like everyone else. I’m sure my diabetic friend, Bill, would love to drink a gallon of eggnog , but he can’t. Do you think Bill will go to an eggnog-party? No, of course not. Like Bill, you have to avoid situations that compromise your health, and your recovery. Navigating recovery is really important during the holidays, but all the other days too.

Here’s how:

This one is a little trickier than the others. Most recovering alcoholics or addicts have friends and family that drink and/or use other drugs. It can be difficult to tell them you can’t go to the Christmas party because of all the drinking and drug use that goes on. Often they will say something like, “Just don’t drink”. But you and I know it’s not that simple. If it’s friends inviting you to parties like these this holiday season, it’s much easier to tell them no. And that is exactly what you should do. If unsure, talk it over with your sponsor before you accept an invitation.Unfortunately, if it’s your family, you have to do the same thing. Eventually they will get the hint that you don’t want to be around when drinking and drugs are part of the environment. It may take a while, but they will catch on — maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but soon.

A Final Word About Navigating Recovery During the Holidays

Whether you use these tips, your own, or some combination of both, keep your health and your recovery at the forefront of your mind. Don’t worry about what others think or say. It’s perfectly normal to turn down some invitations, and not others. Do what is best for you, and stay sober.

And very important, don’t allow yourself to isolate or go it alone. Don’t attend your own ‘pity party’. Remember, you are no longer alone. Stay close to your recovery program, supports, sponsor, and the fellowship. Go to LOTS of meetings. Do whatever you have to to protect your very precious recovery. Remember, sobriety comes first!

And finally, if you or your loved one is struggling with sobriety this time of year, you can find some information that might be helpful here.



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