Last Updated on February 12, 2018 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Thanksgiving.  Christmas.  Hanukkah.  New Year’s Eve.  New Year’s Day.  Super Bowl Sunday.  This time of year is riddled with gatherings and parties – and that’s great!  It’s wonderful to get together with friends and family and celebrate and be festive.  It’s the time of year to eat, drink and be merry… but WAIT!  For individuals in recovery, the celebratory holiday season can be very challenging.  All of the parties, all of the revelry, and all of the stress that surrounds this time of year can lead to situations in which you may feel triggered and may even put you at risk for relapse.  However, if you enter this holiday season armed with ways to protect yourself, and are knowledgeable about the possible obstacles that lie ahead, you can stay on the right track and keep yourself healthy and clean and sober onward into the new year ahead.

The Challenging Holiday Season

The holidays are a lot of fun, but they are also a difficult time of year – even if you are not in recovery.  There are so many stressful things going on, and so many events to attend.  Money issues may become more apparent while shopping for gifts and as the end of the year approaches.  Our normal routines are disrupted, and obligations like attending parties with people we clash with may arise.   Overeating and other indulgences are often encouraged this time of year.  The night before Thanksgiving, in some areas known as “Blackout Wednesday” or “Drinksgiving” is the biggest drinking night of the entire year, and from that point forward through New Year’s Even and even the Super Bowl – two solid months, most years – often seems to be arranged entirely around events that include alcohol.  All of these things can be a huge challenge for people working on their recovery.

Have a Plan

However, there are steps that can be taken to help protect one’s sobriety, and they all start with having a solid plan.    If you plan ahead for difficult situations, you will automatically know what to do when they arise.

  • Plan every day of the holiday season. If you are feeling weak or worried going into this season, plan out every single day.  As the old saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop;” if you have a lot of free time, you are more likely to slip back into old habits.  Don’t let that happen.
  • Be ready to decline when drugs or alcohol are offered. Chances are, someone will offer you a drink or a drug.  Their offer may be entirely innocent; they may not even know you are in recovery.  You can simply say no, and you don’t need to add an explanation of why you declined.  You don’t have to explain yourself if you don’t want to.
  • Choose your parties wisely. Some parties will be conducive to your sobriety, some will not.  You probably can figure out which is which successfully in most cases before attending.  Don’t feel bad about declining invitations to places you think may threaten your recovery.
  • Plan an escape route. You may arrive to a party that you thought would be fine for you, but quickly, you realize it will be a challenge.  Have a plan to leave early if needed, even if it means making something up.  Always have a way out; don’t get trapped somewhere that you are uncomfortable.
  • Find a meeting. Perhaps you will be traveling to a different part of the country this holiday season to visit relatives or old friends.  Know when and where NA and AA meeting are in the location you are visiting before you go.  Even if you don’t plan on attending one, it is vital that you know their location and schedule if you find yourself in need.
  • Have a list of ten people you can call. If you have a sponsor, it’s likely that he or she will always be there for you as he or she should be, but sometimes things arise during the holiday season that may make reaching that person impossible.  Have a list of ten supportive people you can call, so that if you cannot get ahold of the first one or two, you can continue moving down the list until you reach someone able to help.
  • Serve yourself at parties. Hopefully, it’s doubtful that anyone you know will slip anything into your drink on purpose, but accidents do happen as well.  To be absolutely sure your eggnog is non-alcoholic, be sure to serve yourself.
  • Find someone else to stay sober with you. Perhaps you know a party you plan to attend will involve not only alcohol but drunk people, consider asking a friend to stay sober with you beforehand.  It’s likely they will be more than happy to be there for you and support you in this way.

Stay Busy

Keeping busy during this already very busy season can also be a big help to you.  Focusing your attention elsewhere – towards ideas and people you may not have in the past – can help to give you strength and keep you on the straight and narrow path.

  • Spend time with people who support your recovery. As you certainly know – there are people supportive of your recovery journey and then there are people who are not.  Hang out with the former, not the latter.  Express your struggles to them, and in most cases, they will go out of their way to help you succeed and be more comfortable.
  • There’s no better way to remind yourself why you are clean and sober than exercise.  Going for a run or going to the gym is the polar opposite of what the revelers are probably going to choose to do, so go there, work out, and be around people with a similar mindset to yours.
  • Start new traditions. Perhaps some of your old holiday traditions involved drugs or alcohol.   Sure, they were traditions, but if they don’t serve you anymore, there is no reason to continue them.  Start your own new traditions that don’t involve these things, and in a few years you will have forgotten all about what you used to do this time of year before you were in recovery.
  • Helping those less fortunate than you is very uplifting and will not only keep you busy, but will give you a natural high that you can carry with you throughout the rest of the season.
  • Write a letter to yourself. Writing down – and thereby affirming the reasons you chose to get clean and sober – makes these reasons feel more tangible and gives you a document to refer back to when you are feeling weak or challenged.
  • Plan activities with family.  Spend time with the people you love – the oldest, the youngest, and everyone in between.  This sort of quality time will help remind you all that is worth living for, and all that is worth staying healthy for, too.
  • Bring recovery reading with you. If you are traveling, be sure to bring some recovery literature for you.  These sorts of readings can be very supportive in the absence of your therapist, counselor, or support group – and can give you the boost you need to stay sober.
  • Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. HALT is a great acronym to help you avoid relapse.  Each of these emotions can quickly lead to difficult emotions that could in turn lead to a return to use.  Avoiding all four of these feelings is great self-support.

Be Positive

As in all challenging situations in life, it’s extremely important to stay positive.  Good things happen to upbeat people; negative people attract the energy they emit.  Staying happy and positive through the difficult times this holiday season will help to keep you moving forward.

  • Avoid time with crazy relatives. If you have relatives that you know will encourage you to use, will stress you out, or will argue with you heavily, spend as little time with them as you can.  Avoid them entirely if you are able, but that isn’t always possible.  Do get away from them as soon as you are able, and remind yourself that there is nothing they can say or do that can make you drink or do drugs.
  • Watch out for SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression related to shorter days, longer nights, and the change in seasons, and there are over three million reported cases per year in the United States.  The cold, dark winter months can effect people tremendously, and it’s important that you are aware of this if you are in recovery.  Know that your depression may just be seasonal, don’t use, and contact a doctor as soon as you can for advice on how to cope.
  • Remember the spirit of gratitude and giving. Don’t forget what this season is all about.  Give thanks for your sobriety.  Spend time with family and friends, and share the love.
  • Celebrate recovery! There are many celebrations that happen this time of year, but the one for which you are likely most thankful is your recovery.  Celebrate the fact you got help, got sober, and that you now can look towards the future with a positive and hopeful outlook.

Staying clean and sober during the holidays can be extremely challenging, but if you prepare yourself properly, you can be ready for any temptations that may come your way.  At Clear Sky Recovery, we are here to help you begin your path to recovery and a healthy future.  If you are interested in learning more about ibogaine treatment and the way it can help you break free of addiction, please reach out to us today.  Our staff is standing by, eagerly awaiting your call, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have.  We look forward to hearing from you.