Staying sober for the holidays can be especially challenging, especially for people in early recovery. From office parties to family gatherings, alcohol—and often, drugs—seem to be everywhere. How can you navigate this festive-yet-stressful time of year without using? Like recovery itself, it’s simple, but not easy. But here’s the good news: millions of Americans in recovery do it every year, and they’ve learned a thing or two about having fun and enjoying the holidays without the need for drugs and alcohol.
One of those people is our friend Dan M., an old-timer in sobriety who’s also known as Sober Santa. We asked Dan to share his wisdom regarding staying sober for the holidays, and he was happy to oblige with Sober Santa’s 10 tips for a sober holiday.
1. Skip that Holiday Party
This one’s as simple as it gets. If you’re invited to a holiday event where there will be alcoholic drinks, drugs, or behavior/people that are triggers, SKIP IT. It’s not a crime to say no. For those in early recovery, avoiding these types of situations altogether is the smartest course of action. Happy hours, holiday work parties, the ugly sweater contest at the local bar; skip ’em all.
2. Use the Buddy System
If you must attend a function where you know alcohol or drugs will be present, buddy up with a sober friend. If you’re working a 12-step program, your sponsor might be an option, or a friend from a meeting. The point is, there is strength in numbers, and two people in recovery are stronger than one. You can look out for one another and help each other steer clear of temptation and uncomfortable situations. Plus, it’s harder to be talked into staying (or doing something foolish) when you have a friend backing you up.
3. Have an Escape Plan
Whether you’re with a sober friend or attending a holiday gathering solo, have an escape plan. That means a ready-made, premeditated way to escape the situation if you feel tempted to use. Make your plan in advance so you know how to respond if someone hands you a drink or offers you drugs. It’s difficult to make smart decisions in the heat of the moment. But if you’ve thought about how you’ll react in advance, you’ll be ready.
4. Find Sober Holiday Events to Attend
With a little effort, you can find plenty of sober holiday events. Churches are a great place to start. So are your local AA/NA meetings. Watch the bulletin boards at your local AA meeting, and use the internet to find out about sober activities in your area. Here are some helpful links that make it easy to find meeting sand connect with the sober community in Florida:
5. Get Support
Don’t try to navigate a sober holiday season alone. Now is the time to lean on the friends you’ve made in your journey. Reach out. Pick up the phone. Spend time with family and loved ones. Talk to people, especially those on the same path. They’re dealing with the same challenges as you! Above all, try not to isolate yourself, even when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and turn off your phone.
6. Remember the Pain
When you’re tempted to take a drink or use drugs, remember the pain your addiction caused you and those you love. Is it worth it? If you have a substance abuse problem, one slip could put you back on that painful merry go round. Bad behavior. Lies. Lost relationships. Family strife. Financial stress. Trouble with the law. Our addiction caused us to lose many things that were important to us. In sobriety, we begin gaining some of them back. Are you willing to throw it all away for the short-lived relief of a drunk or high?
7. Count Your Blessings
What are you grateful for? The holidays are often a time of reflection, and it’s easy to get caught up in “woulda, coulda, shoulda” thinking. We all have regrets. But with recovery, we’ve chosen to move forward and not stay stuck in the past. A big part of that is recognizing and being grateful for the things in our life that are good. Instead of spending time and energy focusing on what you lost—or never had—turn your attention to what you still have, what you’ve gained through sobriety, and the possibilities of good things to come.
8. Bring Your Own Beverages
BYOB, right? Only this time, make it a 12-pack of soda or other non-alcoholic beverage. Remember, it’s not the host of the party’s responsibility to keep you sober—it’s yours. Make sure there’s a non-alcoholic alternative by bringing your own beverage. Chances are, there will be other people at the party that will appreciate the option.
9. Help Others
Feeling lonely or depressed during the holidays can definitely be a trigger. Volunteering and helping others is a great way to combat those feelings. Volunteer at your local church, help out at your local AA meeting, pitch in at a homeless shelter. Even something as simple as holding a door open for someone can make you feel better about yourself and the world. Helping others is about getting out of our head, even for just a minute, and putting others’ needs before our own. The more we do that, the better we feel. The better we feel, the less likely we are to drift into sadness, depression, and the desire to use.
10. Take it One Day at a Time.
This might be the most important tip of all for staying sober during the Christmas season. Focus on today. What can you do to stay sober today? You can even break it down further; take it one hour or even one minute at a time. Don’t dwell on the past, and don’t worry about the future. The past is gone, and we can deal with tomorrow when it comes. For today, this day, stay focused on what’s right in front of you. We’ll stay sober today. And then we’ll do it again tomorrow.
So there you have it. 10 great tips for having a sober holiday season. Remember, in recovery and sobriety, we have a choice. In our addiction, we don’t. So do the next right thing; reach out, be grateful, and help others. And take it one day at a time. Happy holidays to everyone in the recovery community!
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or mental illness, our team at The Blackberry Center can help. From inpatient dual diagnosis programs to partial hospitalization programs, group therapy, crisis care and more, we offer it all. Reach out to us online today, or call us at 407-449-8410.