5 Helpful Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays

By Beth Leipholtz 12/10/18

The truth is that sometimes, the holidays can just be tough. But you don’t have to go in blindly. Follow these basic tips and you can have a wonderful and happy sober holiday season.

Woman with thoughtful expression, holiday lights behind her, sober holiday
When you’re constantly running from place to place and engaging with different people, it’s easy to begin to feel worn down and drained, which can lead to feelings that could put your recovery at risk. PC: ID 101157670 © Gpointstudio

For some people, the holidays are a joyful time that is looked forward to all year long. For others, this isn’t the case. Sometimes the stress of traveling, gift-giving and time with extended family takes a toll and can be daunting – especially, perhaps, for those in recovery from substance use disorder.

The truth is that sometimes, the holidays can just be tough. But you don’t have to go in blindly.

This is my sixth holiday season in recovery, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. If you take some time to think through your holiday plans and prepare for possible obstacles you might face, then you are more likely to feel confident about managing your recovery and proud of where you are at the end of the day.

Here are a few of my favorite tips for surviving the holidays sober.

  1. Be Realistic and Have a Plan.

There’s nothing worse than heading into a situation with unrealistic expectations and then being disappointed. If you know time with family stresses you out, be prepared to feel that way and don’t let it catch you off guard. Before putting yourself in such a position, think through the possibilities and rehearse your own reactions. If a family member offers you a drink, how will you respond? If you are feeling overwhelmed and craving a drink, what will you do instead? If someone asks you why you aren’t drinking, are you comfortable telling them? If you think through these scenarios before they take place, you can have potential responses prepared and can use them should the scenario become a reality. This makes these situations more manageable and you won’t be blindsided if and when they actually occur.

  1. Take Ownership of the Word “No.”

Want to know a secret? You’re not required to do anything during the holiday season, no matter what some people may think. If you feel like a certain party or celebration may put your recovery at risk, don’t agree to go. If a certain family member isn’t supportive of your decisions, don’t engage with them. If you know that being around certain people makes you more prone to drinking, don’t spend time with them. And guess what else? Even if you’ve already agreed to something but then after thinking about it you started to feel uncomfortable, you are allowed to change your mind! You have the freedom to make your own decisions when it comes to what is best for you and your recovery.

  1. Create a List of Alcohol-Free Things You Enjoy About the Holiday Season.

I promise, there’s a lot! The trick is just making yourself remember that fact and then focusing on it. At the end of the day, the holiday season isn’t really about parties and drinking, is it? There’s much more to it. Some of my favorite things about the season are watching the snow fall, wrapping myself in a warm blanket, lighting a seasonal candle, baking cookies. Maybe you like the smell of Christmas trees, seeing the decorative lights in the neighborhood, or the songs of the season. Or maybe you get to see family or friends who you care about and who don’t stress you out. None of those favorite things require alcohol in order to be enjoyable. If you struggle to remember this, write out a physical list and keep it with you when you’re in situations where you feel uncomfortable. It gives you something concrete to refer back to; it’s a reminder that there’s more to the holidays than booze-soaked partying.

  1. Communicate with the People Around You.

Often, we are so self-conscious and worried about what others will think about our recovery that we don’t give them the chance to respond positively and be supportive. More often than not, the people in your life will want you to do what is best for you and will support that choice. If you’re feeling alone and unsure as the holidays approach, take a risk and let someone close to you know what is going on in your life and why you are choosing not to drink. Doing so allows you to have someone to lean on and discuss your feelings with so you don’t feel quite so alone. It also gives you someone who can hold you accountable and remind you why you are doing what you’re doing. It can be hard, but opening up and allowing other people to help you is vital. It also has a positive result on the person you open up to. On the off chance the person does not respond in a helpful or loving way, thank them for their opinion and move on to someone else.

  1. Take Time for Yourself.

Often, the holidays can feel like they’re go, go, go with no downtime. But you don’t have to be constantly rushing around. When you’re making plans, be sure to carve out some time for yourself. This could mean time to be at home with no plans, or time to do the things you love and that make you happy. Try to remember that when you’re constantly running from place to place and engaging with different people, it’s easy to begin to feel worn down and drained, which can lead to feelings that could put your recovery at risk. Like anything else in this world, your body needs the time to recharge and reenergize. This can be done by planning ahead and working that time into your holiday schedule. But if you suddenly find that you really need some down time, giver yourself permission to leave early or cancel. After taking that time for yourself, you’ll likely find that you feel as if you’re in a better mental state and ready to take on the holidays again.

When it comes down to it, the most important part of the holidays isn’t the parties or the gifts. It’s about love, health, spirit, and whatever you choose to celebrate. But it’s okay to put yourself and your well-being first. As you head into this holiday season, remember that you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your life and your decisions. Hold your head high and don’t let anyone sway you. It will be worth it in the end.

We're all feeling overwhelmed this time of year. Do you have any tips to add to this list? Let us know!

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.