Holiday Survival Guide

By Francesca Brandelius 12/23/12

Young, sober and hoping to avoid temptation this holiday season? Here's how to stay out of trouble and have some fun.

survival guide.thefix.jpeg
Heads—not bottoms—up Photo via

This is something I should have written back in 2003—specifically mid-November, before Thanksgiving, which was the day that I relapsed and lost my first 23 days clean. 

This is how it happened: My boyfriend at the time (who had been sober for five years) called to let me know that he was bringing his ex-girlfriend (who also had five years) to his mother’s house for dinner. 

“Cool,” I cooed through gritted teeth. “Sounds awesome!”

Then I went to my family's dinner and decided to taste the wine. At the time I thought, Well, my family is full of wine connoisseurs. Plus, I was still employed at a posh restaurant and wine bar. “Tasting” the wine surely wasn’t illegal, right? So I tasted the wine. All eight bottles.

I honestly didn’t realize that I’d relapsed. I carried on with my plans for the evening: meeting up with a car full of young people and going to the holiday meetings in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Marin, then back to San Francisco. Just before midnight, I heard someone say, “If I take cocaine and put it on my gums, is that a relapse?”

I laughed. Of course that’s a relapse! I thought. I have 23 days, I know how this thing works! Ten minutes later it hit me: if putting cocaine on your gums was a relapse, then me tasting eight bottles of wine was surely a relapse as well. I began to cry—mostly out of embarrassment over the fact that I was losing my time. 

Splitting time between two locations means less condensed time to deal with possibly drunk or high family members that may be triggering.

In my three long weeks of recovery I had heard people say, “I came to these rooms and never had to use again.” I believed without a doubt that I was going to be one of those people. My ego was heavily bruised by the notion that I'd failed. So I decided I had to go out and really use. After all, I came into the rooms right after my 21st birthday. There were things on my to-do list that I hadn’t done yet, like shoot heroin. Sure, I’d smoked it, but I hadn’t shot it. 

This is how I know I’m an addict. I don’t think my 80-year old grandparents sit at home thinking, "Man, I forgot to shoot heroin." This is the blessing of my brain. 

In the middle of driving to go score, a recovering addict called me. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Going to get high. I lost my time.”

“Meet me at the East Bay meetings first. You can go after if you still want to.”

For whatever reason, I decided to meet him there. I sat in a room full of recovering people while I wallowed in my self-pity and tears until I was absolutely exhausted at 4am. The next day, November 28th of 2003, I started my time over. 


-When you wake up ask your Higher Power (God, Universe, Allah, whatever) to guide your thoughts, feelings, actions and words. Meditate and if you aren’t good at meditating yet, lie in your bed and smile for three minutes. Set a timer on your phone. Smiling produces chemicals in your brain that lift your mood.

-Take a moment to read a daily meditation book of your choice. The Language of Letting Go is a good one. It is not associated with any specific 12-Step program but it focuses on codependency, which for many of us blares the loudest when we are with our family. 


-Don’t give your family 100%. Reserve a part of yourself to be with yourself. Check in with your body; ask yourself: How am I feeling? Where am I holding stress? Am I drinking enough water? What do I want to do? 

-Don’t be the hero. There is no need to pour wine for people or get them beer. They can handle it themselves. Sometimes family members may get off on bringing up uncomfortable topics or offering you a drink to see how you will handle it. Politely excuse yourself from conversations that stress you out or make you want to scream. 

-Don’t resist the urge to take a break. Reach out to another recovering addict or alcoholic. You’ll probably be helping them. Don’t feel guilty about taking off from the dinner table to text or call. Have tact, but take care of yourself. It is better to be considered rude than to relapse.

-Invite a friend in recovery to your family functions and offer to go to theirs. Splitting time between two locations means less condensed time to deal with possibly drunk or high family members that may be triggering.


-Meet up with other recovering young people and meeting hop. Find out where your local Alcathon or Marathon Meetings are being held. Oftentimes other young people will be visiting from out of town for the holidays. Be of service. Offer to secretary or speak at meeting and help clean up.  

-Spread your wings and try out a different fellowship. If you normally go to AA, check out the NA meetings; if you normally go to NA, check out the AA meetings. Both fellowships maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol even though their names and lingo are different. Plus you might meet some cute people. Suggestion: in the spirit of unity, identify as an alcoholic if you are in an AA meeting or an addict if you are in NA meeting. 


-Put a text out to all young addicts/alcoholics in your area and set up a game of hide-and-go-seek in the park (or cemetery) or a game of midnight soccer at school field, or go sledding/ice blocking on a golf course. If the cops come, let them know that you were looking for alternatives to the bar scene. And honestly, they probably won’t come. It’s the holidays and there are DUI’s to be distributed.

-Take a walk, get out in nature, go to the beach, howl at the moon.

-Watch a movie, bake cookies, or rent a hotel room and have an all-night game night. May I suggest Apples to Apples, Catch Phrase, or Charades? 

- Write a letter to your past self reviewing the successes you’ve had this year. Then write a letter to your future self projecting all the amazing things you are going to do this coming year. Shoot for the stars! Make your goals big. You didn’t get into recovery to have a miserable life. And if you want to make a vision board, by all means do it.

-If worse comes to worse, choose the lesser of two evils. It is not a popular stance, but if it gets down to getting drunk or calling an ex, call that ex.  Alternatives also include: watching back-to-back episodes of horrible television, reading old journals that will surely embarrass you and definitely make you not want to get loaded, refreshing your Facebook non-stop, or the good reliable fall back: sleep. 

Francesca Brandelius has photographed for national music magazines and advertising agencies. Her YouTube videos have gone viral and she is currently finishing her memoir, Little Miss Addict. She also wrote about addiction at South by Southwest and dating in sobriety for The Fix.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix