How To Stay Sober Through the Holidays (and Why You Should)

By Beth Leipholtz 12/23/16

At times it seems like no one around you understands what it feels like to not be able to celebrate in the same manner as they are.

A goofy man and woman in Christmas clothing holding presents and making silly faces.
You can survive this.

Ahhhh, December. The holiday season has officially arrived. Decorated Christmas trees shine through windows, colorful lights line the streets, and everywhere you go you hear Christmas carols. For someone like me, who adores the holidays, it’s all quite magical.

But, for someone like me who is also sober, the holiday season holds many reminders of what others can do (or rather drink) that I cannot. On Facebook, I see recipes for holiday drinks—even one for hot chocolate with red wine. There are invites to parties where I know there will be festivities including alcohol. Potential gift ideas include cute cups and wine glasses. Reminders of alcohol are everywhere, and this is especially prevalent and obvious during the holiday season.

For many, this can be a triggering time. Those who drank for many years may have drunk more during the holidays, and it can be scary to go through your first holiday season sober. At times it seems like no one around you understands what it feels like to not be able to celebrate in the same manner as they are. It can feel isolating and it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself.

But going through the holidays sober doesn’t have to be a disaster. When armed with the right strategies, you have the ability to make it through and maintain your sobriety. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll realize there are many benefits to keeping your recovery going strong this time of year.

How Do I Stay Sober During the Holidays?

The following are some of the strategies I have come up with:

Know what you are getting yourself into. While drinking, you likely appreciated the unpredictability that your nights held. It was adventurous and exciting and got your adrenaline pumping. But in sobriety, you have to treat things differently. I’ve found that it’s important to be prepared for a night out rather than winging it.

When you know where you are going, when you are going and with whom, you can think ahead more easily. You have the opportunity to think about the possible situations the night could bring and what your reaction will be. If you will be with close or trusted friends, you have the chance to tell them you are no longer drinking and would appreciate their support in that choice. You can think about what you may order instead of an alcoholic drink. Thinking ahead is a good strategy because it allows you to prepare yourself for all possible circumstances and remove yourself if you feel you are in an uncomfortable situation or your recovery is in jeopardy.

Be ready to answer questions. If you used to drink often, especially around the holidays, then people will probably notice that you no longer are. Though technically it’s none of their business, you still may be asked about why you are no longer taking part in festivities like you used to. If this is the case, it’s good to have a response prepared just so you are not caught off guard. In some cases, this could mean simply telling them the truth, that you and alcohol no longer jived and you decided to stop drinking. But this isn’t an easy task for everyone, especially people who are newly sober. So if you don’t feel comfortable telling people the truth, just tell them you are working on paying attention to what you put in your body or that you are the driver that night. For even more responses, see this list.

Plan what you are going to drink. When you’re at a party and surrounded by people who are drinking fancy drinks and fancy cups, it’s easy to throw a pity party for yourself. Drinking a glass of water just doesn’t have the same appeal as fancy holiday drinks. So, plan ahead. If attending a party at someone’s residence, this could mean looking up mocktail (a cocktail without alcohol) recipes and bringing your own drink along. Or, if going to a restaurant, try to find out what is on the menu and what you could order rather than wine or a cocktail. It may seem like a simple task, but I’ve found that planning a beverage can go a long way.

Have a backup plan. Regardless of the time and energy you put into making a plan for the holidays, things may not go accordingly. If you end up feeling overwhelmed or pressured to drink, it’s helpful to know what actions you can take to have control of the situation. This may mean that ahead of time, you look up where and when there are 12-step meetings. If you are in another city at a relative or friend’s home, make sure you do this ahead of time. Most places have meetings daily, even during the holiday season. If you already know where and when these meetings are then you’ll have less of an excuse to not attend one. If a 12-step meeting is not an option, you may want to have a person you can call who knows what you are going through and can help remind you of why you got sober in the first place. In certain situations, your backup plan may even include leaving the situation and returning to your own home or somewhere else you feel comfortable.

But Why Should I?

The reasons are aplenty.

You will be fully present and remember everything. This is perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of sobriety as a whole, especially during important occasions like celebrations and holidays. It feels good to be able to wake up each morning with memories from the day before fully intact. You are able to interact with family and friends and remember every part of the conversation rather than try to piece the night together.

You don’t have to worry about making a fool of yourself. If you attend a company holiday party, this is especially important. There is nothing worse than getting too drunk and making a fool of yourself in front of people you work with in a professional setting and have to see each and every day. When you’re sober, situations like this don’t even have to be a concern to you. You can be comfortable attending any function and know that you will be 100 percent in control of your actions.

You’ll start the year on a good note. There’s nothing worse than waking up on New Year’s Day—the start of a fresh, new, promising year—with a raging hangover. That’s not the best way to kick off another year of your life. But if you stay sober on New Year’s Eve, you’ll be able to wake up on New Year’s Day with a clear mind and a happy body, and you’ll hopefully set the stage for the rest of the year.

A DUI isn’t even a possibility. During the holiday season, impaired driving increases. As such, so does patrolling for impaired drivers. This means that leaving a party or event after drinking can be even riskier than usual. But if you stay sober to begin with, you have nothing to worry about when it comes time to drive home. Worrying about a DUI and the accompanying consequences become a thing of the past.

You’ll save money. Going out and drinking is expensive. When you stop spending money on alcohol, you’ll be shocked at the amount you save. This extra money can allow you to travel more during the holiday season, or to be more generous and less stressed when it comes to buying gifts for your loved ones.

You’ll be making healthier choices. Whether or not health was a factor in getting sober, when you stop drinking, you stop taking in many extra calories. Generally, what you choose to drink instead will be a better choice than alcohol (one shot of which can contain 100 calories). Also, when you are not getting intoxicated, you’ll be more aware of the food choices you are making during the holidays.

Though it may be hard to believe at first, being sober over the holidays doesn’t have to be dull. When you come up with a plan, and stop and focus on the reasoning behind your sobriety, you’ll remember why it’s important. And once the holidays pass, you’ll be glad you didn’t give in to temptations. That’s a promise.

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