There is so much support out there for people committed to their sobriety, especially during the holidays. The added stressors of gifts, events, parties, and relatives can intensify urges and vaporize a resolve in the afternoon that was solid in the morning.

Many people have published guides to staying sober during the holidays. This year I have canvassed our own successful patients in recovery and gathered their thoughts for you.

Take advantage of these, as well as the suggested resources listed below. Do whatever you can do to wake up every morning of the holiday season, grateful for a clear head and tasting the freedom of your recovery.

Advice from Other Patients in Recovery to Staying Sober During the Holidays

  • Cal ‘s intention for this holiday season is to write his plan and share it with his wife and teenagers, employing the concept of having Accountability Partners.
  • Jillian, age 23: “I’m making a care package for myself…treats, Christmas CD’s, cozy socks, one of those adult coloring books, kettle corn, etc… I am writing myself a letter while my resolve is strong, to remind myself why I want to stay sober. My mom is writing me a letter as well, and that will go into the care package.”
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings. (A recurring theme among many patients in recovery).
  • In fact, many people referred to AA Alcathons, an event that offers 24 hours of continuous AA meetings and hospitality for the holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. (Check your local AA meeting chapters to find one in your area).
  • Emphasized repeatedly by many folks: Make a plan.
  • A couple of mid-30’s patients who have found a great friendship through our group meeting have developed their own version of a Drinking Game to play during old Christmas movies. It’s the basic premise of noting statements or sentiments or themes repeated during the movie (such as reference to a surprise, hearing the word Christmas Day, the theme of “it’s complicated” regarding a romantic situation…). They will be armed with cranberry juice and seltzer.
  • From Dick: “Keep busy. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself watching Christmas specials. Go volunteer somewhere.”
  • Brenda adds: regarding parties, if you can, tell the host ahead of time that you will not be partaking. Ask if you can bring some Perrier or other sparkling water and lemon slices to provide yourself with a holiday drink (usually people will be glad to have that for you.)
  • From Jamie: the worst time is the first 15 minutes when people are offering drinks, so plan ahead. During that time: focus on greeting people, give hugs and handshakes, get a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. Then you will naturally get distracted with other conversations and hopefully not get triggered.
  • Suzy is 30. She will celebrate her first year of sobriety in two months. During the last ten months, she has paid off all her debt and is living well within her means. Her Christmas gift to herself is a ticket to Paris with a sober friend, falling on her first sober Anniversary.
  • “I haven’t celebrated a sober Christmas yet, and I am really looking forward to it.”
  • Spicer piped in: If you do get triggered by someone else's delicious-looking glass of wine, step back silently or for real. Take some deep cleansing breaths. Remember how good you will feel the morning after without the alcohol in your system. Drink lots of sparkling water and focus on hydration and health.
  • Bob weighed in: If all else fails, say your goodbyes and well wishes early. Leave knowing that you got to see people who are hopefully important to you and most of all, took care of yourself. That is a lot to celebrate!
  • Evie from group says: Completely letting go of resentment, fear, self-pity, self-centered and self-seeking motives has helped me more than anything when I’m in a large gathering of my family. But believe me, it’s a practice!
  • Sam is prepared to talk to his sponsor “before, (during if necessary), and after any holiday gatherings.
  • Drive yourself so you can leave whenever you want to.
  • “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Have a sober friend you can go visit if you leave your family.”
  • Recognize you are not the worst off. Beware of victim mentality as you head into the holidays.
  • “Don’t be a loner. Plan in advance, and be sure to have an “emergency escape” strategy.
  • Paul says, “I have learned not to think of myself as the center of attention at parties, weddings, or any gatherings. Very few, if anyone will care that you’re not drinking.”
  • Brie: “I remind myself that triggers and urges are likely to come and my mantra is They Don’t Last Long, This Too Shall Pass. Ride the Wave. This makes it kind of fun to visualize myself surfing the wave of an urge and bringing myself back to shore, calm and sober. The more I have practiced this, the fewer urges I have. Now they are more like fleeting thoughts, and those are much easier to deal with.”
  • Frank says how much setting short-term goals in early sobriety has helped him. “In a party situation that would look like: speaking to 3 people I don’t know, drinking a total of 4 glasses of water, making it a point to remember names…stuff like that.” He set short-term goals in early recovery, and now with almost two years under his belt, his goals are more long term. He attributes his current sobriety to really learning to forgive himself when he messes up, and not dwelling in self-contempt.
  • Several more references to self-care during the holiday season:
    • Early to bed, early to rise.
    • Exercise regularly without overdoing it.
    • Eat well at least 80 percent of the time.
    • Don’t say yes to every invitation if it’s too stressful.

As one of my patients laughed and said when I asked for his input on this topic, Alcoholics find out what works for them, then they stop doing it.

Be aware that all of life is simply sitting, standing, or lying down. Everything else is going on in your head. You don’t have to believe everything you think.

Be sober, be blessed.

If we can play a role in helping you or a loved one stay sober through our accelerated opioid and alcohol detox programs at the Coleman Institute, please give us a call at 877-893-3869. We see patients 365 days a year. We, too, are available during every holiday.

For more tips and information about making it through the holidays, check out these additional resources:

Joan Shepherd, FNP