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How to Stay Sober and Have Fun Over the Holidays

photo of group of friends celebrating christmasIf you’re going into the holidays sober for the first time, it can be daunting. For most of us, the holiday season is a time to spend time with family, go to parties, and often, overindulge in alcohol. If you’re recently sober, it’s a point where you’ll have to be even more careful of your sobriety, because everyone around you will be drinking. That’s only made worse if you don’t have very many sober friends, aren’t on great terms with your family, or worse, they heavily drink or use. The holidays can make us feel alone and like we should be enjoying ourselves. The reality of the holidays is that we are often pushed into feeling like we have to have a good time. After all, it’s the “happiest time of the year”.

Yet, if you’re in early recovery, you’re likely anything but. Instead, you’re dealing with potentially alienated friends and family, changing and different life circumstances and hobbies, cravings, and likely mental health problems. The holidays might feel like loneliness, alienation, and wanting things you can’t have.

At the same time, the holiday season can be difficult even if everything seems perfect. The better we feel, the more we’ll want to celebrate, to feel good, and to do things we enjoy. And for many of us in recovery, the way we know how to do that is by drinking. Feeling good over the holidays could trigger cravings you aren’t prepared for.

Taking the time to make those preparations, to invest in having fun without alcohol, and into pacing yourself in a way that makes sense for you is crucial to staying sober and having fun.

Planning to Have Fun

It’s important that you give yourself room to have fun and room to enjoy the holidays. That means making plans to see family and friends, engaging in activities you like, and maybe even going to a few parties. It might mean taking part in holiday festivities at work. It might mean going home to see family. Whatever you do, it’s important you do it for yourself – in whatever fashion that might be. For example, going home to see family because you want a bond with them and they like having you home for Christmas is for yourself.

Spend some time thinking about what you want to do and why. Some great sober activities include:

  • Skating
  • Sober parties, parties with your sobriety support group
  • Parties with the alumni from your recovery group
  • Hikes or walks
  • Looking at Christmas lights

The important part? That you do things that make you happy while keeping yourself away from alcohol.

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Know Your Limits

photo of two happy friends holding each otherEven if you’re very certain of your sobriety, it’s important not to test it. That means don’t go spend time with friends and family you don’t trust not to support your sobriety. It also means avoiding going to bars or other places that sell alcohol while alone. And, if you’re headed out, find someone to be accountable to. Whether that’s a friend, a sober buddy, a sponsor, etc., is up to you. The important thing is that you have someone there to help you in case things go badly.

Knowing your limits also means trying to take time to understand where triggers might come into play. For example, when do you experience cravings? When do you feel like you need a drink? When do you start thinking about alcohol? If you’ve been to rehab you’ve probably spent some time thinking about this, writing it down, and assessing it, likely with a therapist. Consider it, figure out how to avoid or mitigate those situations, and do what you can to make your holiday season as easy as possible.

  • What are your triggers? How do you deal with them?
  • When are you most likely to experience cravings? Can you have someone support you?
  • Who can you call or go to if things get bad? Do you have a sponsor or sober buddy?

Keep Going to Treatment or Group

Sobriety meetings like AA, SMART, RING, and others can be immensely helpful in offering social accountability and support. At the same time, they can offer the feeling of togetherness many of us crave around the holidays. Even if you just sit in a circle and talk, you’re sharing, taking part in something, and possibly even helping your peers get through a difficult time. Most importantly, you’ll get insight into how others feel about the holidays, how they cope, and possibly even how they’ve slipped up in the past. And that will give you better insight into yourself, how you deal with cravings, and where you are facing problems yourself. Not because everyone is similar, but because understanding how others face problems can help you to grasp your own.

Maintain Self Care

For most of us, self-care rituals are a habit that gets us through recovery. The daily exercise, cooking meals, taking care of yourself, and taking care of your home can keep you going. The holidays can feel like a time to let that go. Especially if you’re seeing family. Here, family can be incredibly disruptive, you might sleep in, you might spend most of your days enjoying holiday food, etc. But, it’s important to make time for your self-care rituals. That means making time to exercise most days, making sure you get healthy meals at least once a day most days, taking time to yourself most days, etc.

Importantly, you don’t have to be perfect. But, on average, you want to keep up your health and your rituals. However, you can also do so in different ways. For example, if you normally go to the gym for an hour every day, it’s perfectly fine to go for a hike with family that day instead. If you normally spend an hour to yourself to relax, you still need that. If you normally have quiet time before bed cleaning up, you probably still need that. The important thing is to assess what you can replace or skip a few times and what you need to be happy and healthy.

Eventually, the holidays often aren’t all they are talked up to be. Your holiday season can be nothing more than a few weeks of same-old-same-old, and that’s okay. It might also be hectic and full of visiting family and friends. Whatever it is, hopefully you make time for yourself to have fun, plan to deal with cravings, and make space for yourself to keep up the things that help you stay sober.