If you are new to sobriety and this is your first time in recovery    during the Holidays, i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or    Hanukkah (I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two), then you might want  to start thinking of ways to safeguard your sobriety during this time.    It’s true that the first holiday season is tough, but if you are the kind  of drunk I was, it didn’t matter if it was Christmas day or plain old  Saturday because I was going to get loaded regardless. Holidays are a  little different though, because EVERYONE seems to be loosening up  and having a few drinks, whether it’s the company Holiday party, or  Uncle Bob’s annual New Year’s Eve party, it’s true that people are  merrier and tend to overdo it during the Holiday Season.

I remember my first sober Holiday Season very well (I was sober, so I guess that’s why) but I recall seeing the first Christmas decorations in the stores right after Halloween (why do they do it so early? – sadistic bastards!) Anyway, it gave me plenty of time to stew over the whole thing and remember the ‘holiday horrors’ of Christmas’ past. Needless to say I became increasingly terrified every time I thought about it. As an alcoholic I have a natural tendency to obsess about things, so lets just say that I thought about it a LOT. Thankfully there were other people like me, who had been through the holidays before and were able to give me some great suggestions to safeguard my sobriety. Here are some of them:

  • Company Holiday Parties – When I went to my first Company party sober, I really didn’t want to go but I was new to the company and I wanted to at least show my face there, so I went for two hours and then left after the meal. If you decide to go, you could try it for an hour or so too. If you are bringing your spouse or partner, let them know that you will probably only be there for an hour or so and then you will want to leave. If they want to stay at the party, you could always arrange to come back for them later (and skip out to a recovery meeting). If you are single, try asking a sober friend to attend the party with you – having someone with you in the trenches is one of the best things you can do for your recovery. Some companies want employees to attend solo and if this is the case, take your cell phone and have a list of sober friends who you can call if you get antsy. Have an exit time planned and stick to it – no matter what – don’t get talked into giving rides to people who are drinking or you’ll be there all night. After the meal or buffet is a good time to leave because that’s when people usually start letting loose. Remember that most company holiday parties aren’t compulsory and you can decide not to go. It’s safer to watch out for your sobriety than worry about being ‘seen’ as a team player. Ask yourself this, would you rather be the main character in one of the the drunk stories that are invariably told the morning after, or would you rather be listening to the embarrassing tale of someone else’s exploits?
  • Family Get-Togethers. Same thing applies here, if you are single, take a sober friend with you if you can. If you have a spouse and the meal is usually held at your house, how about telling the family that this year you’ve decided to take the year off? Suggest the meal could be at someone else’s place or that you all could go to a restaurant. In the event that you do go out to a family party – talk to your spouse about your plans to leave early (hopefully they’ll be on board), if they aren’t you can always leave for a while, hit a meeting and go back for them later. You could even have an exit time planned around the time that you know a recovery meeting is going on, that way you can say you have to leave at 7:30pm so you can make the 8pm meeting. One great advantage of having someone with you who doesn’t know your family, is that they’ll be less likely to put up with Uncle Bob’s recollection of your most embarrassing moments and more likely to drag you out of there if things get too rough.
  • Have your own transportation or bus schedule so that you are not at the mercy of someone else for a ride home – that way you can leave whenever you want and not when your friends decide they’ve had enough. Also, don’t volunteer to be a designated driver just yet (that might be something you can do down the line – but not this early on in sobriety). If you do this, you will invariably be at the party until the wee hours of the morning or worse still, be dragged around on a bar crawl with a bunch of drunk people to packed bars and pubs (personally I’d rather have a root canal).
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings. Recovery groups and Twelve-Step clubs are a safe place to be so try to go to as many as you can. Some AA and NA clubs have marathon meetings held over the holiday period and some are even open 24 hours. One recovery meeting per day (or more if needed) during the holidays is a really good idea. You will be around people who understand what you are going through and you can share how you are feeling.
  • Just Say No – (no pun intended) If you feel like being around your family or going to a holiday dinner or party is going to be too much, then commit to being somewhere else. It’s ok to say no – this is about your sobriety and protecting it and believe it or not, the party will go on without us! But remember – do not to isolate – there’s a popular saying in recovery that an alcoholic or addict mind is like a bad neighborhood – which means we don’t go there alone! Alone is a dangerous place to be. You could get out of the house and go to the movies, wander the aisles in a bookstore or you could do some service work. You could work the front desk at your local AA or NA club, or volunteer to make coffee for the meetings. You could also help out at a shelter for the homeless or offer to help out at a senior citizens home – they love getting visitors (especially ones armed with a plate of cookies). The Salvation Army is always looking for bell ringers too!
  • Avoid near beer or non-alcoholic wine. While this may seem obvious to some of us, there are people who think that drinking these beverages is a good idea. Just know that it’s NOT and you should be aware that there are trace amount of alcohol in these drinks and our bodies will react to the alcohol and ultimately crave it. In addition, if you do go to a holiday party, keep your drink with you at all times, don’t put it down on a table and leave it. You’ll run the risk of picking up someone else’s or worse still there could be someone who thinks it’s funny to spike drinks that are left unattended.
  • Plan sober activities. I was somewhat surprised when I sobered up and noticed all the fun stuff that goes on during the holidays that doesn’t involve drinking (go figure that not everyone drinks like we do). Obviously, if you have kids – the list is endless, you can take them to see Santa, you can make holiday cookies together, and there are always Christmas plays and movies to see, like the Nutcracker or a Christmas Carol. Most cities have a holiday parade or Christmas lights lighting ceremony. But all this fun stuff isn’t just for kids, there’s no reason why you can’t go along with friends to ice skate, go sledding and skiing, hiking and biking or just throwing the football around in the park after everyone is stuffed from too much turkey. After a day full of this kind of thing, all you’ll want to do is curl up with a good DVD, some popcorn and cup of hot chocolate.
  • New Years Eve – This has long been the evening for lightweights, when even the normally light drinkers go nuts and really let their hair down. There are a few things you can do – think about spending it at home with your kids or family, play board games and make a nice dinner. You could also have a nice meal with friends out and go home after the meal is over. I love going to the movies and coming out just in time to see the fireworks going off before heading home. Most AA and NA clubs have dances or parties for New Years or candlelight meetings; you could try either or both. The most important thing is to be comfortable and remember that you’ll wake up in the morning with a clear head and a clear conscience. Not to mention you’ll be able to say that you’ve been sober ALL YEAR so far (even though the year is just a few hours old – it still counts!)

I’m sure there are plenty of other things that I’ve missed too, so any other input is welcome! If you can remember one important thing it’s this: You can’t only have ONE drink and then stop. If someone tells you “Oh go on, surely one drink won’t hurt.” Politely, but firmly say no thanks and walk away, there’s no need to get into it with someone, especially if they badger you about being boring or call you a party pooper. All you need to do is remind YOURSELF that it’s the FIRST drink that gets us drunk – because after we have that first drink, we are physically unable to stop. It only takes ONE drink for the craving to kick in and we’ll immediately want more and we all know what happens after that.

It’s true that the holiday season is a tough time for newcomers to sobriety, but if you surround yourself with people who are also in recovery and take steps to safeguard your sobriety, you are protecting yourself. One other really important thing I did before going into a stressful situation during the Holidays was to ask my Higher Power for help – and it must have worked because I got through it and you can too. Once you’ve done it the first time, it does get easier and better yet, you’ll be able to remember the look on your kids faces on Christmas Day and the hungover faces of your friends on New Year’s Day! Happy Holidays!

For Twelve-Step Program information click here or for the Early Recovery homepage click here

  1. Matt says:

    Just wanted to thank you for your list. I’ve been sober for nearly a week and have spent tonight (New Years Eve) at home alone, and it’s been really tough. Your list has been helpful. Thanks!

  2. […] More tips on enjoying the Holiday Season here. […]

  3. Thanks for sharing this awesome list!

    While the holidays often promote fun celebrations with family and friends, they also present challenges for those in recovery. The Foundation for Recovery supports these affected individuals with the resource guide Staying Clean for the Holidays:

    We have also put together a Facebook Group here:

    We’ll look forward to your thoughts there as well!

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