Thanksgiving – perhaps one of the most stressful family holidays – has already come and gone. If you survived the differing political views, the dredged-up dysfunction, and the overly critical great aunt (or drunk uncle, or disapproving grandma, or whatever it is), half the battle is already over. However, the holiday season as a whole can be quite overwhelming. Next up is Christmas, immediately followed by New Year’s Eve. Not only are these huge ‘drinking holidays’ (like most other major holidays in the US), but they tend to be pretty socially driven – and you know what that means… parties! Company parties, family functions, ugly sweater parties with friends. Whether you’re new to recovery or you’ve been sober for years, navigating the holiday season can be difficult. Fortunately, we’ve accumulated a few helpful pointers that will ensure a safe, sober, and happy holiday season.

Staying Sober at Social Events

Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties are often unavoidable. If you’re concerned about what to do when you’re offered a drink (which will probably happen), take a look at these options:

  • Pour yourself a non-alcoholic drink to carry around all night.

If you’re holding a drink, chances are you won’t be offered another one. If the party you’re attending has a designated bartender, you can tell him or her that you don’t drink and request that your sparkling water (or soda, or mocktail) be placed in a martini or lowball glass.

  • Simply say, “No thanks, I don’t drink,” or, “I’m not drinking tonight.”

More often than not, people won’t pry when you tell them this. If they do pry, however, be prepared with an answer! If they respond with, “why not,” you can tell them you’re on antibiotics, or you have to work early the next morning, or you simply don’t feel like it. Of course, if you feel comfortable sharing that you’re sober, honesty is always the best policy.

  • Stick to sober events.

If you are new to recovery, or if you are somewhat unstable in your sobriety and the prospect of a booze-fueled party seems overwhelming, stick to a sober event! There are always plenty of recovery-friendly events organized by local intergroups, etc. Simply Google “sober holiday events by me” and a list is sure to pop up. Additionally – you can organize your own sober event! Invite all of your friends in recovery, encourage the wearing of ugly sweaters, organize a gift exchange – the options are limitless. Of course, if you’d like to keep it low-key, you can invite a few friends over for a holiday-themed movie night.

  • Offer to be the designated driver.

Not only will this provide you with a good reason for not drinking, but it will help your friends get home safely. According to the US Department of Transportation, there were an average of 300 drunk driving-related fatalities between the week of Christmas and New Year’s (over the course of the past five years). The same article reported that there were 781 drunk driving fatalities in the year 2016 – in the month of December alone. Remember that you can help those in need and DD even when you aren’t attending a party – this still counts as being of service to others!

  • Make it known that you’re in recovery.

Recovery has become pretty mainstream, with celebrities from Brad Pitt to Demi Lovato talking openly and publicly about their struggles with alcoholism and addiction. The vast, vast majority of people will know what recovery is, will understand why it’s so important, and won’t press any further once you make the fact known. The stigma is slowly and steadily being lifted – do your part to help destigmatize by owning your recovery! It’s definitely something to be proud of.

Other Ways to Stay Sober

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable at a Christmas or New Year’s party that you thought you could handle, be sure you have an exit strategy in place. Let your sponsor or other sober supports know where you’re going to be and let them know that you might be calling them. Remember that if you feel uncomfortable, it’s completely okay to leave. Simply tell the host that something came up, and head to a meeting or a friend’s house. Of course, social gatherings aren’t the only potential holiday-related trigger. For some, this time of year can be extremely tough emotionally. Maybe some family-related trauma occurred over the holidays, or there are some other emotionally painful events tied to this time of year. Seek extra support when needed and remember to take things slowly – one day at a time.

You are not obligated to do anything this holiday season other than take care of yourself. Prioritize your recovery and do what you need to do to stay happy, healthy, and sane. Even if you agreed to some obligation that you’ve been feeling apprehensive about, nothing is written in stone. Consider that changing your plans won’t ‘put anyone out’ – take a step back, reevaluate, and do only what you’re comfortable doing. You may want to sit down and write out a list of potential relapse triggers. For example:

  • Staying too long at my mom’s house
  • Being around the friends I used to use with
  • Midnight champagne toasts
  • Seeing my ex-girlfriend/boyfriend

Whatever your personal triggers are, map them out and do what you can to actively avoid them. Be sure you have an exit plan and have some sober supports on speed dial. Above all else – prioritize your own health and have a fun-filled and stress-free holiday season!

If you find yourself struggling this Holiday Season, you’re not alone. Reach out to us to get some help.

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