Staying sober throughout the holidays will strengthen your recovery.
The holiday season is upon us – a time of fun, frivolity, family togetherness, and lots and lots of triggers. Holidays have historically been the best reason I could ever think of to cut loose and get unapologetically wasted. Work is off the radar, the house has been deep cleaned, family and friends descend from near and far, and everyone’s counting on me to turn out a meal worthy of a 3-star Michelin rating. It’s a time of going and doing, moving and shaking, shucking and jiving, and being “on” for hours at a time – ‘tis the season to be jolly, after all. It’s high-energy, stressful, and exhausting, and when I’m hanging out at that altitude long enough, my central nervous system aches for a return to homeostasis. In times that have long since gone the way of the VHS tape, I found gentle relief in a respectable glass of bubbly – just a little sumpin-sumpin to soothe my jangly nerves, the way it looks in fancy liqueur commercials where the family is all chill, playing board games and humming a tune while the dog rests its head in your lap.
And that’s how easily I can get sucked back into the nostalgia of what liquor is supposed to do for us – what it does for a lot of people – smooth the sharp edges and promote a feeling of comfortable wellbeing. When taken as directed, I guess that’s what it does, but it took a lot of experimentation and trial and error to conclude that I am incapable of drinking in moderation. We’ll save the deep dive into the science of addiction for another post, but I’m grateful that I learned in recovery that my brain chemistry is so severely altered by the introduction of even the smallest quantity of alcohol that it kicks off a chain reaction over which I have absolutely no control. For me, trifling with the notion of a social glass of holiday cheer devolves quickly into burning dinner, telling inappropriate jokes to the kids, breaking out the karaoke machine, flirting with my uncles, disappearing into my closet for long pulls from hidden bottles, changing into an ill-fitting prom gown, crying, terrorizing everyone in sight, and passing out mid-sentence in a blackout. That’s no longer the way I choose to spend my holidays.
These days I plan my holiday celebrations around the notion of waking up sober the next day, and you can too. First and foremost, plan now to make your sobriety the number one priority for the days that lie ahead. We face a lot of expectations in the upcoming months which can make us feel a lot of things, not the least of which is the desire to escape. It’s easy to want to run and hide when you need to buy and wrap a zillion gifts, travel, decorate, entertain, and feel the burning disappointment of an overstimulated child who didn’t get the right Legos. So, decide ahead of time how to deal with feelings that might crop up, and fill your recovery toolbox like it’s a Christmas stocking!
- Bank some meetings as the season approaches. People will be talking about the holidays and you may glean some good advice before the issues even arise.
- Pre-arrange a time to speak with your sponsor. Don’t wait until panic strikes – agree on a good time to call and set a reminder.
- Serve or bring plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. Captain Morgan can’t get the better of you when you’re armed with lots of other yummy choices.
- Attend an alkathon. Many groups host day-long, holiday meetings with speakers, fellowship, and food.
- Be of service. Call another addict, volunteer for a holiday commitment, or take on a community service project. The distraction will get you out of your head and do someone else a world of good.
- Pray and meditate. Step 11 suggests that we seek to improve conscious contact with our higher power through prayer and meditation. Ask for the strength to handle with grace any situation that presents itself. Get quiet for a minute as many times as you need to throughout the day to check in and re-center.
- Have allies. Have someone in your corner who understands how important your sobriety is to you and is committed to helping you through it. Keep them close when you’re entertaining or invite them to be your plus one when traveling.
- Financial insecurity can be a huge trigger, and the pressures of traditional gift-giving holidays can add to the stress. Be reasonable with the expectations of yourself and others and stick to your budget.
- Have FUN! Nobody gets sober to be miserable. Binge watch your favorite holiday (or non-holiday) movies, play games, take a holiday lights tour, see a show, do a good deed, bake, go skiing, get to a live sporting event, or wrap everyone’s presents with a glitter bomb!
- When in doubt, don’t. If you don’t want to slip, don’t go where it’s slippery. If Grandma’s house with its elaborate bar full of unattended top shelf liquor is a trigger for you and you’re not solid in your recovery, offer your regrets, and spend the day doing something safer. Grandma wants you healthy and happy – you can make it up to her by taking her to Bingo the following week.