The holidays are upon us and for those who are newly sober—and even those who…
Holiday Strategies for Staying Sober and Sane – Part 3
If you are planning to go to an event where alcohol or other trigger substances will be available, or you will be interacting with difficult family members and you know that the temptation to slip or to react negatively will be strong, set up some helpful accountability. Find a program friend you know will be available before, during and after the event, and ask if he or she will help you out with some encouragement and support. Call before the event to lay out your plan and intentions and then agree to call after the event to report on how it went. If the situation gets tense during the event, plan to step away briefly to call for support. Knowing we have someone supporting us and pulling for our recovery, even if he or she is not physically there, can have a powerful effect on our capacity to adhere to our commitments and maintain our sobriety.
If you have lost a spouse, partner, parent or other loved one, the holidays can be an especially painful time. Perhaps you’ve used your drug of choice in the past to avoid the pain of the loss and get you through the season. Even if the death happened several years ago, it is time to confront it in recovery. It is acceptable and even healthy to feel sadness or depression and to mourn the loss. Allow yourself the time and space to do it. If you need the support of a professional, seek it out now—when the emotions are closest to the surface. The holidays need not be an emotional landmine. In sobriety we begin to feel our feelings and we diffuse them of their negative power by confronting them honestly. It is healthy and normal to experience the emotions associated with loss and grief. Problems arise when we evade the feelings or seek to numb them. This year, take the time and space to deal with sadness soberly.
As addicts, codependency is necessarily part of our family interactions—especially around emotionally charged times like the holiday season. Either we were the fixers or other people were trying to fix us. Now that we are sober, we may see our family in a new light. Rather than drink away the uncomfortable drama and strained interactions, we are forced to see them in stark relief. And we’ll notice new things—mental illness and addiction that we had never noticed, we’ll see pain and injury and general dysfunction. And many of us will want to make it all better. We want to make the holidays special or to relive old traditions or to whisk the whole gang back to a seemingly happier time.
Recognize your feelings of needing to fix, or the way in which you respond emotionally to the dysfunction of others. In recovery our job is to be of service to our families, not to be their saviors or to take their emotional burdens upon ourselves. Learning detachment with compassion is not indifference. It allows you to care, but also shields you from the potentially toxic emotional turmoil of others. Remember that each member of your family who is an adult can work through his or her own issues when ready to do so. You can be supportive without feeling you have to solve decades-old problems. There is freedom in letting people make their own mistakes and solve their own problems.
Start New Traditions
Perhaps your holiday traditions have revolved around drinking and partying and not remembering much of the holidays at all. Regardless of your drug of choice, you likely saw how it played into your experiences this time of year.
Now that you are sober, it is time to start building new traditions. Traditions, when they are healthy, are a positive aspect of life and a way to help us celebrate, cultivate nostalgia, create good memories and enjoy life a little more. Think about new traditions you can start with your family, your friends or with yourself.
Tired of the boozy holiday parties? Plan a sober celebration—go sledding with friends, organize people to go caroling, cross-country skiing or night hiking. Sit in front of the fire with family, reflect on the year, watch Christmas movies. Enjoy cider and hot chocolate and healthy food. You may be surprised to find that others enjoy the break from the constant flow of sugar and spirits and merrymaking that tend to characterize and overwhelm the season. Enjoying good times with friends without the excess is a welcome change. How can you make your celebration of the holidays you observe a little more memorable and meaningful this year?