Powerful Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays

Posted on December 30th, 2012

Chilled bottles of fancy champagne to toast the New Year; elegant wines from all over the world meant to satisfy the most sophisticated palate at each holiday feast; open (and well-stocked) bars at holiday parties; and creamy eggnog decadently spiked with brandy… Drinks, anyone?

Yes, the holiday season is upon us. Anyone who’s ever struggled with alcoholism knows all too well that the nearly 7 week period of holiday “cheer” and festivities – which commences just before Thanksgiving and continues until New Year’s Day has come and gone – can be one of the most challenging times for staying sober. It can feel as if the whole world is trying to entice you to relapse. After all, what’s the harm in having just one drink? Everyone else is celebrating, so why shouldn’t you join in?

The holiday season can wreak havoc on emotions. For many, it elicits bittersweet and often this difficult memories and emotions. As a result, the temptation to drink – for pleasure as well as a means of self-medication – seems to lurk around every corner. If you’re a recovering alcoholic (or someone who’s prone to over-indulging but determined to refrain), then the following tips and tricks will help you get through the season without any slips or regrets:

Always be prepared. This succinct Boy Scout motto will serve you well during the holidays. While you don’t need to carry a pocket knife and piece of flint everywhere you go (unless you’re spending the holidays camping in the wilderness), you do need to always have a game plan to counter the endless parade of alcoholic temptations. Your family and close friends (hopefully) know and respect the fact that you have a history of alcoholism and are in recovery; however, there’s always going to be a few who don’t know – or don’t care – and will insist that you have a drink.

Have 2 or 3 polite, brief responses ready to use. Don’t feel obligated to tell anyone (unless you really want to or feel it’s necessary) that you’re recovering from alcoholism. That’s personal and private. It’s okay to simply say, “No thank you, I’m good”. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you choose not to drink.

Keep a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand. One of the best ways to avoid unwanted drink offers (and to avoid feelings of deprivation – at least to some degree) at holiday social gatherings is to keep a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand. Whether it’s sparkling water, soda, or apple cider, others won’t be inclined to push drinks on you constantly; you’ll have something delicious to sip on as well.

Avoid salty foods and snacks. Salty foods are going to make you thirsty, and that thirst will make it more difficult to resist something alcoholic to wash them down. Avoid them altogether if possible (eating something beforehand will help curb your appetite), or make sure you’ve got a non-alcoholic beverage in hand before you indulge in sodium-laden hors d’oeuvres or snacks.

Remind yourself often why your sobriety is important to you. Without a solid “why” it can be next to impossible to hold onto your resolve when temptation abounds. You made a decision to do the hard work involved in recovery; if you’re feeling the urge to drink, remind yourself why you chose to recover from alcoholism. Write it down and put it in your purse or pocket if needed. Sometimes all we need is to remember why we’re doing something in order to resist the temptation to throw in the towel.

Go to a meeting. If you’ve found 12-step groups or similar meetings to be beneficial, be sure to make time to go to as many as needed during the holidays. Not only will you benefit from the support of other group members, you’ll also feel comforted by the fact that you’re not alone – that others are also struggling with very similar issues, urges, and emotions. If you have a sponsor, stay in close with him or her as needed via phone, text, or email.

Believe in yourself. Just the fact that you’re in recovery and have been sober for as long as you have (whether it’s been just 2 days or 25 years) speaks volumes about your courage and strength. It takes a lot to stop drinking. Don’t lose site of the powerful, determined, and amazing person you are. No one can knock your down or cause you to fail without your permission.

Don’t hesitate to pray. If you’re a spiritual or religious person, reach out often in prayer to whatever Higher Power you believe in. Prayer can bring tremendous comfort and strength during times of temptation. Talking to God, the Universe, or whatever Higher Power you believe in will help you feel less alone and more empowered to stay sober.

Surround yourself with supportive loved ones. Even if those closest to you don’t understand the challenges of recovering from alcoholism, they’ll most likely want to be there for you and cheer you on. If you doubt yourself or feel like you might give in, reach out. Sometimes all it takes is a few words of encouragement or just knowing that they’re there for you to get over the hurdle and feel empowered again. And if you’re doing well in your recovery and kicking temptation to the curb, share your victory with them and let them celebrate it with you.

Focus on the true spirit of the season. Regardless of your faith or spiritual beliefs, the holidays are really about two things: giving and gratitude. The temptation to drink is usually the greatest when we wallow in negative feelings, such as resentment, worry, sadness, self-loathing, disappointment, or anger. But when you truly focus on giving and gratitude, you won’t have room for those feelings. So many things of life are really about perspective more than anything else. Focusing on gratitude and giving – the true spirit of the holiday season – you’ll likely find that those negative feelings show up far less often, and when they do, their power is greatly diminished.

Have a blessed, safe, and joyful holiday season.

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