How to Navigate the Holidays Clean & Sober

Holidays can be a magical time of the year. Spending time with friends and family, traveling, parties, traditions and customs. These may be wonderful times for some people, but for those in recovery, these can be stressful times that can lead to relapse. Being away from your support network and routines could lead you away from your ‘program of recovery’. Holiday customs, memories and events associated with alcohol and other drugs could lead to thoughts of using, and maybe even a relapse.

 Here are seven tips to help avoid a holiday relapse:

1. Plan ahead

Prepare how you will be able to support your sobriety. Go to a 12-step or any other support meeting before or after holiday events. If you are receiving professional help, set up time to meet before your events, or after your event. If you are traveling, look up 12-step or other recovery meetings in that area that you can attend. If you have a friend in recovery or a sponsor, have them come with you to the event, or have an ‘exit plan’, where if you are feeling uncomfortable in anyway, you have a way to leave the event early.


2. Understanding the emotional complexity of the holidays

Talk to people in your recovery support group (or professionals), about what holidays mean to you. What are the family dynamics and emotions that you attach to the holidays? Understanding and processing the feelings around these events will give you a better perspective on what you will experience during the holidays, and what you can do to prepare for.


3. Focus on others

Being in recovery, a basic tenet of 12-step work or increasing spirituality is to ‘give back’; to look outside of yourself and serve others. Donating time at a soup kitchen or food bank, or spending time with someone less fortunate than you are will improve your ‘spiritual condition’.

4. Keep track of what you are drinking

This may seem silly, but it is very easy to mix up drinks and pick up someone’s drink. Get your own drinks, watch how it is being made, and keep track of it. If you accidentally pick up a drink that has alcohol in it and drink it, this is not a relapse. It is very important, however, that you first, put the drink down. Second, reach out to someone in your recovery network and tell them what happened.


5. Avoid vulnerable, stressful situations

People, places and things. There are some situations that you must attend, and there are others where you may have a choice. If you know there is someone, or someplace or something that will lead to stress or a ‘triggering event’, ask yourself: Do I really need to go? Once again, speaking to someone in your support group about the situation will help you to make the right decision. If you don’t have to go, then don’t go.


6. Remember self-care

Take time for yourself. Recovery is about improving your mind, body, and spirit. Take in a show or enjoy nature. Eat healthy, and try to take some quiet time for relaxation and or meditation. Finally, do something that can enrich your spirituality; help others, and or spend quality time with loved ones.


7. Seek treatment if you need it

The gift of sobriety is the best gift you can give to yourself or to your loved ones.


Author: Dave Szarka, MA – Footprints to Recovery – Director of Operations

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