Sober during the holidays

Staying Sober During the Holidays

The winter months can be a difficult time of year for some, but especially people in early recovery. Often, more time is spent with family members during the holidays and this can be a delight, a disaster, or a little of both! And for many, the sight of others spending time with loved ones can trigger feelings of loneliness or even shame over relationships lost due to substance abuse. Here are a few ways to set yourself up for success to stay sober during the holidays.

Develop Realistic Expectations

As with many things in life, it is helpful to develop realistic expectations. The future is almost never as bad as we fear or as good as we hope. When was the last time your worst fears leading up to an event actually came true? How often have you been disappointed because things didn’t turn out as good as you hoped? Take a moment to gauge your expectations about the holidays and try to be realistic about them. 

Be Proactive

Having a plan of attack will help set you up for success. Similarly, having no plan is a good way to get caught off guard. 

If you are going to attend a holiday party there are many ways to be proactive. Asking for a post-party check-in from a trusted friend can bring a sense of accountability. Bringing your own drink can prevent others from offering you a drink. It can also helpful to have a prepared response for when someone offers you a drink. Some examples include: “I’m sticking with [insert non-alcoholic drink] tonight”, “No thanks, I’m driving tonight”, or even a simple, “Nah I’m good”. Remember, you get to choose who you share your struggles with and you can say no without lying. 

Identify Your Boundaries

Being able to communicate boundaries to your friends and family in a healthy way is crucial for making sure you are taking care of yourself. It is okay to leave a gathering early if you are feeling worn down or triggered. You can also plan breaks to step away and gather yourself. At the end of the day, you and you alone are responsible for your well being. Learn to guard yourself in healthy ways. You are worth it!

Remind Yourself Where you Came From and Where You are Going

Recovery can be a slow process. It is easy to forget where you started and miss just how far you’ve come. Remind yourself how life has improved since beginning your recovery journey. One way to do this is to get outside perspective from a trusted friend or therapist. Ask them how they have seen you grow! Similarly, remind yourself where you want to go. Focusing on what you WANT to be and do, rather than what you DO NOT want to be and do, empowers the mind to focus on growth rather than obsessing over the ways you might fail. 

Remember You Aren’t alone!

Remember, you are not alone in this journey. You have friends and family who love and respect you, and want you to be healthier. Maybe you have just joined a support group and have new friends or a support system there. Maybe you have a therapist or sponsor rooting for you! Lean on those who support you for help when you need it during the holidays, and take ownership of your life. It’s the only one you get. 

If you are in early recovery, it’s important to stay involved with your recovery program! Even if you have holiday events or travel, see if your recovery program will allow you to participate in groups or support groups virtually so you can access the help you need from anywhere! Or see if you can maintain check-ins with your mental health counselor via Zoom or the phone during holiday weeks for added support. Centered Recovery is one of the few outpatient programs that provides a full virtual program to clients anywhere in the world! 


by Paul Burkhalter, LAPC

Primary Clinician at Centered