I started my sobriety journey two and a half months after the pandemic hit the US in 2020. I lost all of my social outlets overnight, and this took a huge toll on my mental health. I drank more to cope with my loneliness, sadness, fear, and frustration. Does this sound familiar? I know many people have been affected in similar ways. Thankfully, I was able to get sober despite having no access to tools I had used to get sober in the past, such as AA meetings, taking extra exercise classes, and meeting up with sober friends often. I had to go about getting and staying sober in a totally new way.
My first sober holiday season is on the horizon and I am beginning to think about what challenges I may face. Everything feels so different this year with schools closing, events cancelled, and family gatherings reduced to much smaller affairs. Last year, I took my son to multiple Christmas events, and this year there’s nothing that I can take him to. That makes me feel sad, but I also understand why it’s necessary. We’re just going to have to make our own Christmas fun at home! I have lots of ideas for how to keep my son entertained at home this year, so I’m not too worried about that. We’ll bake (and eat) lots of cookies, play in the snow, watch Christmas movies, and snuggle under blankets. It’s going to be wonderful!
I think the biggest challenge many people are facing right now with holidays during the pandemic is the lack of things to do and the potential for loneliness and boredom. In some ways, the lack of things to do this year is a blessing. Along with kid’s events being cancelled, my husband and I won’t be attending the usual Christmas gatherings with friends or throwing a New Year’s Eve party, which were always booze-filled in the past and would have been major temptations for me this year. I don’t know what next year will be like around the holidays, but I am so grateful that I won’t be in those situations in my first year of sobriety! It’s a huge relief!
I will still have a couple of small gatherings with my family over the holidays and those will be challenges for me. I think I will be okay as long as I plan ahead, make my sobriety known to the people I’ll be with, and use other tools that I’ve developed. I hope that you have some fun holiday plans, whether you’ll be on your own or with loved ones this year. If you’re worried about staying sober this holiday season, here are some suggestions that I hope will help you…
Stay connected to the people who support you in your sobriety! This is perhaps the most important thing you can do this holiday season. While you may not be able to see these people in person, make sure that you are talking with a member of your sobriety circle every day! My main support is my husband, but I have several sober friends as well who I can reach out to any time I need to talk. Identify the people in your life who you can rely on to help you make it through this holiday season and talk with them often. You can also look into virtual AA or SMART recovery meetings to connect with other sober people over the holidays. If you need help finding treatment options for alcohol addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline any time, any day of the year at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Connect with friends and family in safe ways throughout the holiday season. While you may not have the usual gatherings with family and friends to look forward to this year, it’s still important to stay in touch. You could call your family members and friends to chat, set up a Zoom gathering in lieu of a Christmas or New Year’s Eve party, or watch movies together over Discord on a Friday or Saturday night. Outdoor winter activities are also a great way to connect with friends and family members while staying safe and socially distanced. For example, you could meet up with a friend to go sledding or take a walk together while both wearing masks.
Plan fun, relaxing activities for yourself every day. The holidays are always a stressful time for me because I have these super high expectations and I always want everything to be perfect! That’s not helpful or realistic, though, and this year I think that things will be even less like I’m accustomed to around the holidays. Make sure that you set aside some time for yourself every day to do something that you enjoy and that helps you to feel happy and relaxed. Whether that’s reading a book, playing video games, taking a bubble bath, meditating, or something else, make it a priority!
Let your host know ahead of time that you are not drinking if you do attend a small gathering. You can call them up or text them and say something like, “Hey Jenny, I’m looking forward to seeing you this Saturday! Just so you know, I’m avoiding alcohol.” The benefit of doing this is that they will know not to offer you an alcoholic beverage and you will also have some accountability at the gathering. You may even want to tell a couple of other friends or family members about your decision to abstain from drinking alcohol. This will provide you with some extra accountability and support.
Prepare a fancy non-alcoholic drink for yourself when you want to feel festive. My favorite holiday mocktail is lime-flavored sparkling water with about 10 fresh mint leaves and a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate seeds. It looks like holly and it tastes fantastic! Other great non-alcoholic drink options include sparkling grape juice or apple cider, sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice and a lime wedge, or tart cherry juice. No matter what I’m drinking, I usually put it into a wine glass. That seems to trick my brain and help me to relax.
Have an exit plan in place if you’ll be attending a holiday gathering. It’s a good idea to prepare an excuse to leave if you feel like your sobriety is in danger or if you’re just done being around people for the moment. If you attend a gathering with someone, make sure to discuss this with them in advance. A graceful way to leave a party early is to simply thank the host for inviting you, tell them you had a great time, and wish them happy holidays. Try saying, “Maria, I have to go, but thank you so much for having me! I had a lovely time. I hope you have a beautiful holiday with your family!” There’s no need for you to explain why you are leaving! If your host pressures you to stay longer, reply with something like, “I wish I could, but I have to go. Thank you so much, again!”
These are just a few ideas, but I’d love to hear your suggestions as well! What strategies will you use this holiday season to stay sober? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share your tips! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
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