The holidays can be a difficult time for those who are in the early stages of recovery. If you’re used to a holiday season that involves using alcohol or drugs to socialize and celebrate, navigating a sober Christmas may feel a little intimidating. Prepare yourself for the challenge with this 7-step game plan.
1. Organize Your Support System
Experts agree that having a strong support system in place is the single most important thing you can do to help yourself stay sober over the holidays. Here are some simple ways to prepare your support system for the holidays:
- Make a list of 5 to 10 people you can call if you’re struggling and feel tempted to relapse. Carry the list with you in your wallet or purse.
- If you’re traveling, look up addresses of meetings in the area you plan to visit. Keep this information with your list of emergency contacts.
- When you’re attending social events, try to go with a friend or family member who is supportive of your recovery and willing to help you navigate tricky situations, like politely refusing alcoholic drinks.
- Ask someone you trust to check in on you regularly during the holiday season.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Let Go
The best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is permission to let go of the toxic people in your life. People who are ill mannered, mean spirited, unsupportive, and manipulative drain your emotional energy and jeopardize your recovery. You deserve better.
Giving yourself permission to let go may mean not returning phone calls or skipping a few holiday parties where these toxic individuals are likely to be in attendance. This isn’t rude; you’re simply giving yourself the space you need to move forward with the next chapter of your life.
3. Keep Your Expectations in Check
The media hype surrounding the holidays makes it seem like everyone has a picture-perfect Christmas celebration. However, the reality is often that children squabble amongst themselves, dinner gets burnt, the dog breaks your favorite tree ornament, and bad weather cancels your favorite cousin’s flight.
These unexpected setbacks are bound to be frustrating, but they’ll be less bothersome if you try to keep realistic expectations for the holidays. Accept that the best parts of life are often messy and imperfect. When you’re frustrated, take a deep breath and try to find humor in the situation.
4. Make New Holiday Traditions
If you’re worried about being tempted to relapse due to holiday rituals that center around alcohol or drug use, now is the time to create new traditions. Make positive memories that fit into your new sober lifestyle.
Ideas for new holiday traditions you might want to incorporate into your Christmas celebration include:
- Bake and decorate cookies for friends and family.
- Pick a Pinterest DIY décor project to try.
- Go caroling.
- Pop a bowl of fresh popcorn and watch classic Christmas movies with your loved ones.
- Purchase a special ornament for your tree to commemorate the year.
- Organize a small Secret Santa gift exchange.
- Send Christmas cards to family and friends.
5. Take Time to Help Others
Helping others during the holiday season lets you make a positive change in the world while providing a welcome distraction from your own struggles. Once you see how wonderful it can be to do something kind for people in need, volunteering might become a regular part of your routine.
Some ideas to consider include:
- Volunteer at a local soup kitchen.
- Spend some time helping care for pets waiting to be adopted at an animal shelter.
- Make a donation of food or toiletries to a nearby homeless shelter.
- Visit nursing home residents who don’t have any family nearby to keep them company during the holidays.
- Deliver puzzles, coloring books, or other inexpensive gifts to a children’s hospital to provide joy to kids who won’t be home for Christmas.
- Bring homemade treats and a handwritten note of appreciation to firefighters, law enforcement officers, or others who work to help keep your community safe.
6. Make Time for Self-Care
Self-care is a vital part of your recovery, even during the holidays. Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that you forget these vital self-care principles:
- Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Regular physical activity strengthens your body, boosts your immune system, and releases endorphins that help balance your mood.
- Strive to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. A healthy diet helps repair some of the damage to your body caused by drug and alcohol abuse, while giving you the energy you need to get through your daily routine. It’s fine to indulge in a few Christmas sweets, but make sure you’re still getting the fuel your body needs.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, even if it means turning in earlier at night or making time for a short 20-minute nap during the day.
7. Monitor Your Triggers
The most common triggers for relapse can be remembered with the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. These triggers can all be successfully managed, but only if you’re making a conscious effort to think about how your mood affects your urge to drink or use drugs. Writing in a journal each day can be a helpful way to identify patterns in your mood and behavior so you can proactively manage your recovery.