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If this will be the first holiday season you’ve spent sober, you can expect to feel a lot of different emotions. Perhaps you’re proud of the progress you’ve made. Maybe you’re scared by the thought of a sober holiday. Or maybe you just feel thankful to be where you are. Whatever you’re feeling right now, it’s important to know that at some point during this holiday season, you’ll probably experience some discomfort and uncertainty regarding your sobriety. This is normal and to be expected.
Sobriety is likely a whole new thing in your life and being in social situations without relying on alcohol or drugs can be difficult. Not to mention addressing questions from friends and loved ones about why you’re not drinking, feeling tempted to drink or use, and dealing with all the stress that typically comes with the holiday season. There’s no mistaking it—staying sober during the holidays can be hard!
Although relapse rates tend to rise during this time of year, it’s important to remember that staying sober through the holidays will get easier with time.1 This first sober holiday season may be the most difficult one for you, but the longer you stick with it, the easier it will get. By using these helpful strategies and maintaining realistic expectations, you may eventually find that the holidays are more enjoyable without all the booze and drugs.
Why are the Holidays so Hard?
First and foremost, let’s talk about why the holidays are so difficult, especially when you spend them sober.
- An emotionally-charged time: Generally speaking, the holiday season is full of emotions. Whether you’re sober or not, you’re bound to experience positive emotions like excitement, happiness, joy, and thankfulness or negative ones like anxiety, loneliness, and sadness at some point during the holiday season. Strong emotions, both negative and positive ones, can be big triggers for relapse. This is especially true if you don’t have healthy strategies for dealing with them.
- Everything is in excess: The holiday season in America is also known to be a time when people indulge in everything in excess. For example, people host more parties and social gatherings, they eat more food, drink more alcohol, and spend more money. As a sober person, this can often leave you feeling isolated and alone, especially as you try to navigate parties and social activities without using alcohol or drugs for the first time.
- Good and bad memories: This time of year can also drudge up pesky memories of the “good ol’ days” when you used to get drunk or high with your buddies. Or, it can serve as a painful reminder of all the mistakes you made in the past. Losing a friend or loved one can also make the holidays feel especially lonely and difficult.
- Unhealthy comparisons: As a newly sober person, you may also find yourself comparing your life to the lives of those around you. In many ways, you might be starting over, such as with a new home, new job, new friends, and new hobbies. It can be difficult to watch friends and loved ones with established careers and seemingly perfect marriages and families while you struggle to create your own new sober life.
- Stress: The holidays can also be a stressful time, especially if you are traveling, attending or hosting lots of social events, or struggling financially. Learning how to stay sober can sometimes add to the stress, making you feel more vulnerable to temptation.
Not surprisingly, all this might leave you feeling extremely vulnerable, raw, and sensitive. Fortunately, you are not alone. There are plenty of other newly-sober individuals that share the same struggles and temptations during the holiday season and there is much support to be found.
In this guide, we will provide several tips and suggestions that will help you stay on track and empower you to remain true to your sobriety commitment. You CAN do this!
Holiday Relapse Prevention Tips
Relapse is sometimes a part of the recovery process, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many ways to prevent it and seek help before you start using or drinking again. Since relapse is one of the primary dangers of the holiday season, let’s dive in with some helpful holiday relapse prevention tips. Here are some specific things you can do this holiday season to fortify your sobriety.
- Anticipate cravings: It’s not fair to berate yourself for having a craving. Cravings are a real part of recovery and you may be more likely to experience them if you’re stressed during the holidays. Instead of getting down on yourself, fall back on your tried and true strategies for dealing with cravings. This may include using distractions, talking about it, using self-talk, thinking about negative consequences, or “urge surfing.” Prioritizing self-care strategies during the holidays can also help to keep cravings at bay.
- Bring your own drink or find a non-alcoholic alternative: If you are attending a holiday party, bring your own non-alcoholic drink or have a few solid options that you can easily get at the venue, such as club soda with cranberry juice or lime, an arnold palmer, iced or hot coffee, or Kombucha if it’s available.
- Have a plan: If you plan to attend a holiday party, have a plan in place, such as asking a sober friend to check in with you, calling your sponsor before and after the event, or attending the event with a sober friend. These are all great ways to stay accountable and sober despite potential triggering situations. If certain places or people are especially tempting for you, you may also want to limit your interaction with them or choose not to attend this year.
- Avoid rationalizing or justifying: It’s all too easy to start romancing “just one drink” and reminiscing on all the good times you had drinking or using drugs last year or the year before. Unfortunately, even one drink is too many and can lead you down a road to don’t want to go down. Instead of rationalizing or justifying a drink or two, stick to a zero drink limit at all holiday social events. You’ll be happy you did.
- Have your escape plan ready: If you find yourself in a tempting situation this holiday season, an escape plan will be your saving grace. Before you even leave to go to an event or party, decide on a time you will head back home or a reason that you need to leave early. You can also drive your own car and have a firm response prepared in case friends try to pressure you to stay and drink or use drugs.
- Practice gratitude: Remember to be thankful for what you do have instead of what you don’t. Along with your sobriety, you also gained many amazing things, such as your self-esteem, self-respect, healthy relationships, a life you can be proud of, and so much more. When you feel burned out or stressed, try to focus on all the great benefits of what you’re doing.
- Find new holiday traditions. In the past, your only holiday tradition may have been getting blackout drunk by yourself in your apartment. This year, it’s time for a change! Find new, holiday activities and traditions that you can share with sober friends or family members. This will ensure that your holiday season is fun and eventful. It will also provide plenty of opportunities to make positive new holiday memories.
- Serve others: Finding ways you can be of service to others is a great way to share joy, grow spiritually, and strengthen your recovery. There are also countless ways to do it, especially during the holiday season. Volunteering at your local library, food pantry, or animal shelter, helping a homebound neighbor, or spending time with someone who needs a friend are all great ways you can give back this holiday season.
Tasty, Non-Alcoholic Beverages for New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is another challenging aspect of the holiday season, especially if you previously made a habit of spending it drunk. As you adjust to a sober lifestyle, it might help to have some tasty non-alcoholic beverages to enjoy while you celebrate the holiday season’s many festivities, including New Year’s Eve. Here are five delicious options that you can make at home.
The Cherry Bomb
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup grenadine
- Maraschino cherries
- Seltzer water
How to make it:
- Mix two cups of water with one cup of grenadine in a pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
- Pour mixture into two ice cube trays and freeze until solid.
- Fill your glass with the ice cubes and top with seltzer water. Garnish with cherries.
Original recipe: https://www.marthastewart.com/336439/cherry-bombs
Peppermint Hot Chocolate
- ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 quart milk
- ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
- Pinch of salt
- Peppermint sticks
How to make it:
- Whisk together milk and cocoa in a saucepan on the stove.
- Add chocolate chips and crushed peppermint. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally until solid ingredients have all melted.
- Bring to a boil and remove from heat before adding salt.
- Ladle into mugs and garnish with a peppermint stick.
Original recipe: https://www.marthastewart.com/336727/peppermint-hot-chocolate
Crimson Christmas Punch
- 5 cups tropical punch
- 1 cup cranberry juice
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 4-5 cups ginger ale
- 1 pint raspberry sherbert
How to make it:
- Chill all ingredients and combine juice into one large punch bowl.
- Slowly add ginger ale.
- Top with scoops of raspberry sherbert and let sit for a few minutes before serving.
Original recipe: https://www.dessertnowdinnerlater.com/crimson-christmas-punch/
- 2 shots espresso
- ½ cup eggnog
- ⅓ cup milk
- Whipped cream (optional)
How to make it:
- Pour espresso into a mug and add steamed eggnog.
- Add sugar to taste. (optional)
- Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
Original recipe: https://savorysweetlife.com/holiday-cheer-eggnog-latte-recipe/
Cranberry Spice Mocktail
- 1.5 oz sparkling water
- 2 oz cranberry juice
- 2.5 oz apple cider
- Non-alcoholic bitters
- 10 cranberries
- Orange wedge
How to make it:
- Muddle cranberries and orange wedge in cranberry juice.
- Add remaining ingredients and stir with a spoon.
- Garnish with cranberries and an orange peel and serve over ice.
Fun Sober Holiday Activities
Finding new sober holiday activities is a great way to banish boredom and fill the time you previously would have spent drinking or using. It’s also an excellent way to build relationships with new sober friends or spend time with family members.
Depending on where you live, there may be different holiday activities available, but here are some different ways you can enjoy the holiday season sober anywhere.
- Go ice skating at a public rink.
- Walk through a Christmas light display.
- Cut down your own tree at a Christmas tree farm.
- Watch a Christmas concert, play, or show at your local theatre.
- Attend a local tree lighting event. (Usually held in the downtown square)
- Check out the zoo lights.
- Participate in a gingerbread-building competition.
- Host or attend a Christmas cookie exchange with friends.
- Take a ride on a holiday-themed steam train.
- Attend a local Christmas parade.
- Go see a live nativity scene.
- Shop for gifts at an international Christmas market or farmer’s market.
- Volunteer with friends.
- Make homemade Christmas gifts.
- Go sledding (if you live in an area where it snows).
- Decorate your house or apartment for the holidays.
- Go Christmas caroling.
- Settle in at home and watch some Christmas movie classics with hot cocoa.
- Spend a day baking holiday goodies and deliver them to friends, neighbors, and family members.
How to Get Help During the Holidays
An important part of spending the holidays sober is learning how to ask for help when you need it and knowing where to find support. Many sober people need extra support during the holiday season—you are not facing this struggle alone. If you find yourself in a dark place sometime in the next few weeks, there are many different ways you can get help.
- Talk to your sponsor. Before things escalate into a full relapse, talk to your AA or NA sponsor about how you’re feeling and why. Sometimes talking these things out can provide a bit of clarity and make you feel less alone. Your sponsor may also be able to help you develop a plan to address the issues you’re facing or recommend a treatment program if necessary.
- Go to a support meeting. Feeling extra stressed? Need to share your thoughts? A few seconds from giving in to your cravings? Drop your plans for the day and head to a support group meeting where you will be surrounded by people who understand the struggle and are willing to listen. Sometimes you just need a reminder that you’re not alone and that you can do this.
- Enroll in a treatment program. If you feel like you need more support to stay sober or you’ve recently relapsed, you may want to consider going back to treatment. Although going to rehab or sober living during the holidays may not sound like your idea of fun, it may end up being exactly what you need. And unfortunately, waiting to go to treatment until after the holidays is one big risk you don’t want to take. Many programs provide individualized recovery support based on your needs, such as IOP, sober living programs, aftercare, or peer-monitoring programs.
Whether you’ve been sober for two weeks or two years, remember that it will take time for you to feel confident resisting alcohol or drugs, but you can do this! The caring professionals at Nova Recovery Center are here to help. Call (512) 605-2955 for more information on recovery support services this holiday season.