The most precious gift you can give yourself is a life of sobriety. There are times, however, when your recovery from drug or alcohol addiction may be more difficult to sustain, and staying sober requires extra vigilance. The holiday season is one of those times.
The good news is that there are many steps you can take to feel strong and supported during the holidays so it’s not as hard to stay sober. With a thoughtful approach to the season—understanding your personal triggers for potential relapse and taking the proactive steps to counteract them—you can fully savor the wonders of the season in a way that wasn’t possible when you were abusing substances.
At Stonegate Center, we want this to be a season of celebration for you. We support all of our clients with compassionate and effective addiction treatment in Fort Worth, TX that includes after-care programs where our team walks alongside you on your road to recovery. Here are some of our suggestions for how to stay sober so you innately experience the joy and peace of the Christmas season.
Why Is It Hard to Stay Sober Over the Holidays?
It’s important to know that you are not alone if you’re worried about staying sober during a time of merriment and revelry, especially if this season was associated with increased alcohol or drug use in your past.
The holidays pose many potential obstacles to successful sobriety. Identifying these pitfalls will help you plan ahead to avoid them—and also avoid the risk of relapse. Here are some reasons why it may be hard to stay sober during this season:
- You’re stressed.
Our busy lives seem to go into overdrive as the year comes to a close. The calendar quickly fills up with deadlines, trips, parties, activities, family events, gift shopping, and much more. The hectic pace doesn’t leave you much breathing room. This stress can heighten anxiety and leave you feeling overwhelmed, which may make alcohol or drugs an appealing outlet for escaping the madness.
- It’s harder to maintain your mental health.
Staying sober is more manageable when you feel your best mentally as well as physically. However, the season does present unique challenges for your mental health. About 64% of people get the “holiday blues.” Symptoms include fatigue, sadness, loneliness, and irritability. Others are afflicted with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), triggered by lack of sunlight during the short, sunless days of winter.
Both the holiday blues and SAD are temporary and usually go away after the season. However, many people are recovering not just from substance abuse but also a co-occurring mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. The holidays can exacerbate those pre-existing conditions, which can make the season more difficult to navigate without the right mental health support.
- You put too much pressure on yourself.
Christmas cheer is everywhere: neighborhood light displays, garland-bedecked store window displays, jolly coworkers, and Christmas-themed TV movies full of sugary-sweet romance. In this environment, you may feel heightened expectations to have “happy holidays” and feel like a failure if the season doesn’t meet your standards of perfection.
- Your emotions are running high.
The holidays may bring negative thoughts or unhappy memories to the forefront. For instance, you may have to attend a family dinner with relatives you don’t get along with or who enabled your addictions. If you recently lost a loved one, your grief may be intensified as you face your first holiday season without them. Or maybe you can’t get home for the holidays this year, and you’re not sure who you’ll spend Christmas with. Many people feel their emotions more profoundly during this season—both the good emotions and the not-so-good.
- Temptation abounds.
Many people throw caution to the wind during the waning weeks of the year. They’ll indulge in holiday cookies and candies, stay out late at parties, or imbibe an extra cocktail or two. The prevalence of all this extravagance can raise the risk of relapse, and make it hard to take care of yourself physically so you feel at your best.
Our tips for staying sober take into account the stressors of the holiday season and give you ideas to create a manageable action plan for the busy weeks ahead.
Tips for Staying Sober Over the Holidays
- Get with the (12-step) program.
We use 12-step programs at Stonegate Center because they offer powerful support, accountability, and a sense of community. Make time in your calendar to attend a meeting as often as possible (especially on those days when you may be facing a trigger event, such as dinner with a critical or dysfunctional family).
If you’re traveling, find a 12-step meeting online or in the location where you’ll be staying. It’s also important to follow the steps of the program, especially during this season of forgiveness. This may be an ideal time to let go of past hurts and recriminations so you can move forward with a more positive outlook.
- Keep a balanced schedule.
You don’t want to accept every invitation that comes your way because you’ll feel frazzled and stressed. But if you have too many wide-open days, you may feel isolated and sad, making you more susceptible to relapse. Say yes to social events that are important to you, and skip the rest. Balance lively parties with quiet nights in with friends sipping hot cocoa and trimming the tree. Do your Christmas shopping over several days so you’re not rushing around at the last-minute. Also, plan out your gift list so you’re more likely to stick to a budget and avoid financial stress.
- Surround yourself with love and encouragement.
In all the Christmas stories, Santa needs the help of his elves and reindeer to make the holidays a success, and you need a support team, too. Make a list of people you can call on if times get tough and you need to talk about your feelings. These could be friends, family members, your counselor or sponsor, or members of your support group.
- Take good care of yourself.
You feel stronger when you feel healthier. Stick to a nutritious diet, regular workouts, and solid sleep habits throughout the holidays. Listen to your body: eat when you’re hungry and rest when you’re tired so you stay sharp and focused on your sobriety goals. And treat yourself to some extra self-care this season, like a massage or a manicure.
- Remember the reason for the season.
Nurture your connection with your higher power this season. Spend time feeding your soul spiritually, whether it’s morning prayers and meditation or keeping a nightly gratitude journal where you can record the blessings sobriety brings you each day.
- Give as well as receive.
When you help others, you help yourself, too. Volunteering offers several health benefits, including a lower risk of depression and anxiety, and it’s a great way to meet people. Service opportunities abound during the holidays, so you’re sure to find something that interests you.
- Make the holidays special to you.
A new, dependency-free life calls for new holiday traditions. Think about how you want to celebrate the season in a meaningful way while staying sober. When you personalize your holiday rituals to fit your new lifestyle, you’re less likely to feel the pressure of what Christmas “should” look like.
What to Do When You Feel Triggered to Relapse
If staying sober feels precarious for you, don’t wait to seek help:
- Talk to someone.
This is when your support network is valuable. Honestly share your feelings so you can get the assistance you need.
- Change your circumstances.
If you’re at a party where alcohol flows freely and you feel tempted, leave immediately. Take a day off work if you need to recharge. Identify the triggering situations you face during the holidays, and how you can adapt them to accommodate your sobriety.
- Keep up with self-care.
Take time every day to be the healthiest version of yourself. Relapse is likelier when you don’t feel good about yourself.
- Get professional help.
Participate in your treatment center’s continuing care programs if you need extra support. You may also want to explore the possibility of staying in a sober living house to reinforce your recovery.
Everyday Sobriety Tips
Learning how to stay sober during the holidays will benefit you throughout the year. Think of it as getting a jump start on New Year’s resolutions. The same healthy strategies you employ during the holiday season can be used all year long. Remember to:
- Get support.
- Take care of yourself.
- Create a healthy environment that supports your sobriety.
- Continue participating in 12-step or after-care programs.
- Practice gratitude and find joy every day.
- Don’t be afraid to be honest and get professional help when you need it.
Contact Us Today for Help
Stonegate Center offers a continuum of care, from our medical detox program to inpatient rehab to aftercare support. Contact us to learn more about staying sober and verify insurance coverage for rehab. You deserve the gift of sobriety this holiday and we’re here to help.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.