So It’s Your First Holiday Sober…
Sober holidays can be a blast. They can also be challenging, stressful, and triggering. This is true, perhaps now more than ever. Following a number of troubled years and difficult decisions, in the fall of 2006, I checked into a treatment center for alcohol and heroin. I had a handful of unsuccessful treatment experiences before this. When I entered treatment, I was skeptical of my ability to be sober and find recovery.
Fortunately, when in treatment I began building relationships and doing “the work” that would ultimately sustain me in long-term-recovery. Following 40 days of rehab, I went to sober living and was able to quickly find employment. Luckily for me, this job afforded me the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time attending 12-step meetings and other recovery-oriented activities.
Holiday Season and Sobriety
As time was passing and my recovery was progressing, I did not think much about the holidays. I can remember hearing people say, “Alcoholism is a three-fold disease; Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” I remember having a vague idea that I ought to consider that the holidays were coming, but I was living day-to-day and focusing most of my energy on staying sober.
My parents had a quiet Thanksgiving in Boulder County that year and were very happy with my sobriety. I have vivid memories of going back to their house and following through with what my sponsor had told me. “This is not the time to spend with friends. In addition, while you are home, see where you can contribute. Wake up early, ask how you can be helpful, do the dishes without having to be asked. Clean up after yourself and go to bed early.” In the trust-building phase of early recovery, this is sage advice.
Christmas is where it got messy. I remember being at my job in early December in Boulder County. I got invited to a holiday party with a co-worker. She knew that I did not have a lot going on and I think she thought that inviting me would help me make friends. I was still in my first 90 days of sobriety. Without thinking, I accepted the invitation.
Surviving Sober Holiday Parties
On the night of the party, I went to her house to meet her in Weld County and she told me that the party was an hour away and that she would drive. I can remember thinking I would have preferred to drive, but I acquiesced rather quickly to get in her car. I had yet to find my voice (and these were the days before Google maps!).
We drove for over an hour to Northern Colorado and ended up at a big holiday party. Immediately walking through the front door, I was offered a beer. I politely refused. After being introduced to a few people, the uncle of the woman I was with started badgering me about having some homemade whiskey. He offered and I said no thank you. Then, he asked why I wasn’t drinking and I said I didn’t feel like it. Next, he said, “It’s just one drink, what’s the problem,” I replied that he, “Didn’t want to see me drinking.”
He didn’t really get the joke, but luckily the woman I was with saw that I was struggling and came over and saved me. I walked with her for a minute and then excused myself.
Outside in the driveway, I frantically called my sponsor. He answered and I explained the situation. I can remember saying to him, “Maybe that guy is right. It’s just one. Also, the people at the sober house wouldn’t even know.” Like all good sponsors, he talked me through it. He helped me remember my life and asked me to explain some instances where I intended to have “just one” and had drunk myself into oblivion. Furthermore, he stayed on the phone with me for over an hour. He told me if anyone offered me any more booze to just say, “I am allergic to alcohol; I can’t drink it.”
After returning, re-committed to sobriety, I tried to enjoy the rest of the night and couldn’t wait to get back to my car. A friend once said to me, “I just don’t want to lose my place in line,” when referencing sobriety. Today, I can look back and say how grateful I am for holding my “place in line.”
In retrospect, I wish someone had given me a bigger list of things to consider during the holidays. Each situation is different and many of us struggle with creative ways to make it through sober holidays, parties, families, etc. The key is remembering you are not alone. Whether we decide to avoid social gatherings or go out and do volunteer work, the holiday season can be fulfilling. But we need to know how to do it.
Below are my top 10 tips of advice for someone in their first holiday season in recovery.
10 Sober Holidays Tips
- You drive. Always insist on driving or taking your own car. This is my #1 piece of advice.
- Buddy up. Try to attend functions with other sober people. Having at least one person who understands what you are attempting is vital.
- Drink up. You’re sober! Have something in your hand. My preferred drink is cranberry and soda water (but I will occasionally confirm with the bartender that there is no booze in the drink). I have a friend who brings lollipops to parties so she has a treat.
- Be direct. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you don’t drink. Additionally, don’t feel compelled to tell people why. Most will accept your response the first time without the “why”.
- Have an exit strategy. Make sure that you know you can leave and know where you will go if you feel triggered. Preparation is key.
- Plan, plan, plan. If you are traveling for the holidays, look up recovery meetings or connect with someone local that you can reach out to if you need extra support.
- Plan your self-care. The holidays can get hectic, quickly. Make sure that before you attend any holiday event you have given yourself enough downtime to prepare internally for anything that might come up.
- Connect with family. If you can, let the family know in advance that you are going to be sober this year at the holiday event. Your family does not have to make sure that you stay sober (they are not security guards), but informing them prior that you will not be drinking can be very helpful if you feel triggered at the event or need extra space.
- Set boundaries. Additionally, to the point above, if the family is not supportive or is not is going to add to your overall recovery plan, set boundaries. You don’t have to do anything that will damage your mental health. Feelings of shame, doubt, and possibly guilt might arise, but if you are truly on the path to recovery, staying sober is the number one priority. Hold those boundaries.
- Skip it. Lastly, adding to the above idea. You don’t have to do any of it. If you believe that you will not be able to stay sober at one event or another, DON’T GO. You are worth it and there will be next year when you feel more secure in your sobriety.
In conclusion, know that the holidays sober can be a beautiful time. You don’t have to be afraid of anything. The key is being prepared for what may come. And if you’re mindful of your sobriety, the holidays are actually more magical than they ever were before. You will remember everything that happened, you will enjoy the beauty of winter festivities, and you will remember you’re on the path to recovery. This is a beautiful thing.
If you or someone you love is struggling during the holiday season, reach out for help. You are not alone. You can call us, any time, and we will provide professional support for you and your loved ones. Our Boulder County rehab offers top-level expertise in alcohol and substance abuse treatment.