Enjoying the Festivities… or White Knuckling It? (Sobriety During the Holidays)

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The first year in recovery is often the most uncomfortable.  We are changing old, comfortable patterns and facing life in its rawness.  Many of us are completely identified with having a constant buzz, so the concept of being sober during the holidays is something like the idea of shaving your dog in the winter.  It doesn’t make much sense, and it really sucks for the dog.  If you come from a family who drinks, it can be even more difficult, and cumbersome watching the wine being passed around the table while you sit there stone cold sober, toasting with your glass of sparkling cider.  I dreaded the holidays in the beginning, but there are a few things that helped.

Halloween is one of those nights where things are supposed to get wild and crazy.  For me, I simply stay home now, watch a scary movie and pass out candy to the children.  There is no reason for me to put myself out in the middle of a costume party, where it’s too easy to snag a drink, or where I will feel completely out of place.  I tend to protect myself in my sobriety.  I’ve done the dance club thing, and been out in the middle of parties where everyone was getting freaky and drunk.  I remained sober, but it wasn’t easy.  Why would I even want that kind of temptation?  I’m not a partier anymore.  I have accepted this about myself, so staying home, or going to a meeting on Halloween, is more like a safe-haven for me.  It’s anything but boring.  I love myself enough to remain on safe turf.  There are also a lot of AA and NA festivities, and these can be a lot of fun.  I’ve done them in the past, and they helped immensely; giving me the feeling that I celebrated.  I am ok not celebrating like I used to, so I rarely go to these events any longer.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the bend, and many of us drink or use drugs to maintain sanity around our weird families.  I love my family, but there is always tension between people, and since I decided to “get sober,” a lot of the family dynamic has changed.  It’s not the same as it used to be, so this year I asked myself, what is the most healthy Christmas I can have?  Where will I feel most comfortable?  I don’t have to jump in my car and head to dinner at my family’s if I don’t want to.  If I’m uncomfortable, or if I feel too emotional about it, why would I obligate myself?  My sobriety and well-being takes precedence over my family’s desire to see me.  It really does.  I couldn’t care less if people get their feelings hurt when I place my well-being first.  This is not out of selfishness at all.  I spent many years trying to please everyone, and failing immensely.  These days, I let people know that it is uncomfortable for me, and painful, to face our family during the holidays.  I offer to have them over my house prior to their engagement.  If they want to see me, my door is wide open.

Some of you may opt to spend the first year or two, doing something completely different for the holidays, than you are accustomed.  Some may face the holidays head-on, which can be beneficial, because it’s a practice of not drinking in places you used to drink the most.  The more you practice not using, the easier it becomes. 

I highly recommend taking a sober friend, or sponsor with you to engagements where you may need support.  Many times during the holidays, I have a sober friend on stand-by.  I also take my own car, in case I feel uncomfortable and need to leave.  Sometimes I’m ok being around alcohol, while other times, I’m not.  I never know how things are going to affect me, so I play it really safe.

Essentially, you need to take care of yourself, and do what’s best for the person in recovery.  Many family members can be supportive, while others are not, or don’t know how to be; so it’s really up to you.  Instead of dreading the holidays, begin new traditions.  Start your life over by taking initiative and inventing your holidays the way that supports who you are now.  It’s ok to step out of the box and to be a little more organic rather than conventional.  Recovery is about discovering who the person is, that you ran away from. This person may not like Santa Claus or turkey at all. Who cares? Honor yourself.  Take care of yourself during these months, and find out what is best for your well-being.  In time, you will discover that you enjoy the holidays more than ever, because for once, you’re creating your own experience. 

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2 thoughts on “Enjoying the Festivities… or White Knuckling It? (Sobriety During the Holidays)

  1. Great post. I remind my clients who are new to recovery to lower the social bar during the holidays until they have better strengthened their coping strategies and regained their ability to deal with more intense situations. For those who feel ready to brave the office holiday party, be prepared with coping mechanisms if you encounter triggers, and have an exit strategy if things get too intense. Here’s more information here: http://www.sobernation.com/gearing-holidays/

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