8 Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season Sober

Holidays Sober

People in recovery often refer to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s as the Bermuda Triangle and with good reason — it’s a back-to-back trio of holidays that’s filled with triggers, from family issues and finances to travel stress and social anxiety. Not to mention the fact that alcohol is flowing freely almost everywhere you go. If the idea of surviving the holidays sober fills you with dread and anxiety (or anger or jealousy or fear or sadness), you’re not alone. We’ve survived the holidays sober and are sharing some of our tricks for getting through the season unscathed and as merry as possible.

Create time boundaries

Decide how long you want to stay at a holiday event or family party before you get there. You don’t have to stay the entire time. We’ve found that a tolerable window is usually two to three hours, but make it 15 minutes if that’s what you need to do. If you end up having a good time, you can stay longer. But if you are suffering, knowing that you only have a specific amount of time left to endure can help put your mind at ease.

Take the pressure off

While holidays can feel very big, they’re really just another day. Just like every other day you have survived sober thus far, you will get through this one, too. Starting the day off with meditation and affirmations can help get your head on straight, and keeping it simple can take the enormity out of the day ahead. All you have to do successfully is just not drink or pick up. Everything else that happens really isn’t that important. 

Stay busy

Finding serenity and peace is a big part of recovery, but if you’re feeling triggered at a holiday event, it’s fine to get busy. Offer to help cook or clean, take the family dog for a walk, help with the kids — do anything but sit and stare at the champagne Aunt Mary is downing. When you move a muscle, you can change a thought, so if you are sitting in a puddle of sour feelings, get up and do something to help snap yourself out of it. 

Lean on support

If you have friends or family that know what you are going through, enlist their help. Ask someone if you can “bookend” with them, which means calling or texting them right before and after an event. You can also take breaks throughout your event to check in with them. Use your support system and let them know you need help. 

Disappear for a bit

Surviving the holidays sober sometimes requires bowing out for quick breathers during parties or family gatherings. Whether you go outside for air or simply escape to a vacant room, no one will notice you are gone. Taking a time out is often a useful tool in recovery because it gives us space to recharge. It also helps break up the time, so if need be, make multiple disappearing acts throughout the night. 

Keep a (non-alcoholic) drink in your hand

Prior to getting sober, some of us often kept a drink in hand at all times. So in sobriety, always having a drink in hand can provide a sense of comfort — particularly early on in recovery. If you have a preferred non-alcoholic drink, bring it with you and keep one in your hand. If you find that you are drinking non-alcoholic drinks quickly, that’s okay, too. Sometimes, people cope with anxiety by chugging seltzers. You’re not weird.

Remember that you have options

You don’t have to do anything for the holidays, and that is something we often forget. The world won’t end if you don’t make it to grandma’s for Christmas or bail on your best friend’s New Year’s Eve party. Remember you are truly not obligated to do anything. If you are fearful that you may drink or use once you are hurled into the holiday unknown, bow out. Your health and sanity are more important than what your friends or family may be expecting of you.

Know that it gets better

If this is your first sober holiday season, please know that it gets better. Laura got sober in the month of December, just 16 days before Christmas. (Why she didn’t wait till January 1st like everyone else is another story.) Her first sober Christmas was extremely difficult and anything but fun. There was alcohol everywhere, her mother was offering her cocktails, her anxiety was on fire, and she just wanted to go home. But the holidays got easier to manage moving forward. One of the biggest healers in recovery is time. So while the holidays still can be tough, the longer you are sober, the easier it gets to get through hard things — holidays included.

What’s next?

The holidays can be a challenging time of year for people in recovery. But it’s not impossible. With the right plan and headspace, you can have an enjoyable holiday season. Know you are not alone and there are millions of people in your corner, including us here at The Wagon. 

Do you have any good tricks for surviving the holidays sober? Tell us in the comments below.


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