Doing the Holiday Season Sober and Loving It

Out with the old, in with the new! This year, you're celebrating the season your way — sober. A few tips on what to be mindful of, and how to have a ball

November 15, 2023
Two women and a man partying with holiday decorations

Recovery may or may not be new to you, but holiday stress isn’t. You’ve experienced the flight delays, the awkward Thanksgiving weekend friend reunions, and Uncle Kevin. And you might assume that the holidays become even more chagrining in recovery. But with a little preparation and the right attitude, they’re actually quite the opposite.

If you are new to recovery, there are new challenges, no question. Being around people getting deep into their cups of holiday cheer when you’re trying to stay sober is a big one. But there are plenty of ways you can sidestep triggers, shrug off stress and actually be merry this year, substance free.

It’s the Holidays and I’m Sober. Now What?!

First things first when it comes to the holidays and sobriety: Sobriety must always win out. As always in recovery, your sobriety is paramount, holiday or not. No matter what the situation, a return to use (commonly called a relapse) is not worth the cost.

That being said, when you’re keeping up a healthy sobriety and recovery plan, there’s no reason why you can’t engage — or disengage — in any activity you like. A healthy recovery plan means doing things like staying connected to a recovery community (such as attending 12-step meetings), staying physically and nutritionally healthy, and keeping your tools like exercise and meditation handy.

So the answer to the question, “It’s the holidays and I’m sober; now what?” is the same as in any other situation, at any time of year: “Anything you want.” Skip a party, walk out of an argument, engage in some quality time with a friend or relative you rarely see!

But — do remain alert and cautious when it comes to certain situations.

Jingling All the Way Through the Tough Parts of the Holiday Season

In 12-step recovery, there’s a phrase that goes, “Keep it green.” It means never forgetting how bad active addiction felt, and the consequences that came with it. It’s meant to ward off temptation and help you recognize triggers. And it’s especially useful to keep it green during the holidays, at gatherings, during difficult interactions and with general stress.

Like many, many folks in recovery, you may have had some rough holiday moments in the past. Those are now a reminder of how far you’ve come in recovery, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. Making a gratitude list around the holidays can be a great way of driving that point home.

Another hack for navigating the holiday season is keeping your sober network close. If any situation becomes triggering — think ugly sweater parties or combative dinners — you can simply dial up a friendly voice. They may have some suggestions on powering through, give you an “excuse” to leave if you want one or even come pick you up.

If you’re in therapy, stay in touch with your counselor during the holidays, and consider adding an appointment, online or in person, before a potentially triggering event.

Snowman with snow shovel

And of course, you can always be confident and open about your sobriety. Whether you want to share why or not you’re abstaining is entirely up to you — you’re in control.

Finally, we asked eight very different people in the recovery world how they handle the holidays sober. From treatment pros to rock ‘n’ rollers, they shared some very solid tips.

You’re on the Nice List. Here’s How To Have Fun With It

When you get sober, you change up your whole life. No reason the holidays have to stay same old, same old. You’re not beholden to anyone else’s idea of the holiday “fun” or “tradition.” If the usual festivities involve alcohol or substances, you can pop out or opt out whenever you feel like it.

Think of your sober network of pals and supporters if you’re trying to come up with some new ways to deck the halls. You can attend holiday parties hosted by local recovery communities, or throw your own sober party. Maybe even get a gift exchange going, or a secret sober Santa situation: Give vouchers for fun sober activities, nonalcoholic cocktail sets, inspiring sober literature, that sort of thing.

This year, you don’t have to roll your eyes at phrases like “the real meaning of the holidays.” It’s nice to be present and engaged, celebrating friends and family who celebrate you. It is, frankly, one of the great blessings of sobriety.

There are also some things you can do during the holidays that help others and give back. If you’re a member of a recovery community that holds meetings, consider organizing one at an addiction treatment center or detox facility. It’s a way of gifting your own sober experience to people still grappling with theirs. Remember as well that many people in recovery do not have family or friends to spend the holidays with. If you do, you might consider inviting some of them to your activities.

It is, in fact, possible, and even quite lovely, to make the holidays a time for merriment, peace, love and bringing joy to those around you! If you’re sober, you’re already living that way every season, or at least trying to get there. Having a happy holiday season is just the bow on top.

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