How to Survive the Holidays Sober

There’s a lot of tradition surrounding the holidays. For some people, this may be a time of joy and reconnecting with friends and family that you have not seen all year. For many people in recovery, the holidays can often be a challenging time of year. Many feel some sort of obligation to return home to visit family, and often returning home means being faced with triggers of old people, places, and things that can throw a wrench in your recovery.

Step 1: Have a Plan.

Will seeing family be a positive experience for you? What could you potentially gain by going to see family? What are the potential risks? It might be helpful to write a pros and cons list to help better understand the bigger picture and make a well-informed decision.

If you feel that there are enough positives to be gained by going to see family, then it is important to think through the things that will be hard about being home or being around family members and plan accordingly. Once you have this plan, talk about it with your sponsor or another close support person for accountability.

Step 2: Bring Support.

If you are going to a gathering that you know will be challenging for you, it’s a good idea to bring someone supportive with you, such as your sponsor, a close friend, or supportive sibling or other family member. Sometimes just having someone supportive with you helps ease some of the discomfort of tough situations. If you start to feel like you are in over your head, your support person can try to talk you through it or you can leave early with them if you need to.

Step 3: Set Limits.

If you know you can only survive Aunt Suzie’s nosey questions for an hour, then only stay for an hour. If you know that Grandpa will get too drunk and be a jerk, then leave before that happens. If at any point, you feel uncomfortable, weird, anxious, or awkward, it’s okay to excuse yourself. Do not let anyone guilt trip you into feeling bad about leaving early “because they haven’t seen you in so long,” or “we only saw you for an hour! You’re already leaving?” or any one of hundreds of other shaming statements that your family members might say. This is YOUR recovery. You own it and it is your responsibility to keep it safe every day.

Step 4: Have a Back-Up Plan.

Even the best and well-intentioned plans fail, so make sure you have a back-up plan. Have a list of friends you can call, someone’s house you can go stay at, or a list of meetings you can go to to get away and get what you need. Do some research beforehand–have plenty of options available so if things go sideways, you don’t feel stuck in a precarious position.

Step 5: It’s Okay to Say “No.”

If spending time with family isn’t for you, that’s okay.  There are a lot of factors that go into this decision.  Interacting with family and being “home” can be complicated.  Sometimes the best family we can surround ourselves with is our family of choice. Make a decision about putting good influences around yourself to help support you around the holidays. If you are struggling with feeling guilt about not going home, I highly encourage you to check in with your sponsor or someone you trust.  Be okay with your choices. You are making these choices for your own health and recovery, not for anybody else.

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