Your Definitive Guide to a Happy, Sober Holiday Season – People, Places, and Traditions

holiday cookies to remind readers of the need to be intentional about crafting a sober holiday season for success in substance abuse recovery

Your Definitive Guide to a Happy, Sober Holiday Season – People, Places, and Traditions

“The Holidays” Those 2 words create feelings, emotions, and begin a series of automatic responses in people. For some, “the Holidays” creates feelings of fun, festive, family celebrations. They remember and anticipate laughter, Aunt Jen’s sugar cookies, Dad’s turkey, and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while Mom tells everyone “to stay out of the kitchen.”

a mom in a kitchen during the holidays to reinforce the need to be intentional about planning celebrations for a healthy sober holiday season

For others, the memories may not be so wholesome. They may recall bitter fights between their parents, angry interactions between family members, and elevated drama each year.

Families with young children may be working to find the balance of honoring the “extended family” expectations but establishing their own rhythm of routine with their own kids.

“The Holidays” is pervasive, you can’t get away from it. The larger setting of the community, workplaces, retail establishments, and even the change of color of coffee cups shows the presence – and expectations – of “the Holidays.”

You may have work parties, family parties, Open Houses, White Elephant exchanges, and your faith tradition may have some expected participation during this time.

It’s important for you, as a person in recovery, to take some time to reflect and be mindful of this season. Be intentional. As described in the first post of the series, take an honest look at where you are in your recovery. Today, we will look specifically at what YOUR holiday season may challenge – or may assist – you with.

Let’s start with your people.

  1. Are there people who particularly stress you?
  2. Are there people who particularly anger you?
  3. Are there people who particularly irritate you?
  4. How are you, in general, about being around people and will the change in pattern be a trigger?
  5. How are the people you’ll be around going to respond to you being in recovery from alcohol/drug use?

Now Let’s consider your settings. 

Spend some time thinking through each of these. Consider them specifically. No matter how progressed a person’s illness may have been, almost every person has people and settings in which they rarely used or used less and settings in which they almost always used. You’ll want to be honest with yourself as you think through these. It’s a common pattern, for example, to not use at church and with religious parents, but to make plans to over-use on New Year’s Eve. Be honest with yourself; your health and wellness depend on it.

  1. What parties are expected for work?
  2. What parties are expected for friends? Are these general parties or is the point of these for the purpose of over-drinking and to “party”?
  3. What parties are for family? Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example, are often family centered.
  4. What celebrations are spiritual or religious? Hanukah and Christmas Eve are common religious events.

Let’s Look At Triggers.

Let’s be honest about triggers. It’s important that we understand that triggers are real. There is science behind them. I have a blog post where I talk about the power of triggers, many years later. While it’s likely you are aware of some of your triggers, take some time to consider them more deeply and identify them.

  • Are you triggered by noise?
  • Are you triggered by certain people?
  • Are you triggered by celebration?
  • Are you triggered by money worries?
  • Are you triggered by a disruption to your regular schedule?
  • Are you triggered by demands and expectations of others that go against what feeds you?
  • Are you triggered when you must pretend to believe in something you don’t (for example, something religious or spiritual?)
  • Do you pair sports events and drinking (the holidays are paired with sports and people).
  • Are you triggered when you feel resentment that others can drink /use and you can’t?
  • Are you triggered by the pairing of events? I once had a client, for example, who would not eat hot wings while in treatment – the client could not eat hot wings without beer. (Details have been changed)

Take a Deep Breath.

I realize that this may seem to be “too much” or complicated. “The Holidays” come every year and we’ve done them every year of our lives. However, our brains are powerful. Remember from our first entry in the series that relapse happens when the symptoms of the illness exceed the treatment. It’s important that we own that it’s not your fault you have substance use disorder, but it is your responsibility. As part of that responsibility to yourself and others, you need to be mindful and intentional about day to day living in such a way as to build a brain that is least likely to crave alcohol or drugs and – more important – to enjoy a sober life. That is why the emphasis at my practice as I help professionals in Katy and West Houston is on building a contented, happy sobriety. It’s vital that people in recovery are resilient so that when life hits “The Holidays”, or something unexpected, you can navigate without the progression towards a pattern of craving and use.

Our final entry will address specific tools and techniques to set you up for success.

3 thoughts on “Your Definitive Guide to a Happy, Sober Holiday Season – People, Places, and Traditions”

  1. Lance L Burgess Jr says:

    This information is helpful.

Comments are closed.

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