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Sober for the Holidays: Tips for Maintaining Recovery

In a previous blog post, I discussed some of the challenges to staying sober over the holidays. Once you know the things that are likely to challenge you, you can make a plan to protect your sobriety and overall well being. Here are a few tips to help you along:

Make a relapse prevention plan:

A relapse prevention plan is a written document that lists triggers to use substances, coping skills, supportive friends, important phone numbers, and emergency resources. In the event you experience cravings or temptation to use drugs or alcohol, pull out this document and follow the plan you have created to avoid relapsing. If you don’t have a relapse prevention plan, you can search for a template online. Or better yet, call a substance abuse therapist to work through the whole process with professional help. Relapse prevention is especially important at the holidays when there are so many challenging and triggering events taking place (hello office cocktail party!)

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries:

One of the best ways to navigate the holidays while sober is to set clear boundaries and communicate them to others. Remember, “no” is a complete sentence. You are not obligated to explain your sobriety or your boundaries to others, especially if you doubt they will respect your words. Some examples of boundaries:

“I will come to dinner but I will not be drinking. Please don’t ask me to or I will need to leave.”

“I will visit the family for Thanksgiving but I will not be staying the night. I will stay in a hotel instead.”

“I can’t make it to the party. I would love to catch up on FaceTime instead.”

“If people are drinking or using drugs at this event, I will need to leave.”

Sometimes when setting boundaries, you may disappoint people. You may decide that an event is simply not safe for your sobriety and you can’t go. That is okay. Your recovery comes first, always.

Find a sober buddy:

Attending events where alcohol or drugs will be present is much easier when you have a sober support person. Try asking a partner or friend to attend the event and stay sober with you. Of course, you will need to choose wisely and pick someone who is likely to follow through on the commitment to stay sober. If you can’t find a person to physically attend with you, arrange to have someone you can text or call during the event if you need support.

Double up on meetings/support group:

There are loads of options for support groups both online and in person. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recover, and Refuge Recovery are a few of the more popular ones. Before, during, and after the holidays, try to squeeze in a few extra meetings to remind yourself why recovery must always come first.

See your therapist:

Therapy is a vital piece of recovery. If you have been in recovery for less than a year, seeing a therapist regularly is a standard recommendation. Don’t skimp during the holiday time crunch! Some people who have been in recovery long term no longer want on-going weekly therapy. If this is you, the holidays are still a good time to revisit your therapist for a recovery check-up and to process any potential challenges you may be facing.

Take your medications:

If you take medications that support your recovery (such as vivitrol, buprenorphine, or methadone) be sure that you are maintaining your dosing schedule. Meet with your prescriber to make sure you have enough meds for any travel plans. Missing doses of medications can lead to withdrawal, craving, or relapse. This is also true for any mental or physical health medications you may be on. Finding yourself in a stressful holiday situation while also off your medications is dangerous for many people.

Do your self-care:

I think I say this every post and I am so not sorry about it! Whatever it is that supports your recovery, do more of it. Have you ever heard the acronym HALT? It is common in the recovery community and stands for HUNGRY, ANGRY, LONELY, and TIRED. If you are feeling any of those things, you are at a greater risk for relapse. Make sure you are getting rest, connecting with supportive people, eating regularly, and dealing constructively with emotions. Other examples of self-care that support recovery are substance abuse therapy, yoga, meditation, prayer, journaling, exercise, volunteer work, and spending time in nature.

Processing through the challenges of staying sober for the holidays is tough. A substance abuse counselor can help you figure out the best way to stay on track with your recovery.

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