Maintaining Recovery During the Holidays

When you are in recovery, every day offers a unique set of opportunities and obstacles. Some days, the opportunities are hard to see, and too often the obstacles keep themselves camouflaged until just before (or, unfortunately, sometimes right after) you stumble over them.

This is yet another reason why “one day at a time” is such a valuable saying. It reminds us of the importance of staying focused on the present so that we don’t miss the opportunities to make progress, or overlook the obstacles that can trip us up.

Sometimes, though, it’s important to look a bit farther down the road.

The holiday season is one of those times.

If you live in the United States, maintaining sobriety during the final five weeks of the year can be a considerable challenge. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, you are likely to be involved in several events that can add significant stress to your life, put you in proximity to alcohol and other drugs, and threaten to derail your healthy recovery.

Here are a few thoughts on how to stay on the right path through the holiday season:

Make a Plan

The good news about Thanksgiving dinner, the office holiday party, and New Year’s Eve is that none of these events will sneak up on you. This gives you the time to make a detailed plan for how you will deal with each of these events.

If you can’t avoid certain family members at holiday gatherings, how can you minimize the likelihood of a confrontation? If alcohol is going to be available at your office party, who among your colleagues can you rely on to stay sober and help if the situation starts to overwhelm you? Should you stay in with a few close friends on New Year’s Eve, or attend a sober party in your community?

Do not wait until these and other events are imminent. Starting thinking today about how you will act and react, so the potential for unpleasant surprises is limited.

Rely On Your Support Network

You have people in your life who care about you, and who are ready and willing to help you stay on the right path. The holiday season is no time to ignore your support network.

If you’re in a 12-step group or another formal support effort, make sure you don’t miss any meetings. If possible, fit a few extra into your schedule.

If you’re seeing a therapist, make sure you have at least one session scheduled in early December. And if you think you might need some additional help, make an appointment for an extra session.

If you can’t get out of a party or other get-together that you’re worried about attending, enlist a close friend, a trusted family member, or your sponsor to accompany you. Discuss your concerns ahead of time and make concrete plans for how you will both respond if you find yourself slipping.

Keep Doing What You’ve Been Doing

If you’re in recovery, every day that you stay sober is evidence that you’re doing something right. Don’t let holiday-related fears distract you from the fact that you’ve already demonstrated the ability to recognize opportunities and avoid or overcome obstacles.

Holiday gatherings, such as Christmas, may be tense, but you’ve handled stressful situations before without resorting to relapse. And New Year’s Eve may arrive with outsized expectations and less-than-pleasant memories, but it contains the same number of hours as every other day that you’ve made it through without using.

Remain consistent with the daily practices and small steps that have brought you this far. Make sure you’re continuing to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Stay present and mindful. Be aware of the obstacles, but focus on the goal.

Above all, know this: Nothing you will encounter during the holidays or on any other day is too big for you and your support network to handle.