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The holiday season is an exciting time for celebration and gatherings. For those of us in recovery, the holidays may seem like an incredibly overwhelming and stressful time. The holidays bring about heightened excitement and emotions. Inevitably, the holidays are also likely to bring about greater exposure to alcohol and other substances, as many people drink as a form of celebration or even to cope with stress. Whether you have been in recovery for a while or are just beginning your journey, it is important to protect yourself from relapse this holiday season. 

Luckily, there are a variety of strategies you can use to stay sober during the upcoming months. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to establish healthy coping mechanisms and boundaries for your recovery. Next to that, here are five strategies for staying sober during the holidays. 

5 Strategies For Staying Sober During the Holidays

#1 Plan Ahead Each Day

The most important thing you can do for yourself is to plan ahead in your holiday season, every day. You need to keep your recovery and sobriety at the forefront of your mind in everything you do. This may seem overwhelming and frustrating, but when you practice it enough, it will become a conditioned habit to put your recovery first. When you find yourself planning ahead for certain holiday events or family gatherings, try to write it out on your calendar so you can visualize how much time you have until you have to put your defenses up. When you have a plan, you are much more likely to sit back and relax throughout your day and not get caught up in the future or the past. 

#2 Reflect On and Recognize Your Triggers

Sit down and reflect on some of your past triggers to use substances. It is important that you understand that triggers are different for everyone. It is also crucial that you acknowledge that different gatherings or seasons can bring about different specific triggers. A trigger may be:

  • someone asking you if you want a drink
  • someone using the excuse to celebrate life or the holidays as being okay for you to use substances
  • having stressful family conversations about where you are at in life
  • talking to certain family members
  • being around other people that are drinking or using substances
  • being in specific environments
  • experiencing feelings of distress, such as anger, loneliness, or sadness

In order for you to know how to manage and respond to triggers, you have to be able to recognize them as they come. Once you are able to know what your triggers are, you will be able to identify what situations are better off being avoided and what situations you can try to control. For example, if your family is hosting a gathering where alcohol is present and you are triggered by others using alcohol, you may want to see if your family would be able to skip out on alcohol being present this year. 

This specific situation is not always common, and perhaps the following year you will have grown enough in your recovery that the presence of substances no longer affects you. If you find yourself feeling too pressured to attend certain gatherings this year, give yourself the opportunity to say no. Although sometimes these circumstances seem far-fetched, your loved ones should want to do whatever they can to support your sobriety. You should keep your sobriety first, always. 

#3 BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverage)

Very rarely are there events where you are unable to bring your own drink in, especially in regard to personal gatherings. To help you cope with triggers, or even to avoid the questions about if you need something to drink, bring your own beverage to the party. Replace your past drink of choice with an exciting, sober drink. Only turn to this drink sparingly and for celebration. This will help to avoid replacing bad habits with more unhealthy habits. This also teaches you that you are allowed to enjoy some sugary or sweet drinks every once in a while.

#4 Rehearse Your Responses

You can probably already anticipate the questions that you will be asked at holiday dinner. Although you might not want to share details about your recovery, there is never hurt in rehearsing some of your responses before you see your family. You can create your own script for declining drink offers, answering questions about your personal life, etc. This is also a part of planning ahead and prioritizing your recovery. 

#5 Lean in On Your Support Systems

Before the holiday season reaches levels of overwhelm, try to reach out to your support systems. These may include close loved ones, friends, mental health professionals, or your support group. You may find that a few extra meetings or conversations with your support systems can motivate you to stay on track. Allow your support systems to hold you accountable so you can also hold them accountable likewise, especially if they are also in recovery. It always helps to know that the value in staying sober stretches beyond yourself, as it can also help you to empower others experiencing the same triggers, cravings, and temptations throughout the holidays.

Staying sober during the holidays might seem like an overwhelming task. Holidays bring about excitement and celebration, but inevitably also the use of substances because of these factors. If you are new to recovery or are well along in your journey, it is important that you are aware of new strategies that you can use to protect your sobriety during the holidays. Recognize your boundaries and establish healthy coping mechanisms to triggers and stress. Be sure to plan ahead each day and week for your events, while recognizing potential triggers. Lean in heavily on your support systems so that they can help hold you accountable while you prioritize your recovery. West Coast Recovery Centers recognizes the intense amount of triggers and temptations that can surface during the holiday season. We want to help you establish long-lasting success with your sobriety and overall recovery. Call us today to learn more at (760) 492-6509.