December is ripe with temptation for anyone trying to maintain sobriety. Cravings and indulgences are everywhere from a get-together with old friends to company parties and family celebrations. But not to fear, you can still participate in your usual traditions and rituals. You can still connect with your loved ones in a sober way. It requires foresight, thought and planning but with a little effort you can make it through and maybe even enjoy the season. Here are some tips from the experts to keep you on track and sober through the holidays.
First, don’t be afraid to speak up. According to Jennifer Stratton, LPC, a therapist at Crestview Recovery who also runs their family workshops, frequently those who are early on in the recovery process feel like they’ve already asked for a lot from their family and don’t want to ask for more.
“Often family members have been financially and emotionally supportive,” Stratton says. “And those in recovery may not want anything to change because of them. Meaning that, for example, they want their mother to serve her favorite pinot at dinner, or that they don’t want to ask for the Christmas party to be alcohol-free. So, they tend to not speak up.”
Furthermore, it’s tempting to believe that just because you want to stay sober you can avoid the cravings and triggers that surround you. But triggers might be a song, a smell, or a person, and that trigger can activate a mechanism in the brain. There are many tips and tricks for preventing relapse you can utilize during the holiday season and beyond.
“Craving has nothing to do with motivation or wish to change,” Stratton says. “It’s a neurochemical brain activity that is really very powerful.”
Especially if you’re newly in recovery, you should not be afraid to tell people this is your first holiday without substances and to ask for their support to make sure you have what you need to be successful.
Tip for loved ones: If your guest is newly sober and you’re wondering how best to support them, make their struggle talkable. “It’s like if someone diabetic were coming for dinner,” Stratton says. “Or if they had a food allergy, we’d talk about it. We’d problem solve and figure out alternatives that feel comfortable.”
Second, bookend difficult experiences. When you plan ahead for that family meal or party, when you’ve talked to the hosts and the guests and told them what you need, then make sure you have outside supports in place. Plan to call a friend or a sponsor, go to a group meeting, or to see a therapist before and after the event.
“It’s important to keep your goal fresh,” Stratton says. “It can be easy to forget.”
Tip for loved ones: If you know someone is struggling to stay sober, ask how you can be supportive. Even if the answer is, “I don’t know,” they may think of something later or just be touched that you asked.
Third, acknowledge your success. It may only be 24 hours but passing that period of time can feel monumental. When you get through it sober, remind yourself of the huge accomplishment.
“Maybe you can treat yourself to a massage, go to an extra meeting, or make sure you’re prioritizing rest and sleep,” Stratton says.
Tip for loved ones: Consider supporting your friend or family member by giving a gift that includes self-care. Do they love massages, movies, or manicures? Gift cards are never a bad idea.
Fifth, consider medication assistance. These days many treatment approaches include proper medications and there may be tools to provide extra support for stressful situations and cravings. Stratton says, “It’s important for folks to recognize and start having those conversations with their providers to ask things like, ‘is there anything else I can do to protect myself from cravings, triggers, and the dangers that exist?’”
Finally, what comes after the holidays? The new year. It’s the perfect time to evaluate your efforts, make plans, and set goals for the coming year.
“It’s not about doing this perfectly or having it all figured out,” Stratton says. “It’s about asking what this is in service of? What kind of life am I trying to create? Not just saying you want a sober life, but if you do stay sober what kind of life will you be living, what things will you be doing? Make those things the goals rather than the idealized expectation of staying sober forever.”
Crestview Recovery in Portland, Oregon is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center with the experience to help you recover. Our caring and understanding staff members are among the most experienced in the field.