Maintaining sobriety is a significant and evolving life commitment, often tested during the holidays and times of high stress. As people are celebrating and engaging in traditions, socializing can be more intense, and large gatherings are easily overwhelming for those managing social anxiety. Here are a few ways to be mindful and prepare yourself for a sober holiday.
Know Your Triggers – The holidays can be stressful and that alone is often enough to induce urges and reach peak anxiety. It’s helpful that, leading up to your holiday plans, you take note of particular triggers that you notice day-to-day. Recording triggers can be a mental exercise but it is best carried out by keeping a journal. As a coping skill, journaling can serve as a useful tool, allowing you to both keep track of triggers and process emotions. Recognizing triggers does require some level of mindfulness and presence.
Express Boundaries – Family and other loved ones can often be intrusive or pressuring. Tradition is also a factor that can influence decisions around partaking. It is important to express clear intentions and boundaries with anyone in your circle who may be pressuring you to drink or use drugs. You have a higher chance of engaging in activities that are associated with drinking or that can prompt cravings of substance use, during times of gathering and celebrating. If you choose not to share your sober journey with others, simply saying “NO THANKS” gets easier with time and practice.
Incorporate Strategy – Strategy is important for managing cravings, avoiding triggers, and having an exit plan. For example, sipping mocktails is an easy way to partake in celebrations while staying sober (although sobriety itself is very difficult). No one has to know that you aren’t drinking alcohol since it is your choice to share your intentions, but it may be helpful for certain individuals to be informed, particularly if they are a part of your support system. Opting out of high stress or high-risk events is sometimes the healthier choice, which could change from one day to the next. Check-in with yourself before any outings and evaluate the environment in which you have agreed to meet. If a friend is having an event at a bar and you have had a stressful or emotional day, this could be a red flag, especially it you are early in recovery. Another important strategy is driving yourself or taking a rideshare service to the event. This allows you to be on your own time so that you may come and go as you please. You can easily exit if you feel you have reached your social limit. Knowing that you are driving can also be an incentive to stay sober. Having an ‘out’ is often useful. For example, telling your family that you aren’t drinking to avoid triggering an existing medical issue (i.e., migraines, acid reflux, medication related side effects), generally gets people to back-off.
Have Support – A support system is an essential group of individuals that is usually made up of someone in your inner circle or family system, along with persons who are outside of your family system but a part of your recovery posse (such as a sponsor or sober buddy). Utilizing coping skills, strategy, and mindfulness are all helpful with maintaining sobriety, but there are times when a shoulder is most supportive and comforting. These individuals can also help you with accountability and supporting you during difficult days or relapse.
Mindfulness & Self-care – Be gentle with yourself by using supportive self-talk, forgiveness, and challenging irrational thoughts. How you feel when you arrive to a function is critical. Eat and be well rested so you are not agitated and resolve any issues that could alter you night. Remember that mental health and spiritual fulfillment have an important impact on your wellbeing, and much of sobriety is catering to your lifestyle to maintain a healthy state. So, minimizing stress in a holistic manner will have positive consequences on your behavior and emotions.
Of course, we are here to assist you through your recovery journey and to help you gain and utilize the tools to maintain a healthy, sober lifestyle. Feel free to ask us about our services or reach out for support!
Hoping you all are safe and warm throughout this holiday season and during your cultural celebrations. xo
Stephanie Powers, MSc, LCDC, CADC II