Plan Ahead or Plan to Fail - Getting through the Holidays Sober

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Making a concrete plan to stay sober during the holidays requires planning. Doing the prep work ahead of time increases your chances of being able to stay sober. You can choose to do nothing and hope it’ll work out but the temptations to use are everywhere this time of year. Relapse is too common which is why you need to plan ahead or plan to fail.

Here are some quick tips to guide you through the holidays sober.

Come up with a Response

First, decide how you’re going to respond when offered substances. This requires being very clear on your boundaries. Prepare a quick response so you don’t have to respond in the heat of the moment. The pressure to join in the party and “have just one” can happen fast.

Knowing how to handle it up front can help you feel more confident and avoid temptation. Write out a few short comments explaining why you won’t be drinking.

Here are a few examples;

  • “I’m taking a break from substances right now.” 

  • “I’m focusing more on my health right now.”

  • “Thanks but I’ll pass tonight.”

Noticed that these comments are purposely vague. You don’t need to over-explain yourself. If someone presses you for details, repeat your statement again. It’s called the broken record technique. Most people will get the hint. If not, excuse yourself politely and move on.

Another common issue is when old drinking buddies guilt you into drinking again. Expect there to be some push back. They want their drinking buddy back. Be compassionate, your sobriety may feel uncomfortable for them. Seeing you get sober changes the game and it’s normal for them to have a reaction. If it’s a negative one, be compassion but stand firm. Setting healthy boundaries around your sobriety requires support.

Tip: Be sure to have your “sober statement” ready when people ask why you’re not drinking.

Make Sure You Build-in Support

Make sure you “sandwich yourself” with support before and after events.

Don’t assume that you’ll be able to handle these events alone. Being newly sober is a major adjustment. Even when you’re feeling good, get some support before you actually need it. That way if you’re tempted to use, you’ll already have reinforcements.

Here are some ways to get support:

  • Commit to texting a friend or sponsor throughout the event. This provides structure and accountability to keep focused on the goal - enjoying yourself sober.

  • Attend AA meetings before and after the event for encouragement to stay on the path of recovery.

  • Bring a sober buddy to keep you accountable. Preferably a seasoned old-timer because a newcomer may not have the stability to cope sober. You don’t want to end up using together.

  • Make outreach calls to reason things out with someone else if you start feeling out of place or lonely.

Tip: Create your unique “sandwich of support” before going to drinking events.

Know When It’s Time to Go

It’s important to recognize when you need to leave the party. This means paying close attention to any whiff of discomfort that you feel. Don’t ignore those feelings because they are your signposts to avoid relapse. Your gut will tell you when something doesn’t feel right.

Here are some signs to help you know when to go.

  • Is it getting too uncomfortable to be there?

  • Are people using substances or pressuring you to join in?

  • Is your stress or anxiety too high to cope effectively?

  • Do you have a gut feeling that you need to leave?

  • Are you starting to feel tempted? Thinking that you might be able to have “just one” drink.

Tip: Write a list of early warning signs that signal when you need to leave. What makes you uncomfortable or tempted to use?

Understand the Importance of the Emotional Crash

Be aware of the emotional crash that happens after major events!

When you're focused on getting through the holidays ( or any major event) sober you have a concrete goal. Once you’ve reached that goal, you think it’s safe. You made it but once the celebrations are over you want to use again. What?? How could that be?

There is an important slogan in AA called One Day at a Time which means live in today. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Many addicts swell up with pride after conquering the holidays sober but they are not living one day at a time so when the holidays are over, they think they deserve a reward and bam! They’re back to using again.

You might even think you can “have just one” because you’ve gotten through the holidays sober. That's what AA calls “stinking thinking.” Assuming that you can do your recovery alone is the hallmark of denial and a major warning sign of relapse.

Tips to Avoid Relapse:

  • Pay attention to HALT ~ the 12 step slogan stands for Don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

  • Plan ahead to minimize potential problems.

  • Keep meetings a priority.

  • Do service at your AA meetings to keep you connected.

  • Use online and phone meetings as alternatives.

  • Listen to recovery podcasts for an attitude boost.

Final Thoughts

Sobriety requires managing the stress of the holidays. Staying close to your support system is vital for you to avoid the slide into relapse behavior. Hang on to the slogans like One Day at A Time, and Easy Does It. You can get through anything if you stay in today and let tomorrow take care of itself. Putting sobriety first is the best way to guard your recovery from relapse. This takes a planned effort, but it will pay off tenfold. One minute at a time.

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