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How to Maintain Sobriety During Holidays

December 14, 2017

For those in recovery, whether it’s been a week or decades, the holiday season can be a stressful and dangerous time. Holiday gatherings associated with alcohol, volatile family situations, busy schedules, feelings of isolation or being away from one’s support system can be triggers that threaten recovery.

Michelle Voegtle, Rushford in Avon Clinical Supervisor,  says there are ways to prepare for the season to maintain sobriety.

1.) Always plan a support system

Have someone from your support system — your sponsor or a trusted family member or friend — attend potentially stressful holiday events with you. Voegtle recommends setting designated “timeouts” at the gathering to check in with your support to help keep you grounded.

2.) Be aware that the holidays can be an emotional minefield.

Everyone feels at least a little stress during the holiday season.  Stress can amplify grudges and past resentments.

“Families are complicated and we all have roles that we play within them,” Voegtle says. “Parents and siblings see us through their own lenses, not necessarily the person we’ve become.  Our buttons can be easily pushed.”

She says being aware of these potential situations can help prevent you from being defensive and help foster forgiveness.

3.) Avoid situations that make you feel vulnerable.

“Remember you always have the power of choice,” Voegtle says.

One strategy: Always arrive a little late for a function that you think might threaten your sobriety.

“You don’t want to be the first one there,” she says. “You’re nervous.  The host is nervous.  Offering you a drink is a good icebreaker.”

Also, Voegtle says it’s important to have an exit strategy. She says to drive separately to the function, if possible, or make sure you have a plan in place to leave if others you come with aren’t ready when the time comes to leave.

4.) Focus on helping others and express gratitude.

“Our addictive brains get us stuck in self-pity. It’s pretty much guaranteed that the holidays will make you feel some anxiety, some depression and some self-pity,” Voegtle says.  “Focusing on others helps to bring in the recovery principle of service.  The more that we can get outside of our heads to think of others the less we’ll get trapped in that isolation.”

Voegtle says focusing on what you’re grateful for will also help prevent isolating thoughts.  She suggests making an alphabetical list, assigning one thing you are grateful for each letter.

5.) Limit sugar intake.

You might think that loading up on Christmas cookies and fruity non-alcoholic punch is a safe alternative to drinking liquor during the holidays.  That’s not always the case, says Voegtle.

“Be cautious of the sugar,” she says. “It’s often something people in addiction crave and can really impact their moods.  If someone has too much sugar it can amp them up, they crash and can get depressed.”

Bring a bottle of seltzer or a healthy desert to holiday parties to ensure that you’ll always have a non-alcoholic, non-sugary option.

6.) Take care of yourself.

“People who are successful in recovery know how important this is, especially this time of year,” Voegtle says.

While time might be tight during the holidays, Voegtle urges those in recovery to try to maintain consistency with their 12-step meetings, exercise and diet.

“Try attending a morning [12-step] meeting in if that fits into your holiday schedule better,” she says, “or if you normally do 60 minutes of exercise you can scale it back to 30 minutes.  But the key is keeping that consistent routine.”

Voegtle urges clients to remember the HALT recovery tool:

  • Hunger.
  • Anger.
  • Loneliness.
  • Tiredness.

“If you feel any of these, it should be a red flag,” she says.

People struggling with recovery shouldn’t hesitate to seek treatment during the holidays.

“People are sometimes afraid to seek treatment during this time of year,” Voegtle says. “They think that it’s supposed to be a happy time and that they might be ruining their loved ones’ holiday.  Actually, getting treatment is the best gift you can give to yourself and your family.”

To learn more about Rushford’s programs, click here