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Surviving the Holidays – Staying Sober in Recovery

12 Tips for Staying Sober this Holiday Season

By Brian McAlister

I am 32 years sober. I know from experience that the holidays can be hazardous for someone in the addiction recovery community. It’s important to make a plan to enjoy as well as survive the holidays when staying sober is a key to making that possible.

For an addict, the holidays can be a perfect storm. Expectations run high for that perfect family get-together. Alcohol flows. Tempers flare. Schedules are loose, and diet and sleep are disrupted. Budgets are wrecked, creating conflict. Sometimes being swept up in a happy occasion can also create a moment where years of sobriety can be lost in a moment.

Over the years, I have developed my own practices that not only help me stay sane and sober through the holidays, but which also help me enjoy the holidays.

I have a holiday plan to stay sober. It’s an active blueprint, my game plan, and I deliberately prepare for what might knock me off the beam.

Make a Plan

I didn’t plan to become an addict. But to stay sober, I have to have a plan. This is particularly true at the holidays. I keep a journal. I meditate. I eat well. I am prepared, mentally, emotionally and physically, for the chaos of the holidays.

I also make plans to celebrate. I am sober. I am alive. I have a beautiful family.

Stay Connected, Before, During and After Holidays

Don’t stay home alone, feeling sorry for yourself. Resentment is anger turned inward, and it’s a dangerous emotion.

“(Resentment) destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” That’s from the Big Book, the Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939. Many AA and NA chapters hold special events and meetings every hour on the holidays, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and round the clock on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Give It Away To Keep It

When I find life particularly challenging, someone inevitably comes along who is in worse shape than I am. This, I have learned, is a gift. When I am in the service of someone else, I am not thinking of myself.

The only way to stay sober is to help the next guy. You’ve got to give it away to keep it.

The spirit of giving is the true spirit of the holidays.

My Daily Steps to a Sober Holiday

  1. Attend a meeting. Go every day to a 12-step meeting or support group meeting.  This is particularly necessary during the holidays. If you’re traveling, find a meeting. If you are struggling, let someone know. Attending a meeting allows you to interact with people who already know how to accomplish what you are trying to accomplish. Ask for suggestions on how to avoid relapse and make the season enjoyable. Meeting makers make it.
  2. Surround yourself with sober friends. You deserve to be happy.  Addiction is a disease that systematically removes all joy from life. Friends, family, social activities and events become less important as we sink deeper into substance abuse. Many 12-Step groups have special events during the holidays. Check your local meeting websites for a list of activities. You’re sober, don’t sit home. Get back into life!
  3. Take a breath. Then take another breath before reacting to stressful situations. Ask yourself better questions. “How important is this?” Or: “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy? Anger and resentment are powerful relapse triggers.
  4. Do one good deed every day and expect nothing in return. This builds self-esteem and gets into the spirit of the season. You don’t want to miss experiencing the joy of giving. Help someone less fortunate.
  5. Speak to someone in recovery every day. Don’t isolate. It’s important to be aware of how we are communicating with ourselves. We speak to ourselves all day long and our conversations either promote joy, happiness and recovery or they are conversations of fear, negativity and relapse. Talking with another recovering person will help both you and the other person stay positive and sober.
  6. Read inspirational literature. Success can be taught, learned and duplicated. (The AA Big Book, and Full Recovery: The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power – the book I wrote before creating Freedom 365 – are two suggestions.)
  7. Take care of yourself. Proper diet, exercise, sleep and mental stimulation do wonders to relieve anxiety and stress.
  8. Expand your spiritual life. There is no substitute for daily prayer and meditation. I like to start by getting centered early in the morning, so I can set the tone for the day.
  9. Have fun. Laughter is balm for a weary soul. Laughter releases dopamine, the same feel-good chemical in the brain you were artificially trying to produce by the use of drugs and alcohol. Laughter releases dopamine at no cost with only positive side effects
  10. Don’t take the bait. Relatives and social events can be a challenge, especially in early recovery. People like to keep us in a role they are comfortable with even though we are no longer getting high. Avoid troublemakers. If I don’t like the movie I get up and leave. Skip any events that make you uncomfortable. If there’s an event you can’t avoid, take a sober friend and keep candy handy. Candy can help alleviate cravings. If you attend a gathering where alcohol is being served, keep your own drink in your hand; you don’t want to pick up someone else’s drink by accident and trigger the phenomenon of craving. Go late and leave early.
  11. Start a new tradition. Be host to your sober friends, especially newcomers. If you don’t have a place to go, just meet someone for coffee.
  12. Use the Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System.  I created this system for exactly this reason, for those critical at-risk moments when an addict needs immediate help and a personal recovery guide to interrupt a negative thinking pattern and avoid relapse. You can customize it to contain your sober contacts. It has 500 interactive videos about overcoming fear, anxiety and stress; how to repair relationships, career and finances; guided meditation and a full suite of relapse-prevention tools.

Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the President and CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery, The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put a full year of 24/7, secure, and private addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere, and on any device. His mission is to help others have access to the life-changing and life-saving tools of recovery that he uses every day – even after 28 years in sobriety. Why? Because currently only 4% of people in America who need addiction recovery support get it. Find out more here.



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