Holiday Sobriety: Celebrating Festivities Without Compromising Recovery Goals
The holiday gathering was a swirl of laughter and clinking glasses, but for Arpit, it was a balancing act between joy and commitment. The smell of beer and champagne brought back memories, testing the resolve forged in sobriety. Surrounded by warmth and cheer, every offer of a drink became a tug-of-war between fitting in and staying true to a hard-won journey.
The holidays are all about happiness and being together, but they can be really tricky for people trying to stay away from alcohol or drugs. There are parties with drinks everywhere you go, and in some cultures, it’s a big part of celebrating. This can make it really hard for someone who’s working hard to stay sober during this time. It’s like trying to get through a maze where every turn feels like a temptation to go back to using substances, even though you’re committed to not doing that anymore. Like Alex, many of us might struggle with the same problems.
In this blog, we discuss strategies for maintaining sobriety during a time filled with triggers and temptations.
Understanding the Challenges
During festive seasons, societal norms often glorify alcohol, making it a centrepiece of celebrations. Cultural customs, deeply intertwined with drinking, add pressure on individuals striving for sobriety. Holiday gatherings become minefields for those in recovery, braving triggers and constant offers of alcohol.
Personal battles emerge amidst the festivities as social expectations clash with the commitment to staying sober. The pressure to conform to the drinking culture amplifies the struggle. Individuals face an uphill journey, combating both societal ideals and personal temptations, navigating a season where alcohol permeates every social interaction, and challenging their resolve and resilience on the path to recovery.
Strategies for Maintaining Sobriety
- Plan Ahead: Before attending social events, devise a strategy. Identify potential triggers and plan how to navigate them. Have a non-alcoholic drink in hand, arrive early to connect with hosts before the party gets busy, and prepare responses for offers of alcohol. Setting a time limit for your stay can also help manage temptation.
- Seek Support: Communicate your commitment to friends, family, and trusted individuals who can provide support. Have a designated person you can reach out to when feeling overwhelmed. Attend support group meetings or engage in online communities for encouragement and accountability. Here are a few examples of things you can say:
- “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. Could we take a short walk or talk somewhere quieter?”
- “I’m feeling triggered; could we change the topic or engage in something else for a bit?”
- “I might need to step out for a moment to take a breather. Could you check in on me in a few minutes?”
- “I’m having a tough time with the temptation. Can you help me find a non-alcoholic drink?”
- “I’d love to chat with you, but I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with the alcohol around. Mind if we move to a different area?”
- Mindfulness Techniques: Practice mindfulness and meditation to manage stress and cravings. Breathing exercises or guided meditation apps can be useful tools. Identify triggers and employ coping strategies like visualisation, deep breathing, or focusing on the present moment to prevent spiralling thoughts. Here is an easy grounding method called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique you can try anywhere:
- Acknowledge five things you can see: Look around and name five things you can see in your immediate surroundings.
- Notice four things you can feel: Pay attention to the sensations on your skin or what you’re touching. Name four things you can physically feel.
- Identify three things you can hear: Listen closely and identify three distinct sounds you can hear in your environment.
- Recognise two things you can smell: If possible, take notice of two scents or smells around you.
- Find one thing you can taste: If you have something to taste nearby (a mint, a drink, etc.), focus on it and describe its taste or imagine its taste if it’s not something you can physically consume.
- Alternative Activities: Explore and suggest alcohol-free events or activities. Organise movie nights, game gatherings, hiking trips, or cooking classes. Participate in community events, volunteer work, or creative hobbies to engage in fulfilling experiences without the presence of alcohol.
Individuals can proactively navigate social events during the holidays by planning, seeking support, practising mindfulness, and embracing alternative activities while staying committed to their recovery goals.
Communicating Boundaries and Needs
Initiating conversations about personal boundaries requires clarity and empathy. Choose a calm, private setting to express your boundaries regarding alcohol consumption. Start by sharing your perspective using “I” statements, such as “I’ve chosen to stay sober for my health and well-being.” Emphasise that these boundaries are essential for maintaining your sobriety and overall happiness.
Be specific about the support you need, whether it’s refraining from offering drinks or understanding your choice without pressure or judgment. Consistency is key. Remind them of your boundaries as needed, gently reinforcing the importance of their respect and support. Lastly, express gratitude for their understanding and willingness to navigate social situations in a way that supports your commitment to sobriety.
Effective communication fosters mutual respect and strengthens relationships while honouring your journey towards recovery. You can say something like, “I’ve decided to stay sober for my health and well-being. I’d appreciate your support in this”, or “I’d love to spend time with you, but I won’t be drinking tonight. I hope you understand.”
Coping with Triggers and Temptations
Navigating triggers and resisting temptations is a significant aspect of maintaining sobriety during the holidays. Here are effective strategies to manage these challenges:
Recognise situations, emotions, or environments that trigger cravings. Pinpointing triggers is crucial, whether it’s certain people, places, stress, or specific social settings. Make a note of these in your notes or journal to have more clarity. This will help you either avoid those situations if possible or be more prepared for them.
Develop Coping Strategies:
Once identified, devise coping mechanisms to counter triggers. This could involve deep breathing, practising mindfulness, distraction techniques, or engaging in activities that bring comfort. Engage in self-care practices in general; you can try doing yoga poses for better mental health. Here are some things you can try:
- Mindful Breathing: Take deep, slow breaths. Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. This can help calm the mind and reduce stress.
- Grounding Techniques: Use grounding exercises like tapping your fingers on your leg in a specific pattern or focusing on the sensation of your feet on the ground. This helps bring attention back to the present moment.
- Lean on a Supportive Individual: Identify a supportive friend or family member in the gathering. Signal or communicate with them discreetly if you’re feeling triggered for a moment of support.
- Take Breaks: Don’t hesitate to step away for a few moments. Take a moment in a calm setting to relax, stretch, or engage in a short mindfulness exercise before rejoining the gathering. Consider exploring uplifting content or humorous memes that promote mental well-being as a way to distract yourself and uplift your mood.
- Have an Escape Plan: Pre-plan an excuse to step away if feeling overwhelmed. Whether it’s stepping outside for fresh air, taking a phone call, or simply excusing yourself to use the restroom, having an exit strategy can provide relief.
- Sip Non-Alcoholic Drinks: Hold onto a non-alcoholic beverage throughout the event. This not only keeps your hands occupied but also avoids offers for alcoholic drinks.
- Visualisations: Mentally transport yourself to a calming place. Close your eyes briefly and imagine a serene setting or a favourite memory to ease feelings of discomfort.
- Use Positive Affirmations: Repeat affirmations silently to yourself. Phrases like “I am strong and in control” or “I am committed to my well-being” can reinforce your determination.
Don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance from therapists or counsellors specialising in addiction. They can provide tailored strategies to manage triggers effectively. Acknowledge and celebrate small victories. Every instance of successfully navigating a trigger builds strength and reinforces your resolve.
Understand that slips or moments of weakness don’t define your journey. Forgive yourself and use these experiences as learning opportunities to strengthen your resolve. Managing triggers and resisting temptations during the holiday season requires preparation, support, and self-awareness. These strategies empower individuals to confront challenges while staying committed to their recovery goals.
For those encountering difficulties or feeling overwhelmed by triggers, remember that seeking help is an act of courage, not weakness. If the challenges of the season become overwhelming or if a relapse occurs, reaching out for professional support is a pivotal step towards renewed strength and guidance. You can explore treatment centres across India here.
Grinspoon, P., MD. (2017, December 14). Navigating the holidays in recovery. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/navigating-holidays-recovery-2017121412931
How to Stop Alcohol cravings – Handling the Urges to Drink | NIAAA. (n.d.). https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/tools/Interactive-worksheets-and-more/Stay-in-control/Coping-With-Urges-To-drink.aspx
It can be hard to stay sober during the holidays. This is how I do it. (2022, November 23). TODAY.com. https://www.today.com/health/struggle-stay-sober-during-holidays-t239933
Marcus, M. T., & Zgierska, A. (2009). Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorders: Part 1. Substance Abuse, 30(4), 263–265. https://doi.org/10.1080/08897070903250027