10 Tips and Strategies for Surviving the Holidays as a Newly Recovering Addict

It’s that time of year again – the time recovering people affectionately describe as  “The Bermuda Triangle” of holidays. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, this time of year can be stressful for almost everyone. When you’re newly recovering from an addiction, though, this time of year can be dangerous – deadly for some of us. The extra stress, painful memories, and increased triggers create a combination ripe for relapse and for so many addicts, relapse means big consequences.

Given the season, we are going to explore 10 strategies for staying stable and sober through the holidays. This post assumes you are in recovery from some addiction (i.e., alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, porn, work, food, etc.) and want stay that way even under stress. If you’re not in recovery yet, that’s o.k. If you’re tired of your addiction ruining your own and your loved ones’ holidays, if you don’t want to have another holiday where you can’t remember what you said or did, if you don’t want to have to lie your way through another family visit, contact us today. We can help you get and stay sober. What’s more, we can help you recover a life of meaning, purpose, and joy. Learn about our services by clicking here.

As you read this blog post, write down ideas that resonate with you (an any others you may think of). Put your list in a visible (to you) location and start practicing these tips now. You don’t have to wait until you’re triggered. In fact, that would be the hardest time to get started! When we’re triggered our ability to think clearly is compromised. Practicing new tools head of time will make it more likely that you will use them under pressure.

Here are 10 tips for getting through the holidays sane and sober:

1)    Reduce Relapse Risk by Minimizing Time with Triggering People, Including Family and Friends.

Embarrassing or painful memories, behaviors we did when we were active in our addiction, old resentments we haven’t quite taken care of, believing everyone is watching to see if we really have changed or not… all of these and more can make time with loved ones during the holidays extra painful or stressful. Consider these recommendations:

  • Skip visits with extended family or loved ones altogether,
  • Focus on your immediate family, local recovery support, or local friendships,
  • Make visits to loved ones’ brief,
  • If you travel, consider staying in a hotel room so you have a safe place to go when you get overwhelmed. 

Making these decisions can be tough. Your loved ones may not understand your choices. Remember, no matter the short-term disappointment, your long-term sobriety and recovery are more important to you and your loved ones than missing a few days of visiting this holiday season.


2)    Create a 12 Step, Celebrate Recovery, SMART Recovery, or Other Meeting Schedule

You mean you want me to go to meetings while I’m on vacation?! That’s a little much, don’t you think? Well, maybe. But consider what lengths you went to for purposes of your addiction? Maybe going to some meetings while you’re celebrating the holiday season isn’t asking too much.

  • Find ways to continue attending your 12 Step, SMART Recovery, or Celebrate Recovery meetings while out of town,
  • Use the prevalence of phone and video meetings to your advantage,
  • If there aren’t meetings specific to your addiction, consider attending local open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings,
  • If you don’t attend meetings or can’t find your kind of meetings, experiment with meetings that are available. You never know, these may become a permanent part of your recovery support!


Whatever you do, don’t wait. Make a meeting plan now. If you’re concerned about others knowing, find meetings that occur earlier in the morning or later in the day when you will not be missed from family gatherings. This is too important. Your sobriety is worth some inconvenience.


3)    Regardless of Your Addiction, Limit Use of Alcohol or Other Substances


Obviously, if you are a recovering alcoholic or drug addict you will avoid these substances to maintain your sobriety. But what if you’re in recovery for something else: sex, porn, gambling, food, etc? We still recommend limiting or eliminating your use of alcohol or other substances through the holidays. These chemicals lower our inhibitions and make it difficult for us to make good decisions for ourselves, including decisions that will help us stay sober from our particular medicators.


4)   Stay Emotionally Regulated by Keeping it Simple


Even without an addiction, holidays carry so much extra stress: traveling, fitting in visits to everyone important to us, finding the perfect gifts for our loved ones, making sure we are putting our best face forward. It’s a wonder any of us survive it! With the extra stress of caring for our recovery, things can get hairy.  

So, keep it simple this year. Throw the idea of perfection out the window. Find ways to simplify or eliminate travel plans and keep visits relatively short (or not at all). Find simple ways to say I love you without having to find the perfect gifts. And don’t worry about looking good. Try just showing up as yourself.


5)  Take Out Insurance for Your Addiction by Focusing on How You Can Be of Service

Alcoholics Anonymous gave us a tremendous gift: the idea of service as a key to recovery. When we focus on being of service to others, we “take out a little insurance” for our sobriety. When we are heading into uncomfortable or potentially triggering situations, thinking about how we can contribute to the event or to the well-being of others is a powerful way to keep our mind off of our discomfort and addictive solutions. When I’m thinking about someone else, I’ll have a hard time thinking about myself or my addiction.

  • Can you help with the dishes or clean up?
  • Can you spend time with the kids so the adults can spend time together?
  • What about seeing if your partner needs help getting things ready for your trip or do your parents need help building something or fixing something around the house?
  • How about spending time with your elderly grandparent who gets ignored because she can’t hear very well?

If you’re staying home for the holidays,

  • consider volunteering at a soup kitchen,
  • see what service opportunities your church or local community center have available,
  • make it a point to reach out to newcomers or people who are struggling in your 12 Step, Celebrate Recovery, or SMART Recovery group.


6)    Blink, Breath, Bathroom


I learned the 3 B’s of stress management from a mentor: Blink, Breath, and go to the Bathroom. Let’s break these down a bit:


A. Blink – when we are stressed or feeling threatened in some way, we can get tunnel vision. Our eyes may get big (be cause our survival system wants to make sure we can see any threat that may come ourway) and we may forget to blink. Or, more generally, we may get frozen in our stress. So, move your body. Blinking or just shifting in your chair can remind you that you are o.k. It can break the trance and get you unstuck from feeling like you’re trapped, you’re in danger, or you can’t take care of yourself.  

So, just blink, turn your body slightly, move your feet, gently pat your own leg or arm. Remind yourself that you are safe, everything’s o.k., and that this discomfort will pass soon.


B. Breath – Taking deep breaths also helps us remember that we are o.k. Again, when we feel threatened or stress, our breathing may become shallow, or we may find ourselves holding our breath. Focusing on our breath can get us re-grounded in the moment. Taking this even further, it can be helpful to let ourselves focus on all our senses. Take time to notice what you see, hear, feel on your skin, smell, and taste. Focusing on these experiences in the moment helps us to get centered and remember that we don’t have to react to everything around us. We are safe and we have choices.


C. Bathroom – Sometimes we just need to take a break. Bathrooms are great because people rarely will argue with us if we say,“Excuse me,  I have to go to the bathroom.” When we are in the bathroom (or some place private) we can blink and breath. We can make a phone call or sent a text to someone in our support system. We can say a prayer or maybe even do a little writing if we bring some paper or a pen with us (or journal on our phone). Getting re-centered in this way can help us make loving choices for ourselves and about the way we will treat others. Going to the bathroom isn’t the only way to accomplish this, of course. We may also take a short walk, go sit in our car for a minute or take a short drive, or find another private place to reconnect with ourselves.


Whatever you choose to do, remember to communicate. Many newly recovering addicts have partners or loved ones who’ve been affected by our addictive behavior. Disappearing to the bathroom or other places for long periods of time may have been part of our addictive behavior. If we use this tool without communicating with our loved one we may unnecessarily cause them a tremendous amount of fear. So, just check in. For example, you might say, “Hey, honey, I’m going to go for a drive for about 10 minutes. I’m just going down the street. I’ll be back. I just need to call my sponsor.”


7)   Defend Yourself Against Your Addiction by Sticking to Healthy Routines and Structure 

If you are new in recovery, you are likely creating new routines and daily habits for yourself. During this time, try to stick to as many of these new behaviors as you can. For example, we easily throw good sleep habits out the window when we are vacationing. Use caution! Our sleep habits are foundational to most of our other habits. If I go to bed late, I’ll likely wake up late. This means I may not have time to do my usual morning time ofconnecting with myself or my Higher Power or do my daily recovery readings. It’s possible that missing this time will mean I start my day off on the wrong foot, or that I’m a little more irritable than usual. This makes me more vulnerable to lashing out or treating myself or others in ways I don’t want. Of course, all of this makes me more vulnerable to returning to my old using/medicating behaviors.

Missing routines for a day or so may not have such dramatic affects. However, when I’m on vacation for a week or more and continue to miss these self-care behaviors, my body, my heart, my mind, and my loved ones will definitely start to notice. What’s worse, missing these routines while on vacation may make it that much harder to get them back when my life returns to normal. So, try to stick to your routines as much as possible.Your recovery will thank you!


8)   Protect Your Recovery by Preparing for Alcohol/Drug/Food/Other "Pushers"

Some of us are addicted to substances or behaviors that are very socially acceptable, especially over the holidays. Alcohol, food, sports gambling, shopping, and other activities are almost synonymous with the holiday season. While you’re abstaining, those loved ones who “push” these behaviors will become even more noticeable. For some of them, it is unthinkable that you wouldn’t taste their eggnog with a special rum, or that you wouldn’t have a piece of pie that was made from their great, great, great, grandmother’s recipe, or that you wouldn’t go shopping with them on Black Friday.

It's good to be prepared for these kinds of invitations and complaints from your loved ones. It’s often enough to say, “No thank you. I don’t care for any.” But for the “pushers” you may need to be prepared to say something a little stronger. Here are some ideas that have worked for others:

  • "No thanks. I’m allergic to that."
  • "I am not going to have any, right now. "
  • "You know, when I eat (drink, have that, do that) I can’t stop and I’ll keep on until its gone."
  • "I’m in recovery for my addiction to ____________. So, I’m not going to have any."
  • "I'm allergic to ___________. When I drink that, (have that, do that) I breakout into addiction." 
  • Take it and throw it away as soon as the person leaves the room/turns away.
  • Have something else (a drink or food) in your hand.
  • Change the subject.

Everyone has to find the right approach for them. Avoid giving long explanations or too much information. Keep things short and sweet. Remember, even if your loved one is upset, they will benefit much more from your recovery than you relapsing because you wanted to please them in the moment.


9) Use Your Support System to Help Your Sobriety


I know, I know… it’s hard to make yourself call or text people through the holidays. After all, aren’t they trying to celebrate with their family and loved ones? Who are you to interrupt their celebration with your problems? These are the things that our shame and addiction tell us and keep us from getting the support we need to stay sober. Just remember, in our addiction we often didn’t care who we bothered or what day it was. Be willing to go to any lengths for your sobriety so you don’t have to go back to your addiction.  

The truth is other people have the ability to take care of themselves. If they can’t respond to a text, they won’t. If they don’t want to answer the phone, they’ll send it to voicemail. So, we are only “bothering” people who are open to being available in that moment. Also, if these are other people who are trying to be sober, they are actually helping their own recovery by being of service to you.


Now that we have that excuse taken care of, let’s talk about how to use support over the holidays:

  • If you haven’t already, attend recovery meetings and get phone numbers of people who seem to have solid recovery.
  • Ask them if you can contact them over the holidays for support.
  • Make a plan for reaching out.
  • Make goals like: call or text 3-10 people a day or set your phone alarm for regular intervals (i.e, every 2 hours, or 1 hour,or 30 minutes). When the alarm goes off, reach out to someone to check in.


10)  Don’t Forget About the Come Down


This last tip is not about the holiday, but about the days following the holiday. For many addicts, getting through a stressful situation is not that difficult. We tend to thrive on crisis and intensity. The holidays can fit that description! But watch out for the “come down”. This is when the holidays are over and our adrenaline and cortisol levels start returning to normal. 

Suddenly, we aren’t surrounded by people and noise, we aren’t driven by hectic schedules and a list of holiday tasks to accomplish. Family has gone, or we have returned home. Things are getting back to normal.This is where many addicts start to struggle with cravings, thoughts of using or acting out, and may become overwhelmed with feelings as our hearts catch up with our bodies. Be aware of this risk. We often need as much or more support after the holidays as we did during them. Use your tools. Let your recovery support system work for you. Allow yourself to return to a normal self-care routine as you adjust to regular life once again.


Remember, it is always easier to stay sober than to have to get sober. Protecting your recovery and sobriety is worth it, even if its hard, inconvenient, or uncomfortable. This year, prioritize your recovery. Make this your most important focus over the holidays and everything else will work out just fine. Remember, you will celebrate the holidays every single year. It’s o.k. if this year looks different. Your recovery will make it possible to celebrate all future holidays with genuine health and connection.

Practice these 10 tips and before you know it, you will wake up to realize that you made it! You survived the holidays and re-entered normal life without returning to your medicators! Take time to express gratitude – to yourself, to your higher power, and to those who helped you stay grounded and sober through a stressful time.



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