How to Celebrate the Holidays Sober

By: Liz Lunsted, Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Maintaining your sobriety and having fun at events that are traditionally associated with drinking such as a holiday party is possible, but it does require planning. The more safeguards you put in place, the more time you will have to distract yourself from using. These safeguards can take many forms and even be a group effort, whether the entire group celebrates without alcohol.

The following ideas can help you stay sober and enjoy the holiday season or any social gathering where alcohol will be part of the celebration.

Bring your own non-alcoholic beverages.

Often in gatherings where drinking is common, having a drink in your hand is habit. Take control by bringing your own non-alcoholic (NA) beverage of choice, removing the option to fill your glass with an alcohol-based drink. There are quite a few traditional holiday beverages that are just as good (or better!) without alcohol…eggnog, hot chocolate, and hot cider, just to name a few. Find more by searching online for “NA holiday drinks” or “holiday mocktails”. Do not rely on your host to provide NA options.

If you are meeting at a venue that doesn’t allow you to bring your own beverage, review their menu online or call ahead of time to plan what drinks will work for you. Many venues now include mocktail offerings that are fun, festive, and seasonal.

Make your own entertainment!

When in recovery, self-driven distraction can be beautiful. While there are likely to be activities and entertainment, prepare to have a sober activity for yourself or invite the group to participate in one such as:

  • Play a board or card game
  • Ask everyone to bring their favorite childhood games
  • Go sledding or ice skating
  • Make ornaments and decorate the tree
  • Go on a holiday light tour
  • Go caroling in your naighborhood
  • Have a holiday movie marathon
  • Hold a white elephant exchange

It helps to mentally focus on a chosen sober activity rather than fixating on the desire to drink or all the drinking around you.

Shift the focus from drinks to food.

Promoting food as a focal point can change the tone of the gathering as well as reduce the amount of alcohol. This encourages your group to celebrate around food as opposed to drinking.

  • Have a cookie bake-off and exchange
  • Decorate cookies
  • Make gingerbread houses
  • Hold a competition for the best holiday-themed dip, appetizer or mocktail. Vote for a winner and award a sober-friendly prize, such as a coffee giftcard

Know your triggers and have support on standby.

In the time leading up to the event, take time to look within yourself to identify your triggers. Understand how those triggers may arise throughout the event and what, and whom, you may need to work through those.

Once those are identified, it can be helpful to have someone supportive and sober with you to rely on during those moments of temptation. They can help keep you from relapsing and effectively work through triggers as they arise.

If you feel ready and comfortable to share, it can be incredibly helpful to tell those around you and those hosting the party that you are sober and gain their support and aid in eluding temptation. The more people you have around to hold you accountable, the more likely you are to avoid using. Additionally, it is likely that if the people around you are aware that you are in recovery, they may be willing to do what they can to support you through that journey, even call for an entirely sober event.

Leave, if necessary.

A significant part of recovery and maintaining sobriety is having a community and connection. Getting out and socializing is important, but only you know when you have maxed out. Plan for these situations by driving yourself to the event. This way you’ll have the means to leave at any time you deem necessary for yourself, for your safety, and for your sobriety.

Although socializing is important, nothing is more important than your recovery. Now is the time to be “selfish.” You need to do what is best for you and those who support you will understand when you need to leave “earlier than expected.”

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