10 Ways I Stay Sober During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is often one of the best times of the year for most people. You have the opportunity to spend time with the people in your life that matter the most. Everyone seems to be in good spirits and vacation time is always on the horizon. Office Christmas parties, Thanksgiving with your family, exchanging gifts with loved ones and New Year’s Eve all provide ample opportunities for you to let loose and enjoy life. That being said, the holidays always present a tremendous challenge to my willpower since I decided to get sober nine years ago.

I struggled with addiction throughout my youth and became enamored with alcohol at a young age. I was born in Colombia and we would always drink Aguardiente, or “fire water,” at any family event. If you have ever had the opportunity to try Aguardiente, you know that it is an extremely potent liquor.

The first time I got drunk was at the age of nine. By age 14, I was smoking marijuana. At the age of 19, I had moved on to harder drugs such as meth and cocaine. I eventually decided to start selling drugs in order to support my addiction and, ultimately, ran into trouble with the law at the age of 22. Prison was a real wake up call. It wasn’t all bad though, as I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous during my time in jail. These programs helped lay the foundations for sobriety that continue helping me remain sober to this day.

When you are trying to recover from addiction or detox from alcohol, I think it’s vital to have supportive people in your life at all times and a powerful program to help keep you on the right track. I remember my first Christmas after I decided to get sober like it was yesterday. Instead of the “12 Days of Christmas” it was more like the “12 Days of Relapse Temptations.” My friends were calling and asking me to go out drinking and partying every day. The presence of alcohol was nearly impossible to escape. I wanted to hang out with my friends and celebrate the season, but I was honestly terrified with the fact that they would likely be drinking. Luckily, one of my best friends, who was actually my sponsor from an AA group I joined after prison, was there to help me make it through those trying times.

Whenever I was tempted to go to an environment that would involve alcohol, he was always there to provide a healthy alternative, like helping out at a local homeless shelter or going to workout together. Instead of eggnog, we would go for a jog. I have learned a ton during these nine years of being sober for the holidays. For me, the holidays have always been about giving. This year is no different, and I have prepared a gift for you in the form of advice! I’d like to share with you the top 10 ways I stay sober during the holiday season:

1. Plan Out Your Holiday in Advance

It always helps me immensely to make sure I am active and productive throughout the holiday season. I typically find that I have more time on my hands during the holidays. Some of my toughest moments of trying to stay sober were during my downtime, when I literally had nothing to do. That’s when the risk of relapse is higher. Avoid downtime by planning out things in advance.

2. Attend Meetings

I was regularly attending AA and NA meetings prior to when the holidays rolled around. I knew this was a healthy and crucial part of my recovery, so I committed myself to keep attending meetings during the holiday season. I found it immensely helpful to interact with other people struggling with addiction during this trying time of the year.

3. Be Cognizant of Triggers

During my first Christmas at home, after I decided to get sober, it seemed like every day I would run into something or someone that would remind me of the times I was using. People, places, movies and songs were among the culprits that lead my thoughts down a dark path. Luckily, I had my family and sober friends to help me keep my head straight during that time. That being said, I think it is extremely important to be aware of triggers that bring up memories of the times you were using and were in the midst of addiction. Being aware of triggers is an important step in relapse prevention.

4. Help Out Others

I think the holiday season is the perfect time to help out those who are less fortunate. Whenever I find myself heading down a path that could potentially lead to relapse, I seek out ways to care for others and make a positive impact in someone else’s life. There are always plenty of opportunities during the holidays to help out at a local homeless shelter, volunteer at a local charity, or support someone else who is trying to recover from addiction.

5. Ask for Help from Friends and Family

This time of year is typically spent with your family and friends. When I was trying to make it through my first sober Christmas, I made sure to communicate and ask for support from all of the people closest to me. Sometimes when you are struggling with sobriety you can feel like you are alone in this world. I always benefited from having a tight-knit group of people to rely on in the hardest of moments.

6. Be Prepared to Say No

I vividly remember the difficulties of turning down invitations to events where I knew there would be alcohol and opportunities to relapse. I didn’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings or be perceived as antisocial, but sometimes saying no is the best way to go. If they are truly your friends, they will fully support your journey and commitment toward sobriety and not be offended if you decline their holiday invitations.

7. Exercise

When I was first recovering from addiction and getting sober, I knew that I had to replace those old habits with something new and reinvigorating. I had to find a healthy hobby that I could rely on whenever thoughts of relapse came to my mind. For me, exercise was the solution. I highly suggest exercising during the holidays (and year-round) because it’s a great way to flush toxins out of your system, reduce stress and build up your self-esteem.

8. Create your Own Holiday Events

Instead of going to someone else’s holiday party that you know will provide lots of opportunities to relapse or drink, why not create your own holiday event? You can invite your closest friends, create a new tradition and have a great time without the risk of relapse. By surrounding yourself with people who love you and support your recovery efforts, you are putting yourself in a position to succeed. I actually decided to start hosting a “Friendsgiving” every year, which has become a holiday mainstay for me and my friends.

9. Practice Gratitude

Nine years ago, I decided to start my days by practicing gratitude. I wake up every single day and write down three things I am truly grateful for. This habit of reflection and appreciation has deeply affected me in a positive way and helps me start my days with an optimistic frame of mind.

10. Enjoy Yourself (Responsibly)

Just because you are in recovery and want to be sober during the holidays doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself! Find things that you truly enjoy doing and take advantage of the holiday season to the fullest. You can help Mom decorate the tree, bake some cookies, or perhaps even go shopping for yourself! I personally love going to the movies at this time of year because there are typically some great films that come out around Christmas. When I first started attending AA and NA meetings in prison, I never would have imagined that I would stay sober for nine years straight. Even the idea of staying sober for that first holiday season seemed like climbing Mount Everest to me at the time. Luckily, I used the ten concepts listed above to help me power through and stay sober for all of these years.

I know the holidays can be extremely challenging for anyone trying to recover from addiction. I truly hope that my words have impacted you in a positive way and that you can use my knowledge to stay sober this holiday season. Do you have any questions about my list or my personal experience recovering from addiction? Has this article provided you with some guidance on how to stay sober during the holidays? Perhaps you have another tip to add to the ones above? Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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