How to Survive the Holidays with Your Sobriety and Your Sanity Intact

The period of time from mid-November through the end of the year can be a tough time in anyone’s life, even the strongest, most together person.  Think about it.  You were enjoying a nice autumn, maybe one that was unseasonably warm, then November arrives, and you realize that the holiday season is upon you, and you are completely unprepared.

ID-100160820For those of us in recovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction, the holidays often bring an extra dose of resentment, disappointment over unrealized goals, and plain old family dysfunction.  You see, for many of us, the holidays were a time to party, most often with the help of booze and/or drugs.  And many times, we partied with our family.  And now that we’re in recovery, how do we cope?  With our families that are still using?  With the increased levels of stress that accompany the holiday season?  With the family dysfunction that we are now able to see through the lens of sobriety?

I had been without a drink less than two months, fresh out of rehab, when I tackled my first sober Thanksgiving.  I don’t remember too many specifics, just that I was very scared.  I knew that I was going to be around people who were drinking, most of whom could drink responsibly.  It made me angry and resentful that they could drink, that they would drink, without a care in the ID-1009873world.

At the time, I don’t think I had a sponsor.  If I did, I didn’t call him like I should have.  I remember sitting there the whole day, a fake smile plastered on my face, my fists clinched so tightly that my knuckles were literally white.  I guess that’s where the term “white-knuckling it” comes from.

As the years have passed, and as I have gotten some sobriety under my belt, I approach the holidays with a much different mindset.  I think the biggest thing for me is to focus my energy on something positive.  Fortunately, I have three kids and one grandchild, providing me with an extra incentive to make their holiday experiences meaningful and memorable like mine were when I was a kid.

There are several options for tackling the holidays, and the inevitable family get-togethers.

The first option is to hold the holiday get-together at your house.


  • You have control over who you invite
  • You can set the time
  • You can ensure that there is no alcohol in your house


  • You may not be able to control who actually shows up, and you may have difficulty actually turning an unwanted guest away, particularly if you are newly sober
  • You may not be able to control if someone shows up intoxicated, and you may have difficulty actually turning them away, particularly if you are newly sober
  • You have the job of cleaning up when everyone leaves
  • People may stay past the allotted time, wearing out their welcome, and you may have difficulty asking them to leave, particularly if you are newly sober

I would not recommend this if you are newly sober.  The holidays are stressful enough.  Adding the responsibility of having a gathering at your house is a recipe for relapse.

ID-10059844The second option is to travel to someone else’s house for the holiday get-together.


  • You can come and go as you please, which is good if you become uncomfortable
  • You don’t have to worry about being left with a huge mess to clean up after everyone leaves


  • You have no control over who is invited
  • Depending on where you are going, there may be travel-related stress

For someone who is newly sober, this is a much better option.  You have control over how long you stay.

The third option is to skip these kinds of get-togethers all together.


  • You don’t have to deal with anyone else or their issues
  • You are in complete control


  • Isolation during the holidays is usually difficult to deal with, particularly if you know that others are celebrating without you
  • Your family may lay a huge guilt-trip on you if you skip holiday get-togethers, which can lead to resentments being formed (or re-kindled)

ID-1008696The fourth option is to celebrate the holidays with other people who are in recovery.


  • You are spending time with people who are like-minded, at least in terms of recovery
  • You may actually learn something about yourself and/or your recovery


  • Your family may lay a huge guilt-trip on you if you skip holiday get-togethers, which can lead to resentments being formed (or re-kindled)

This option is probably the best one of the lot if you have a dysfunctional family.  A lot of local AA/12-step chapters have holiday parties and meals, and may add more meetings around the holidays to help those in recovery deal with the additional stress that comes with the season.  Meetings are always a good idea, but it doesn’t hurt to pick up some additional ones around the holidays.

However you choose to celebrate, keep handy a list of phone numbers of people in recovery, and don’t hesitate to call someone if you start to feel like picking up a drink or using.  We’ve all been there, and someone will drop what they are doing to help you.

About the author: Mark Combs is a grant writer with Aspire Indiana.  You can follow him on Twitter @MarkCombs1968.  Visit him on Facebook at

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One Response to How to Survive the Holidays with Your Sobriety and Your Sanity Intact

  1. Pingback: Holiday Sobriety Tips | Focused and Free

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