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Sober Holidays for Individuals and Families in Recovery

Sober Holidays for Individuals and Families in Recovery


The holidays present challenges for some individuals in recovery from addiction, especially those who are new to the process. Following are ideas I have discussed with groups of individuals in treatment during the holidays to raise their awareness and get them thinking of how to make the holidays a time for sober celebration. After a discussion of SOBER HOLIDAYS for individuals, I will share thoughts about recovery for family members during the holiday.


Share the joy of the holidays with others you care about and who care about you. This can include family, peers in recovery, friends, coworkers, and others. Fostering positive relationships can lead to better connections with others, improved satisfaction with your life, and experiencing more positive emotions like love or joy. Do not focus on what you do not have or things not going well in your life, but what you do have and what is going well. Do not isolate from others, as you may be more prone to feeling lonely or depressed. If you have few sober or supportive people in your life, attend holiday dinners, meetings, and other events sponsored by mutual support programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), non-Twelve-Step programs, churches or other community organizations.


Open your heart to the purpose of the holidays, which is to celebrate your faith and beliefs, spend time with loved ones, and give to others you care about or who are less fortunate than you. If formal religion is important to you, there are many celebrations during the holidays that can be uplifting. “Giving” to others can be of your time, attention, and love as well as simple gifts. Do not get caught up in gift giving that you cannot afford. Family members or important people in your life will appreciate your time and attention over the holidays, so be sure to balance the need for recovery and the need to stay connected and involved with others. Be generous to people like the homeless without judging them.


Be vigilant about high-risk people and situations over the holidays. There is no need to socialize with people getting high or drunk who may pressure you to use substances. Holidays like New Year’s Eve are celebrated with excessive drinking by some, so avoid events where this may occur. As recovery programs suggest, “stick with the winners” over the holidays to reduce pressure to use substances and engage in meaningful activities.


Enjoy the company of family, friends, and others in recovery over the holiday season. Go to events sponsored by AA and NA so you stay connected to your program and others who support you. Attend family or community gatherings as well. Some people new to recovery need time to learn to enjoy the simple pleasures of life or the company of others. If you feel bored with recovery, find new, enjoyable activities or connect with people to keep you focused on sober activities. 


Recovery continues over the holidays, so keep yours a high priority, no matter how busy you get. You can balance recovery and holiday celebrations with family and friends. If you are active in support programs and visit family out of town, attend local meetings or sober holiday events sponsored by these programs.


Holidays are a time to reflect on your blessings and feel grateful for the “gifts” you have in your life. These gifts may be people important to you, your religious beliefs and faith, your health, your talents or abilities, your opportunities or your achievements. Express your gratitude towards others for what they give you or do for you.


Offerto do for others. Focus less on yourself and more on your children, grandkids, parents, family, friends, peers in recovery or those in need. “Doing” for others means spending time with them, taking an interest in their lives or doing something concrete for them like taking them a meal or helping with a task. The less focus on self and the more focus on others, the better you may feel. Even if you are new in recovery and are advised to focus on self, you can do this as well as do things for others.


Loveis the most important part of the holidays. This includes the love of God, family, and friends. Love is shown in your actions such as praying or attending services, doing things for others, and reaching out to those unable to get out due to illness or disability. While love is best expressed in actions, you can also express it in what you say to others. You can send a personal note or card to loved ones sharing your feelings such as appreciation for them or love towards them. Fostering love and other positive emotions improves the quality of relationships in your life.


Inventory-taking is a way to review your year, both in terms of what you have achieved as well as how you may have fallen short of your goals. Give yourself credit for reaching your goals or for the efforts put forth to reach these, even if you did not reach them all. Use this process to develop new goals for the upcoming year to improve yourself. 


Discover the joys of recovery during the holidays by paying attention to and appreciating the people and events around you. Look for what brings others joy or happiness, especially young children. If you have young children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces, take note of their enjoyment of the holidays and engage in discussions or activities with them. Play a game or a sport, build a puzzle or read a book together. Being with them is more important than what you do, although it is best to do things they enjoy.


Aim for a sober and happy holiday in which you celebrate the season, continue to grow in recovery and stick with your program of change. Work hard and you will get benefits! You get nothing for nothing, so recovery has to be earned. There is a large community of people in recovery, family, and friends who are willing to support and help you. Approach recovery as a “we” and not an “I” process.


You can make it through the holidays—stay sober and enjoy this time of the year. Having the right attitude, sharing time with others, and keeping grounded in recovery will help. Be active in your program by attending meetings, connecting with others, and using your recovery tools. 

Families in Recovery

Some family members exposed to chaos during the holidays may struggle with bad memories, worry or anxiety. Even if this chaos occurred years ago, people can feel stuck in past heartache and heartbreak, which can affect how they feel at the present time. Or, if family members with the addiction are doing poorly at this time, this can affect family members, contribute to their anxiety or bring back bad memories or feelings. 

I grew up in a family with a father who had severe alcoholism along with mental health problems. I cannot remember a single sober holiday until my dad got sober at age sixty-six, and most of my early holiday memories were negative ones. However, it has been decades since I have been bothered by these memories. I believe that the best antidote to exposure to this chaos and negativity growing up was to learn to live well in the present, focus on the positives in my life, and address and solve problems as soon as possible so they do not linger and pull me down. Trust me, I have had my share of problems and heartache in my life, but focusing on the present and future, along with getting love and support from others who understand what it is like to live in a family devastated by addiction, moved me towards recovery, healing, and growth. Focusing on my own family, raising children and working on my career enabled me to show resilience and grow from past experiences. I am now a grandparent, so I can focus on the many blessings young children bring to my life.

I am still involved with families, some who are in recovery and some who are not. I see their pain and struggles with their addicted loved one and their own reactions over the holidays as well as other times during the year. They deserve our help and support. This requires patience and a willingness to see that addiction is not a problem impacting only on the affected individuals. I believe the focus on the current opioid epidemic has largely ignored the “other” opioid epidemic, which is the impact on families and children. So, the more we are aware of this and reach out to families and children affected by all types of substance addiction, the more we can promote their recovery. Clearly, sober holidays are for families, not just addicted individuals.

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