The holidays are always a fraught time for people in recovery. The shorter, darker, colder days during November and December can take a toll on anyone. Add in the stress of returning home, dealing with family members, and attending social functions where drinking might be expected, and the holidays are a minefield.
This year, the holiday season is going to be more stressful than typical. The pandemic has strained many relationships, while taking away recovery resources. If you go home for the holidays, you might worry about exposure; while staying put can leave you at risk for wrath from the in-laws. It’s no wonder that this holiday season is coming with a lot of strife.
Staying sober this holiday season will take planning ahead, says Geoff Thompson, PhD, program director for Sunshine Coast Health Centre in British Columbia.
“Stressors tend to increase during the holiday season, which is why many recovery organizations hold more recovery meetings, as well as clean and sober dances,” says Thompson. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a halt to those supports.
“None of this will be available this year,” Thompson says.
With that in mind, try these steps to help keep yourself sober and healthy this holiday season.
1. Adjust your expectations
Just like the rest of the year, holiday season 2020 is going to be unlike any other. Just acknowledging that and giving yourself some time to mourn what you’re missing can go a long way.
You probably won’t be watching The Nutcracker or going to any cookie swaps. You might not even be able to see your friends or loved ones. Recognizing these changes ahead of time can help you prepare for them, and the emotions that they bring.
2. Find ways to keep your equilibrium
Sober events are largely cancelled, and you might not even be able to go to the gym to burn off steam. So, it’s up to you to find ways to keep your mental and physical health on track during the holidays.
Luckily, by this point, we’ve all had some practice keeping mentally healthy at home. Little things, like online recovery meetings, Facetime dates with friends, or a walk around the neighborhood can help you feel well. Don’t underestimate the importance of routine, especially if you have kids, Thompson says.
3. Practice gratitude
During the holidays, we’re supposed to spend time thinking about what we’re thankful for. This year, it’s all too easy to focus on the negative and what’s missing. In order to gain some perspective, spend some time reflecting on the silver linings to the pandemic. Maybe you have learned a new skill, or are really enjoying working from home. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the quality time that you have with the people in your household. Maybe the pandemic has given you new courage to live your life to the fullest.
Once you’ve thought about your silver linings, and maybe written them down, consider sharing them with someone you love, and asking them to do the same.
4. Do random acts of kindness, from afar
Opportunities to complete acts of service might seem, at first glance, to have disappeared this holiday season. But that doesn’t have to be the case. You can still volunteer from home, or surprise someone you love with a gift from afar.
Doing a random act of kindness is likely to put a smile on your face, and break the gloomy sense of the pandemic holidays. Something as simple as sending a card and note to strangers stuck in their nursing homes during this holiday season can help spread cheer to those who need it most.
5. Have a recovery plan
As always, it’s important to know who you can turn to when you are struggling with your sobriety. Keep an updated list of digital meetings on-hand, and make sure you always have the number of your sponsor or another trusted person who you can talk to.
This holiday season is likely to be a little less magical for many people. But by adjusting expectations and focusing on health and safety long-term, you can make sure that you’ll be here to celebrate the holidays in 2021.