Do You Feel Blue During the Holidays?
Here are five tips to get through them sober.
Whether you are newly sober or have been sober for many years, the holidays may not always feel joyful. Many of us feel blue during the holidays. But, those of us who are sober, must commit to our sobriety, even if we feel sad or lonely through the holidays.
There are many reasons why the holidays can make us feel blue. Whether we are celebrating without our families or are in the middle of working through a painful part of the recovery process, the following five tips can help navigating the holidays sober easier.
Bring Your Phone and Use Your Network
Beat the Holiday Blues with Your Friends
If you are dreading the holidays before they arrive or the thought of the holidays makes you blue, talk about your feelings before the holiday arrives.
You won’t believe the miracles that come from sharing your fear of having a first sober holiday with someone else. And, talking about your negative feelings about a holiday will open the door for others to share their experience, strength, and hope with you. If you feel like the Grinch this holiday, sharing your feelings will soften your heart. You may be invited to spend a holiday with your sponsor or other people in recovery, or you may receive a small gift that you never expected. You may sit in a recovery house with your friends and laugh at the crazy things you did in years past. The only thing you have to do to open the door to these miracles is to talk about your feelings about the holidays. So, keep your phone close and call people who will listen and support you.
Don’t Go to Events that Make You Uncomfortable or Trigger Cravings to Use
You can say no to holiday events that make you feel blue
If you haven’t mastered the ability to set boundaries and say no in sobriety, the holidays may be your first chance to begin demanding what you will and will not tolerate in sobriety. Many of us have alcoholics or addicts in our families. Spending our first sober holiday with a group of drinkers or users can threaten newfound sobriety. If you know your family holiday will be a challenge, talk to your sponsor about it before you commit to attending. Decide with them whether you should go, say no, or bring a friend.
As my sponsor says, “No, is a complete sentence.” If you think you may ending up drinking or using, you can refuse to attend a holiday event. By now you know that drinking and using can kill you. Saying no to a party filled with drugs and alcohol is no different than refusing to get on a plane without wings. Remember, one of the most beautiful things about sobriety is building yourself a life that makes you feel safe.
I didn’t have alcoholics at most of my holiday events, but wine was usually available. I did attend those holiday events, but I ALWAYS BROUGHT A SOBER FRIEND. I can’t tell you how many times that has helped me. I’d been sober over five years and a member of a party I attended was so drunk she was slurring. Thank goodness I had a friend there to help me deal with the feelings that brought forth. Because feelings did come – mostly of anger. I was so glad I had someone to talk to about those feelings before I ever made it home.
On the flip side, many of us have immediate families that will safeguard our sobriety. There is great love in that gesture. We may feel empty without a drink, but something happens when a family member chooses not to bring any alcohol into the house. My immediate family has done this for me over and over again. If there is alcohol in my father’s house, I’ve haven’t seen it since I’ve been sober. He’s not much of a drinker, but once we are at a restaurant, the waiter asked if he wanted a glass of wine, he said no. I’d been sober over a decade by then and told him, “Daddy, I’ll be ok if you have a drink.” and he looked at me – without blinking said “I’ll never drink around you. Never.”
It’s pretty cool to know that your family will often form a circle of protection around you. Whatever my feelings may be during the holidays, that love and protection always lifts my spirits.
Plan an Exit Route Ahead of Time
Beat the holiday blues by saying good night early
If possible, bring your car and make sure you can leave and get home safely using public transportation or a cab. When I was in residential treatment, I didn’t have access to my car for a while. That was the hardest thing for me – not only because I’m an introvert and had trouble being in a full house all the time – but because I hate not having an exit plan. This is why bringing a friend to a holiday can be so important. If you feel uncomfortable, your friend can whisk you away.
If you don’t have transportation, discuss your exit plan with your sponsor. Even if you cannot leave, there are things you can do to feel more comfortable. Again, having a phone is key here. Call people in you network, call the director of your residential treatment facility, call a sober friend. All of them will talk you through the discomfort until you can leave.
And, whenever possible, bring enough money to call an Uber or take a bus home. Whatever method you choose, having an exit route gives you a little control over the situation and allows you to leave if you feel uncomfortable.
Go to An All-Day Meeting
There is power in numbers
Nearly every AA group I’ve attended offers all day meetings on major holidays. I’ll admit, I initially felt this was a lame way to spend a holiday. But, one night, I felt really lonely on New Year’s Eve. I drove to an 11 pm meeting and it was a small group, but a group nonetheless. It was one of the best meetings I ever attended.
All of us were there to ring in the new year sober. There was so much laughter in that meeting and at midnight, we closed with the Lord’s Prayer and I drove home with a huge smile on my face. The thing about that smile was that I wasn’t just glad I was sober that night. I was glad that WE were sober. That feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself gets me every time. It forces happiness into the empty crevices within my soul.
So, if you have a home group, go there. Eat with your friends, talk with them about celebrating the holiday sober, and laugh with them about the past holidays you have spent that didn’t end well. Enjoy your fellows, build your network, cry if you need to. You’ll be in the right place for ALL of that.
Remember the Meaning of the Holiday
The holiday blues aren’t so bad when we remember the meaning of the season
Before we stopped drinking, the holidays may have been time for us to get drunk. After we stop and as we work the steps and find a Higher Power, they can take on a different and more fulfilling meaning. Since I stopped drinking, I have spent more time reading about the religious meaning behind the holidays I was too out of it to care about before.
Even when I’m alone and crying because my family is out of state, I always get my prayer book out and read. I have cried tears of sorrow to God during the prayers, and I have cried tears of joy. The thing is this. No matter how blue I may feel during a holiday, I always remember that I am alive to experience it. That’s no small thing.
And, just as there is something comforting about going to meetings, talking with our sponsors, and our network, there is also something very comforting about remembering why we celebrate the holidays. Whether it’s for a religious or patriotic holiday, the reason behind it relieves our sense of selfishness and reminds us of the role we play in the world around us. For me, praying during holidays offers me comfort. Because, while my family may only be available through the phone, God is right there next to me through it all.
If you experience the holiday blues, you are NOT alone. Try to break the cycle of isolation and surround yourself with people who love you and care about your sobriety. Also, this article doesn’t list every tool at your disposal. Hazeldon Betty Ford has another great resource to help you stay sober through the holidays. Read it here.
Most importantly, everything changes. You may hate a holiday this year only to find you can’t wait for it next year. Use every tool at your disposal to stay sober through the holidays. It’s worth it and so are you.
Wherever you are in your recovery, Breakthrough Recovery Outreach wishes you a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.
Call us at (770) 493-7750 to learn about our programs. We have two locations in Atlanta, GA, and are committed to helping addicts and alcoholics recover. If you’d prefer, fill out the Contact Form below and someone will get back to you.