Ask Rae: How do I manage my recovery during the upcoming holiday season? – Emily

Dear Emily:

The holidays are meant to be a time for joy and merriment.  But, for a lot of people holidays bring stress, whether it’s from being around family members to traveling.  The holiday season is especially challenging and stressful for people in recovery. There are cocktail parties (even the name is triggering) and heavy drinking gatherings that can bring about strong urges.  BUT, you don’t need old substances to have a festive time. There are some proactive steps you can take to reduce your stress and keep moving forward in your recovery.



You can bump up your support system. During the holidays, reach out to your sponsor, therapist, and support group more frequently. Spend time with others in recovery. Your support system can help you recognize your personal limits. You can talk with them before you go to that holiday party and then plan to meet with them afterwards.


If you are going to a party where there will be alcohol or other substances, evaluate the situation and have a plan in advance.  Bring a sober friend with you. Drive yourself, so you have a way to leave the party and go someplace safe if needs be. In addition, you can make sure to arrive early and leave early to avoid prolonged exposure. Or, you can set a time frame beforehand and clearly state it when you arrive. Then stick to it.





Prepare responses and rehearse them. If you’re not ready to share about your recovery with family and friends, have a strategy for turning down drinks or other substances, as this is when vulnerability is at its peak.


Know your triggers and how to manage them. Take care of your mental and physical health. Be sure to take some quiet time each day. Fit relaxation and meditation into your day, if just for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are. Get enough sleep every night too. Eat nutritious meals or a snack every few hours to keep your blood sugar up. Low blood sugar can make you feel anxious or irritable making you feel impulsive or tempted. If you’re early in recovery, stay in low risk situations and avoid ones that are high risk.  If further along in recovery, know your plan for when you’ll be in a medium or high risk.


Celebrate the season in a new way. Create new rituals or symbols that help redefine joy for you in your recovery during the holidays. You can host your own holiday party for recovery friends or your support group.