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Staying sober during a COVID-19 Christmas

2020 has been a challenging year for people in recovery.

While focusing on your sobriety, you’ve also had to navigate your way through a global pandemic. And, as Christmas approaches, the idea of dealing with the festive season alongside COVID-19 is likely leaving you feeling anxious.

If this is your first Christmas in recovery, thinking about having sober holiday season may be hard to digest. However, it’s perfectly possible to have an enjoyable and memorable time while embracing a life in recovery. Take this as an opportunity to celebrate not only the holidays, but also your new life of sobriety, which is something really worth being proud of and celebrating.

Practical tips to make a sober festive season easier for people in recovery

Plan each and every day of your holiday season

Put together a plan to get you through the holiday season, and communicate this plan to the people around you.

Make a note of any time you’ll be spending with your friends and family, and any events you’re attending in line with the latest government guidelines.

Once you have these written down, plan in your recovery activities so that you’re accessing all the support you can. This may include fellowship meetings, attending aftercare, outreach support phone calls, ongoing therapy or working with your sponsor.

If there are any big events in your calendar that may be difficult, arrange fellowship meetings or phone calls with peers from treatment for before and after them.

Don’t forget to plan for the few weeks after Christmas too – many people who get through Christmas can become complacent and relapse in January.

Challenge your expectations and be realistic

Between being newly sober and experiencing the festive season during COVID-19, Christmas isn’t going to look how it normally does, so prepare for this.

Also, have a realistic attitude about the potential for anxiety or conflict. While we all hope for a harmonious time, the reality is rarely picture perfect. Consider what support you will need if you do become anxious and stressed - note these in your holiday season plan.

Recognise your triggers

Whether your triggers are stress, frustration, fear, anxiety and depression, or environmental triggers like people and places, stay mindful.

Make a list of things that you know trigger you and look through your holiday plan to identify possibilities of coming up against these triggers. When you notice one, make a note of the resources that you have available to you that will help.

Create new traditions and replace old using patterns

This is the perfect time to swap out your old celebrations for new traditions. Research festive activities that are still available; bundle the family in the car and do a driving tour of festive lights, buy a new board game or make an elaborate hot chocolate station in your kitchen. Use your imagination, be creative and have fun!

Use your support network

Your family, friends and fellowship peers all want you to get through this holiday season clean and sober, so let them help you. COVID-19 means that it might not be possible to meet up with everyone, but don’t let that stop you from connecting with the people you love. Organise Zoom calls on different nights for catch-ups, remote dinners or festive games with different groups of people.

Also, make a list of ten people you can call, including your sponsor if you have one. Keep this list with you at all times and call at least one person a day.

Know your limits

Everyone’s to-do lists become longer around the holidays and it can feel like people are asking more and more of you. Set realistic expectations for yourself and communicate these to other people – don’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries and say no. If you do begin to feel overwhelmed, break the day into manageable sizes - an afternoon, an hour or five minutes.

Have a recovery plan and exit plan for any event you attend

If you are able to attend any gatherings in this COVID Christmas season, plan ahead. Take your own non-alcoholic beverages and have an escape route in case you start to feel uneasy. Remember, you don’t have to stay in a place that makes you feel uncomfortable, especially if there are alcohol or drugs present.

Drive your car if you can, have taxi numbers if you can’t, and let the hosts know that you may have to leave early.

Watch out for hidden alcohol

Some baked goods like Christmas cake, chocolate and mince pies may contain alcohol. Check food labels, ask the host if any of the food may contain alcohol and if you’re not sure, don’t risk it.

Write out a daily gratitude list

The quickest cure to the holiday blues is putting things in perspective, counting your blessings and being grateful for what you have.

Expressing your thanks to loved ones over the holiday, writing a list just for yourself or simply giving a compliment has a way of lifting others’ spirits and your own.

Avoid H.A.L.T (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)

If you’re hungry, get something to eat. If you’re angry, reach out and talk to someone about it. If you’re lonely, attend a Zoom meeting or call a peer. If you’re tired, prioritise a good night’s sleep.

Make self-care a priority

Make self-care your Christmas gift to yourself. By eating properly, getting enough sleep and making time to take care of yourself, you can keep your body and mind healthy. Don’t forget about regular exercise and although it might be tempting with lots of festive food around, don’t over-indulge to such an excess that you make yourself feel guilty or ill.

Stay away from social media

This holiday season, consider a digital detox. On social media, it’s easy to compare your life to others, which will only ever leave you feeling worse than you did to begin with. Remember that social media representation and reality are often worlds apart.

Keep a dry house

Empty your house of all alcohol and substances. In the Christmas season, where it can feel like alcohol is everywhere you turn, it’s more important than ever to have a safe, substance-free place to retreat to.

Attend 12-step fellowship meetings

Meetings have been quite different in 2020. A lot of them have been happening on Zoom or remotely as a result of COVID-19. While this may be difficult for you, try and use it to your advantage over Christmas.

Meetings being on Zoom means that there’s almost always one happening, and it’s easier to slip into another room and attend a meeting if you’re struggling, no matter where you are or who you’re with.

Make a list of meetings you plan to attend and stick to it, but always have extras you can join if you’re struggling.

Stay safe and well this Christmas

Stay in the moment and live one day at a time. Don’t worry about what has happened or what could happen. Enjoy each day and remember that the best gift you can give to anyone who loves you this Christmas is to spend the festive period clean and sober. Remember the positives of doing so - no hangovers, no regrets and a lot of money saved.

Blog reviewed by Sam Hickey (BA (Hons) in Counselling), Addiction Treatment Programme Manager at Priory Hospital Woking

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