Your Holiday Season Recovery Guide

By Michael Lochran, Director of Programs and Operations, Renascent

For many of us the winter months of December and January bring with them the holiday season.  If you are celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, the New Year, or any of the other dozens of holidays from all faiths and cultures, the holiday season means celebration, observances and gathering with our families and communities. 

These can be magical times of joy and connection, which unfortunately often bring with them challenges for those in recovery, especially early recovery. Celebration often includes the social use of alcohol or drugs at gatherings, family dinners or work parties. The question, “how can I celebrate the holidays and spend time with those I care about without endangering my recovery?” is an important one to ask ourselves.  

Managing Social Settings During the Holidays

If you are planning on attending holiday events where there may be alcohol or drugs please consider following these suggestions:

  • Carefully consider if you need to attend. Discuss this with your family (if they are willing), your sponsor, and someone who cares about you and your recovery. Is there a way you can connect with these people in a different setting? Are you able to arrange a different event without alcohol?  How much of a risk does this pose to your recovery? If you are able to connect elsewhere or the event poses risks you cannot neutralize, you should seriously consider not attending. We can only be there for our loved ones if we remain clean. Anyone who cares about you will understand.
  • Bring someone with you as support.  Are you able to bring your sponsor or a friend in solid recovery with you?  Is your partner willing not to drink or use while you are there? It is important you are with someone who is fully aware of your addiction, your recovery, and that you will not be drinking or using under any circumstances.
  • Plan your escape. Make a pact with those you are attending with beforehand that if anyone feels uncomfortable everyone will leave together without question. Have a safe word to make it fun.  My recovery circle used “bananas”.  Make sure everyone agrees to leave at the same time and know how you are getting home before you go.  Your travel home should be easy, direct and not involve waiting. Taking public transit if you have been triggered to drink or use presents far too many additional triggers and waiting for a bus while triggered can be a painful experience. Have someone drive, take a cab or an Uber, or drive yourself with someone else as support.
  • Be prepared to tell people you are not drinking.  Avoid answers that are non-committal or leave room for peer pressure. Saying you are “not drinking right now” implies you may be drinking later. “I’m driving” or “I don’t feel like it” present a challenge to be solved.  I’m not drinking” does not.  If asked why, and you do not feel comfortable disclosing your recovery, a simple “I don’t drink” will usually dissuade a follow up. Some people prefer to use jokes or humour to deliver the message which can work well, as long as they contain the commitment to not drink or use.

Managing Feelings During the Holiday Season

The holidays can also be very lonely times for those of us in early recovery.  Some of us may be estranged from our families or may have lost contact with those closest to us. Some of our families may be taking time to heal from our addiction while allowing us space to heal ourselves and find our own way in recovery. For some we have been isolated for so long or had to discontinue contact with our friends and family in order to protect our recovery. 

If you are in any of these situations you are not alone. Addiction is a powerful, isolating disease which leaves many without our families or friends. However recovery is every bit as powerful. It brings people together and creates communities and families everywhere it is encouraged to grow.

If you are feeling lonely or isolated this holiday season please try one or more of the following suggestions and know that you are important, loved and valued even if you do not feel this yet.

  • Attend as many community recovery meetings as you can. 12 step programs and many other recovery groups hold special meetings on Christmas day and New Year’s Eve, sometimes for all 24 hours of the day.  Plan your holiday meeting attendance to keep yourself busy and connected especially if there are times when you know will be challenging.
  • Share openly and courageously how you feel. In meetings and in conversation with your recovery supports speak about your feelings.  You are not the only one feeling it. All of us in recovery have felt challenges around the holidays.
  • Ask for help. 12 step meetings are filled with stories of members who shared in meetings that they had no where to go for the holidays only to be invited to someone’s home, a restaurant or out for coffee.  Share in a meeting exactly how you feel and that you need support and you will receive it.
  • Be of service. There are many opportunities for volunteer work around the holidays, even during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Being of service to others is one of the most effective and spiritually fulfilling ways we can step outside of our pain.
  • Have a strategy to get help.  Create contacts in your phone with the numbers of the 12 step helplines, crisis lines that would be most helpful to you, the treatment center you attended which often will answer the phone 24 hours a day, your sponsor and your best recovery supports and call them. 

Recovery is a powerful spiritual experience and spiritual experiences by definition are shared experiences.  In recovery we find a whole new family. These relationships often begin when we share that we are struggling, ask for help or are of service to others. The very actions that help us connect us. It may not feel like it but you are not alone, this too shall pass and we will find meaning and connection exactly when we need it most.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.