Alas, the holidays are upon us! They kind of snuck up, though, didn’t they? One minute we were enjoying a lazy poolside summer day. Then, in a snap, it was time to start planning for a holly jolly season.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

You know all about it, right? Going deeper into debt to buy gifts you can’t afford (knowing darn good and well you are still paying interest on gifts you charged last year). Meal prepping (who has the time for this!?). Beating the holiday blues by all means necessary. And, facing the terror of seeing that one dreadful family member at the annual holiday party. 

Yes, indeed, it’s the most wonderful time of the year… right? 

The Reality is the Holidays Can Negatively Affect Women in Recovery

 Sure. The holidays can be a beautiful time for religious observance, spending time with family, and joyful festivities – not to mention all the yummy treats (an extra 10 pounds, anyone?). But, let’s keep it real – there is a whole lotta work, planning, spending, and stress involved in creating happy holiday memories.

In particular, women in recovery are notably vulnerable to a heightened stress response, bouts with depression, and even a relapse during the holly days.

Stressful time commitments, triggering social situations, and overwhelming anxiety can become a recipe for disaster. Plus, let’s not forget the alcohol ads. They are everywhere you turn – billboards, magazines, and radio commercials. If we’re not careful, holiday fun often comes at a hefty price – and we are not talking about the cost of this year’s “must have” toy. We’re talking about your peace of mind.

Tis the Season to be Stressed Out

During the holidays, most women are stressed to the max. (Shout out to all the sober moms out there who hustle hard to give their kids an awesome Christmas). There is so much to do and not enough time or money to do it all.

In this article, we will share some tips and tricks for navigating the holidays with your sanity – and your sobriety – intact.

First, we will address the most common triggers among women in recovery during the month of December. Then, we will share a few simple suggestions that are sure to make your holiday merry and bright.

Let’s Make a Toast! Bottom’s Up!

Remember those pesky (and dishonest) alcohol ads we mentioned? You best get ready. You are about to be inundated with advertisements telling you that the holidays just aren’t the same without booze..

This can be triggering all by itself, but that’s just the half of it. What’s worse, is that you will probably be around a lot of alcohol during your December celebrations. And, of course, this means you will be surrounded by plenty of drunkies raising their glasses and shouting, “Cheers! Let’s have another round!”

You can pretty much bet that you will be offered alcohol more than once in the weeks to come – even by people who know you are choosing to live a sober lifestyle. After all, “one won’t kill ya!? Have a drink!” Actually, for someone who is recovering from an alcohol addiction (like you!) one drink can eventually become a matter of life and death.  

Of course, there is the office holiday party to contend with. It is an unfortunate fact that many otherwise civilized companies throw alcohol-fueled December shindigs to deck the halls. It’s an alcohol-free-for-all. Such a festive scene generally gives even the most tightly wound coworker permission to let loose and live a little. And it is not outside the realm of possibility to see your boss completed wasted.

Every single party where alcohol is served puts your sobriety in jeopardy. And you will be invited to many of them.

You Are Fabulous, Dahling – Which Means Plenty of Invites

Holiday parties are typically very chaotic, loud, and emotionally overpowering. Sensory overload can trigger a nasty case of social anxiety, feelings of inferiority and awkwardness, and an all-around sense of frustration.

Plus, you can no longer partake of the vodka punch like you used to. This can make it challenging to bond with your longtime friend at her annual holiday extravaganza and enjoy yourself, which can feel isolating.

You are an awesome woman doing amazing things with your life. This means you are sure to make the “nice list” and receive numerous invitations to parties. With so many invites coming atcha, it can be quite overwhelming.

Sure. This is a welcomed reprieve from the many years you spent on the naughty list. (Not so many invites back then – lest you drink up all the spiked eggnog, have a blackout, and act a fool.) Nevertheless, you may want to opt out from all the holiday cheer in favor of staying in by the fire. Holiday parties can be triggering on many different levels, so if you attend one or some, be prepared.    

Family Dynamics Can Kill the Holiday Spirit

Let’s not forget the converging of family members at your Aunt Bethany’s yearly Christmas gathering (or maybe it happens at your mom’s or dad’s or your sister’s place – you get the point). Talk about a nightmare.

Family dynamics can be more triggering than a 500-ft tall Budweiser billboard in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. After all, many of your family members drove you to drinking in the first place. And, since numbing yourself with alcohol is no longer an option; you will have to endure the blessed family event stone cold sober. Yikes!

Many of us come from a long line of dysfunction. We may recognize that our family members are toxic and realize we should ignore them like the plague. Yet, we feel obligated to see them anyway or we get pressured into going to visit by one of our many pushy and unrelenting relatives. This can suck all the joy out of your world in a holiday heartbeat.

 Seasonal Depression – The Struggle is Real  

You have heard of the holiday blues. It’s actually called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is not uncommon for women to experience a case of the downers during December. Low energy, sluggishness, hopelessness, and unexplained crying are all symptoms of SAD. (The name pretty much says it all, right!?)

It’s almost impossible to get into the Christmas spirit when you can barely get out of bed. Women who have this condition feel incredible guilt and shame because they are not able to flit around singing carols like the motivated Mrs. Kringle. They simply cannot just snap out of their seasonal depression.    

If you struggle with SAD, check out these 12 tips for easing seasonal depression symptoms.

Some Suggestions Straight from Santa’s Lips to Your Ears

Ok, fine. At our age, we have no real business believing in Santa Claus. But, we can still believe in the magic of Christmas –even if we have to wear elf ears and wave our very own wand to make it happen.

The truth is… you are a sober woman. You are walking a new path and you get to make your own decisions about how you live your life. This is also true of the holidays. You no longer have to live out old tiresome traditions that exhaust you and rob you of your holiday miracle.

We’ve talked about some triggers you are likely to experience during the holidays. Now, here are some simple ways you can destress, reduce the symptoms of depression, and prevent a  relapse.

# 1 Stay Sober No Matter What

Make the commitment to yourself RIGHT NOW that you are going to stay sober through December NO MATTER WHAT. There will be alcohol. There will be stress. There will be annoying in-laws. Accept this now so you are not surprised when you are confronted with these situations in real life. Live up to your commitment one day at a time to enjoy a sober holiday.

Here is a great article that will tell you how to have fun AND stay sober for the holidays.

# 2 Talk to Your Sponsor About Relapse Prevention Strategies

Effective relapse prevention strategies are critical during this time of year. Remember, your recovery should always come first. No holiday celebration is worth losing your sobriety over.

Get with your sponsor or other accountability buddies and make a list of relapse prevention strategies.

Perhaps you will pick up the phone and call someone when you feel tempted to drink. Maybe you need to take a brisk walk every morning. Or, attending an AA meeting every day might help. Identify your strategies now so when you are triggered, you will be prepared.

Need a  little more motivation to stay sober? Check out these 8 women rocking recovery.

# 3 Make Self-Care Your Top Priority  

You cannot do one single thing for anyone else if you are a complete and total basket case. We don’t have to tell you that the holidays can take you to the brink of insanity in the twinkle of an eye. You already know this from experience. Be wise and practice self-care before you do anything else.

Your self-care techniques should probably involve daily prayer and meditation – as stated in Step Twelve. Your list might also include taking a hot bath to relieve tension and relax when you feel stressed. Maybe you need to make time to have coffee with a friend who makes you laugh. Or, you might need to see your therapist more frequently.

Remember, the disease of alcoholism and addiction is tricky. Your brain is constantly on the lookout for excuses to drink or use. When you take care of yourself, you significantly decrease your danger of a relapse. When you allow stress to get behind the wheel, your recovery is in a danger zone.   

Check out these 16 stress reduction strategies.

# 4 You Can Say No   

Guess what!? There is this beautiful word in the English language… it’s the word “no.” Keep this in mind in the weeks ahead when it feels like the universe is pulling you in 20 directions at once.

No, I am not coming to your holiday party. No, I do not want a drink. No, you cannot come over. No, I will not be there. No. No. NOOOO!!!!! (Try it. It’s fun.)

Give yourself permission to say no. You may have grown up being told that women are supposed to run themselves ragged taking care of their spouse, their kids, and their home for the holidays. Many of us lived with a mother who ran around during the month of December decorating beautiful handmade Christmas cookies and trimming the tree.   

You do not have to continue this tradition. You are an imperfect human with limitations. Honor thyself! Embrace the power of no.  

# 5 Let Your Heart Be Light

Somewhere along the way, Americans everywhere came to believe that the holidays are about materialism. In fact, we have practically been brainwashed to think that if we don’t buy the latest, most expensive doodad, we are inferior and should be ashamed of ourselves.

The truth is that the holidays are about spending time with family. They are about spirituality and connecting with our Higher Power. They are NOT about presents, and perfectly wrapped boxes with ribbons and bows.

Perhaps someone needs to tell you this year that you can let your heart be light. Downsize the spending. Buy online so you don’t have to go to stores that are chaotic and crowded this time of year. Only spend time with people who bring you joy. Simplify. Slow down. It’s okay.

# 6 Forgo the Dysfunctional Family Dynamics

Most of us have been taught that we are to remain loyal to the family at all cost. We are not talking about the family you chose – your spouse, friends, and children. We are talking about the people you lived with growing up and your extended family. News flash: you DO NOT have to hang out with these people…  EVER! (Yes, that includes Christmas time.)

No matter what you have been taught to believe …no matter who tries to tell you otherwise… no matter who pressures you… you NEVER have to do anything out of a sense of obligation because of your family.

Please do not spend one minute during the holidays with people who treat you bad or disregard your boundaries. You DO NOT have to spend time with toxic people – you know, the grinches and scrooges of the modern era. Just because you happen to be related to them does not mean they are entitled to unlimited access to you. Also, you do not have to have them over to your house. FACTS!

# 7 Stay Connected to Your Support Circle  

Be sure to stay close to your recovery friends, your sponsor, and your Higher Power during the holidays. Your support circle is your lifeline to sobriety. Your sober sisters will keep you sane, help you destress, and support your sobriety.

Also, keep in mind that you can always bring a sober buddy with you when you go to events where you know alcohol is being served. This is sure to help you resist temptation because you will have someone there to talk to if you get the urge to drink.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza or Ramadan

Have fun! Make happy memories! Enjoy your loved ones! This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Somehow, we have lost sight of that. No matter which particular holiday you may celebrate this time of year, do it with a whole heart and a grateful spirit.

Remember that you CAN stay sober NO MATTER WHAT in the weeks to come. You have the choice to be selective about who you keep company with. You can reduce stress and let your heart be light. You can successfully navigate the holidays with your sobriety and sanity intact. It is up to you.

Feliz Navidad!