Below are some ideas from Dr. Al (edited from the first edition of The Recovery Book), as well as some from Bill Borchert, screenwriter and author of "My Name is Bill W." and "When Love is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story." Bill is a longtime friend of Dr. Al and Willingway.
From The Recovery Book...
For recovering people (and for millions of others whose lives are out of sync), holidays are often times of tension, sadness, and depression. They are also a time when temptations to jump off the wagon seem to multiply. Some of the following tips may help you beat back the blues:
- Keep your expectations realistic, so you don’t set yourself up for an emotional letdown. Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean life will suddenly become a bowl of cherries. Other people in your life probably haven’t changed, and many of the conflicts and rivalries that customarily crop up at family reunions will doubtless crop up again. Accept that this is so, roll with the punches, and rein in the urge to manipulate everything and everyone. It will be enough for you to just take care of and control yourself.
- Limit the amount of time you spend with relatives who make you crazy. If all of the clan is gathering for the holiday, including your brother who drinks like a fish, plan on an overlap of just a day or two while he’s there. (If he’s arriving on Christmas Day and staying the week, you can arrive a couple of days before Christmas, help your hosts prepare, enjoy a quiet Christmas Eve, and then leave the next morning.)
- If the holidays mean being away from home and your home group, be sure to attend meetings wherever you are. Locate a meeting even before you get there. This will give you the booster support shot you’ll almost certainly need at this difficult time—the chance to say, “Sure, I love my family, but sometimes they drive me up the wall,” or to talk about whatever else it is that almost drives you to drink at the old homestead.
- Plan activities other than just sitting around and gabbing—which in many families means sitting around and drinking. Movies, museums, holiday concerts, skating, long walks, sledding with the kids, snowball fights, sports events and religious services can all help fill the time pleasantly and limit stress. If the weather keeps you indoors and you want to keep the conversation from getting out of hand, suggest some activities that will keep everyone busy and focused, such cooking, board games, video games, or watching favorite old movies.
- If the holidays mean visiting your old hometown, take time to see old friends you enjoy; avoid those you used to drink or use drugs with.
- Get plenty of rest, watch what you eat, get your usual exercise, and take time for meditation. Maintain your recovery routine as much as possible.
- If the holiday celebration includes the use of alcoholic beverages (such as wine at Passover), make sure in advance that there is an adequate supply of a substitute (such as grape juice) for you and anyone else who doesn’t want to drink the harder stuff.
- If you aren’t going home for the holidays, plan to celebrate with AA or NA friends. If you haven’t been invited, do the inviting yourself. Follow old family traditions or start some of your own.
- Particularly during winter holidays, be sure there is plenty of light in your life. Keep the lights bright at home, try to get out when the sun is shining, light a cheery fire in the fireplace. Winter solstice darkness and drabness can be psychologically (and physiologically) depressing.
From Bill Borchert...
Vigilance Can Add Great Joy to the Holidays
The holiday season can sometimes pose unexpected challenges when it comes to drinking, even for those with many years of sobriety. But especially for newcomers, constant vigilance is of absolute importance. This doesn't mean the holidays have to be dreary and without celebration or fun. It's just the opposite. Sobriety can add more joy and happiness to Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year than anyone can possibly imagine. All we have to do is pay attention to a few safeguards. Here are twelve suggestions.
1. Avoid all drinking occasions that could trigger a desire to drink. In you must go, take a "sober friend" with you. But try to avoid "people, places and things" at all cost.
2. Make sure your cell phone is filled with the numbers of AA members and call them frequently to stay in touch.
3. Many AA groups and clubhouses host Alkathons where meetings are held around the clock, starting on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve, and run throughout the day. Drop by.
4. Keep your pocket or purse filled with holiday candy. Better a cavity than a slip.
5. If holiday gatherings with family or friends become drinking parties, head for the nearest meeting. No one will miss you and the social drinkers will understand.
6. Make plans to celebrate the holidays by going places you've never been. Go with your sober friends to new places like museums, churches, book stores, parks or a movie. Laugh and have fun.
7. Take a newcomer to lunch or dinner then to a meeting. If you're a newcomer, take a newer newcomer. If you can't afford lunch or dinner, how about coffee and a doughnut?
8. Stop by a church or some quiet area like the seashore, a lake or park, and spend a few minutes thanking your Higher Power for your sobriety and the new way of life you have found.
9. Even if you're a bit shy (and it may take an effort), smile and wish those around you happy and healthy holidays. It will lift your own spirits and create a warm glow inside.
10. If the thought of a drink occurs, first think it through. Remember your last drink. Then call your sponsor or AA friend.
11. Make sure you have copies of the "Serenity Prayer" in your shirt pocket, your purse, your pants pocket, your coat pocket, and pasted on the mirrors in your bathroom and bedroom.
12. Finally, don't get hungry, angry, lonely or tired, no matter how long you've been sober. Alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful. Again, constant vigilance can bring great joy and happiness to your sober holiday season.
Reprinted from The Chandelier, Willingway's newsletter.