Surviving the Holidays (and Beyond) in Recovery!

December 15, 2018

Surviving the holidays in recovery

Getting here – clean & sober, in recovery - was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, by far.

12-step recovery programs – whether that’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, or any of the others – work. But not without participation!

And as the saying goes, it’s much easier to stay here than it was to get here. But aside from “working the program” – getting a sponsor, working the steps, and going to meetings – how do you ensure you ‘stay here’?

Life is still life, and it doesn’t magically become soft & easy just because we decide to change. Holiday time, in particular, can be especially stressful and overwhelming, or lonely, or just plain difficult.

Hopefully, your recovery program has helped you minimize or eliminate some of the more obvious negative behaviors, such as dishonesty, selfishness, and irresponsibility. But that’s really only part of the solution.

(Along with the tips below, we have a recovery resources section listing help and support hotlines, 12-step guides, mental health resources, spirituality & meditation resources, and more.)

With some humility, and the acknowledgment that I’m far from perfect, I’ve listed some of the ideas and practices that have helped me ‘stay’ for almost 15 years now:

 1) Make Meeting Plans

Whether you’re fresh out of rehab, just back from a relapse, or have some time but are struggling, it’s been my experience that meetings are especially important around holiday time, but as they say, "a lack of planning is akin to a plan for failure".

What do I mean by plans? Know what you’re going to do during the holidays, and when. Specifically, write down a list of which meetings you’ll be going to. This avoids the “gee it’s 7pm, better see what meeting I can get to… oh no! the last meeting in the area started at 6:30!”

"One Day It Just Clicks" NA and AA logo t-shirt

(It's worth noting that many areas have 'marathon meetings' around the clock during peak holiday time like Christmas and New Years. Check your area's website if they have one, or call the local hotline.)

I’ve also found it helpful to plan some meetings with others. Don’t yet have a ‘network’ or know who to ask? Easy: just before or after your next meeting, speak up, “Hey, anyone going to a meeting tomorrow that wants to ride together?” – it’s also a great way to get to know your fellows better.

Which brings me to my next thought…

2) Build a Support System

If you’ve been to more than a couple of meetings, you’ve probably heard the phrase “hang with the winners”.

Surrounding yourself with positive people who are serious about their recovery is one of the best and most important ‘investments’ you can make in your own recovery.

Raise your hand in meetings so people get to know you; claim a ‘homegroup’ and be there when they meet so you get to know other homegroup members; find a sponsor that you’re comfortable talking to – and talk to her/him!

When the sh!t starts hitting the fan – and it will, sooner or later – having a network of like-minded people can mean the difference between staying sane, clean, and sober, and not. Don’t wait until you need them to find them!

3) Work the Steps

12 step programs such as AA, NA, OA, GA, etc. have survived because they work better than anything else. Yet the ‘success rate’ is still very low – as low as 5% depending on how you count. The reason? These “programs” are more than just meetings – they all have in common the 12 steps. If you don’t ‘work the steps’, and just go to meetings, you aren’t really doing the program, and stand a very good chance of not succeeding.

Another saying and truism I’m fond of: if you want what we have, do what we do.

The “we” refers to people with successful long-term recovery, and what “we” do is go to meetings AND work the steps! Do that and your chances go up enormously – in fact, every 12-step recovery program says something to the effect of “rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” (that particular wording is from the section “How It Works” in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book).

Successful recovery – surviving long-term – requires lasting change, and that happens through working the steps.

4) Help Others

Another trait common among all 12-step programs is the need and importance of helping others. Not only is it a fundamental component of “the program”, it’s one of the best ways to get out of ourselves, give back, and that we “stay here”!

Helping others can take many forms: befriend a newcomer - or anyone who seems to be struggling; volunteer; give to a good cause you believe in; clean your house or yard or room or car - or help someone clean theirs; give someone a ride to a meeting; help set up before or clean up after a meeting... these things work. 

5) Stay Humble

While relapse is not inevitable, it’s certainly possible – and seems to happen with much greater frequency around holidays.

What does it mean to stay humble? It doesn’t mean thinking less of ourselves, it means thinking of ourselves less. Stay humble in your recovery process - be proud of your sobriety, clean time, abstinence, or other milestones, but take care not to let that lead to overconfidence.

If you take heed of these suggestions, all born out of experience, you’ll find that you don’t just ‘survive’ the holidays and beyond, but that you thrive – and that’s truly the goal for us all!

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