Published: 16 December 2019
Drink-soaked Christmas events and family gatherings can be a minefield for people struggling to overcome an alcohol problem, especially in the early days, where a sober Christmas is new territory.
Getting through your first Christmas can be a big milestone in your recovery. Here are some tips to help you:
Remember why you stopped drinking
Christmas is a time when heavy drinking seems to go hand in hand with happy times, celebrating the festive season and spending time with friends and family.
At this time of year it can be easy to remember the good sides of drinking, and forget all the good reasons for stopping. Take a little time to focus on your reasons for stopping, and avoid the rose-tinted spectacles.
There can be a lot of pressure on you to join in and have a drink, and you may feel like you’re on the outside if you don’t.
If you’ve managed to stop drinking, you’re probably already used to planning ahead to manage your cravings and triggers, so take a little time to think how you’ll handle upcoming events and times when you’ll be under pressure to drink. For example:
- Let people know in advance that you won’t be drinking
- Bring a sober friend along to support you
- Plan how you’ll say ‘no’ to a drink
- Have an ‘exit strategy’ for if you start to find things difficult
- Get some extra support in advance from any group or service you’re using to help manage your drinking.
Put your recovery first
It’s good to get out there and learn to enjoy life without alcohol. But if you feel that a particular event will put too much pressure on you, then don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
This can be really hard at Christmas, especially if you feel you’re letting down friends and family, but at the end of the day the best thing for you and them is to keep your recovery going.
Socialising will get easier with time, so do what you feel is best and safest for you for now, without feeling guilty.
Give yourself time to adjust
If this will be your first Christmas without drinking, it can throw up all kinds of memories and sometimes difficult feelings, as well as stress and pressure. You may find it hard to handle these, especially without alcohol to help you get through.
Accept that it will take time for you to adjust to your new life, and you will have lots of ups and downs.
Don’t feel you are failing if you are depressed, stressed or overwhelmed. It’s normal to feel this way, and you’re not alone.
With the right support you can get through these challenges and learn new ways to cope.
- Try to calmly work through any difficult feelings. Give yourself time to make sense of them and deal with them.
- Get advice about handing stress or coping with relationship difficulties.
- Use any supports you have, like talking to someone close to you, or finding a support service.
If you will be alone
Being alone at any time can be hard, especially if you previously turned to alcohol to avoid feeling lonely.
At Christmas the feelings of loneliness can be even more overwhelming. You may feel everyone else is happy and together, or you may have fallen out with loved ones because of your drinking, which can hit hard at Christmas.
You may feel there’s no point in staying sober if you are unhappy and alone. It can be harder to resist cravings and urges if you are feeling low.
- Try to connect with support – groups or professional services who will be there for you. There are several Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a day all over Ireland over Christmas, including Christmas Day.
- Join online communities or message boards where you can talk to people facing similar problems or go to an AA meeting.
- Try to keep busy – For example, plan what you will do at different times or look for an opportunity to volunteer with a charity over Christmas - Feeling needed and useful can boost your self-esteem and give you a new focus. You can see places to volunteer at Volunteer Ireland
- Avoid temptation – Make sure you don’t have a supply of alcohol, in case you feel like giving in.
- Know you’re not alone. Everyone goes through lonely periods in life, and it can take time to build a new life and relationships away from alcohol – chances are things will be better after a while.
- Try to enjoy your own company. Use the time alone with your thoughts to wind down and focus on yourself. Take up a new hobby or go back to something you enjoyed in the past. Try to feel comfortable with just yourself for company.
If you slip up
Don’t panic or be too hard on yourself. Many people slip up before they finally succeed. If you’re using any kind of support service, go back to them for support and advice.
There are services available to support you over Christmas.