Celebrating the holidays while sober can be challenging for a variety of reasons. There tends to be many triggers, a dooms-day type feeling towards the idea of relapse, and turbulent relationships with loved ones at the forefront of it all. The holidays at their core are meant to be a time of celebration and joy. Yet this time of year has been somewhat hijacked by the idea of total indulgence and consumerism; and can be quite challenging for those new, or seasoned, in recovery. The good news is there is still much to celebrate, sobriety being one of them, and there are ways to find joy in the holiday season that align with our new way of life. 

Tips for Navigating the Holiday Season

  • Remember why you are sober. Continuously reminding yourself why you are sober during turbulent times can be a real savior. Writing down a few reasons as to why you got sober, what you have gained in sobriety, and what you have now that perhaps you couldn’t have before are great ways to remember why you are on the recovery path, and why it is so important for you andy our loved ones. 
  • Find new ways to celebrate the season. Creating new traditions that align with your new way of life can be a key factor in maintaining the joyous holiday season. It could perhaps be volunteering at a local shelter, throwing a sober party for your loved ones, or bringing a new gluten-free dessert you’ve mastered to your family gathering. Involving your recovery in your regular life is how you start to see how much joy you can find in being sober. 
  • Create strong boundaries. Boundaries are important year-round, but during the holiday season can be more difficult to maintain. Honoring your needs, leaving parties early, and saying ‘no’ to intrusive questions or conversations are just a few of the many boundaries you can put into place.
  • Set yourself up for success. Come prepared to all gatherings with answers to questions that you know will most likely come up, even if it is as simple as saying, “No thank you, I am not drinking today.” It does not have to be in more depth than that if you do not want it to be. If at any point you feel uncomfortable about a question or conversation, know it is your right to say you don’t want to talk about it and honor that boundary. Other ways to come prepared: drive yourself to all gatherings, leave whenever you feel is appropriate for you, bring non-alcoholic beverages if you want them, and have a friend, sponsor or therapist on-call in case you are in immediate need of support. 
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is always important but can be even more essential during times of challenge or hardship. Simply eating well and staying hydrated are of utmost importance, as well as sticking to the daily routines that keep us healthy and present. It is easy to fall off those train tracks when the holiday season kicks in—with more time off work, parties and social gatherings being the norm, but it is important we continue to do the things daily that keep us sober and healthy. Add in a few extra self-care practices like another yoga class, a walk some place picturesque or watching a favorite holiday movie to give yourself a little extra love. The way we take care of ourselves when we are feeling good is how we learn how to take care of ourselves when we are feeling bad.
  • Keep your support system close. Having a support system is undeniably one of the most important parts of the recovery journey, and always will be. Learning how to reach out and ask for help is typically one of the big lessons you learn when getting sober, and it doesn’t stop once you initially decide to. It continues throughout your whole lifetime. Having loved ones that truly understand you, who are there to listen and provide support during difficult times, is so important. Be sure to keep your circle close during these times and reach out to people when you need it.

What to Do In the Face of Triggers

When getting sober, there are always going to be subtle triggers on almost every corner. Throughout your journey, you learn various tools to combat them along the way, until they eventually dissipate and dissolve. Triggers may be a physical response in the body, an intrusive thought or a deep emotional response, and can sometimes be very difficult to deal with. Having someone to talk it out with (e.g., a therapist, sponsor or close trusted friend) is important. Yet there are a few ways you can self-soothe and remain calm in the face of chaos.

  • Avoid triggers, if possible. Especially if you are new in recovery, it is wise to avoid triggers when possible, such as not being around alcohol or substances being used, continuing intrusive and/or traumatic bonds, and upholding unhealthy relationship dynamics. It is not always possible to completely avoid them, and not always completely necessary. However, if you fear for your sobriety due to going to a party where a lot of drugs and alcohol will be present, or perhaps a difficult relationship dynamic that triggers you immensely, it is encouraged to honor your needs and sobriety first. If something could possibly hurt your recovery journey, it is important to honor where you are in the moment and make the uncomfortable decisions that may save your life.
  • Allow yourself to walk away. We all have relatives that criticize our career choices or question our love life, and perhaps even try and push us to do things we are not comfortable with. If family members or friends are not honoring your boundaries (e.g., pushing us to take a drink even after we have said no) it is essential to give yourself permission to walk away and separate yourself from the situation.
  • Come into your body. If you are sensing panic, anxiety, or a strong emotional and/or physical response at any moment, take a deep breath. Take a moment to go outside and smell the fresh air. Bring your hands to your body and/or feel your feet on the ground. These simple grounding techniques can be very useful if triggered strongly at any moment. 
  • Reach out for support. If this is hard for you, perhaps speak to close loved ones ahead of time and let them know you may need support in the near future, or ask them to reach out to you on a specific day to make sure you are OK. Allowing yourself support is one of the key take-aways of healthy sobriety. Do not hesitate to call a friend, sponsor or therapist if you feel your sobriety is at risk.


At Pinelands Recovery Center, we encourage everyone in recovery to find new ways of celebrating the sometimes-turbulent holiday season. We understand that as people in recovery, it can feel somewhat daunting to get through this time, let alone to find joy within it. We encourage anyone on the recovery path to reach out for support at all times, especially when it feels difficult, and to find new ways of celebrating this time of year. Contact us at Pinelands Recovery Center in Medford, New Jersey, today. We are here to answer any questions and help you on your recovery journey. Call us today at (877) 557-5372