SPENDING Christmas with friends and loved ones can seem like a challenge for those who are trying to stay sober through the stressful season, but setting boundaries and careful planning can help.
Pat Cronin is an addiction specialist with Ark Behavioral Health who spoke exclusively to The Sun about ways to have fun and maintain sobriety during the challenging holiday season.
Setting boundaries is paramount to spending quality time with loved ones, and enjoying it, said Cronin.
"If you’re at a holiday party or another event and people are pushing you to drink, the best thing you can do is enforce boundaries," Cronin told The Sun US.
"Your recovery is more important than pleasing your friends, and it’s ok to remove yourself from the situation or politely ask them to stop offering you drinks."
Find a support network
Having fun, and maintaining sobriety, are both much easier when you aren't going it alone.
"Do your best to connect with someone," Cronin said.
That can be a favorite coworker at the office party, or a trusted family member who will trade mocktail recipes with you.
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And if you can't stick to events where other guests will support your efforts, set hard boundaries and stick to them.
"You don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re choosing not to drink," Cronin said.
"If politely declining and changing the subject doesn’t work, you can be more direct and say, 'I’m choosing not to drink, but thank you,' or explain that you’re the designated driver for the night," Cronin added.
Start an addiction treatment program
For those who haven't been in a treatment program, or who haven't attended meetings in a long while, the Christmas season may be the right time to start.
"You can find a local support group (you can typically find Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Christmas Day) or FaceTime a friend or family member," Cronin said.
Turning to a treatment program will provide a wider network of support and resources, and establish accountability partners who can check in and provide early intervention if necessary.
"If that’s not an option, consider relapse prevention strategies, get yourself out of the house, and find ways to address the root of the issue," he added.
Spend time with loved ones
The pressure to "do everything" during the holiday season can be overwhelming, especially when it deprives you from quality time with the people you care about most.
Prioritizing time with loved ones will keep your mood bolstered during the holidays, and also give you someone to talk to if you're overwhelmed by the urge to abuse alcohol or other substances.
On the Ark Behavioral Health blog, addiction experts note that prioritizing time with loved ones is a gift to yourself.
Stay focused on time-honored family traditions or make an event of watching the newest holiday movie on streaming.
"Choose the event(s) that are most important to you and give yourself permission to say “no” to the rest," the editorial team writes.
Practice mindfulness and gratitude
Gratitude and love are the "reason for the season," so mindfulness practices go hand-in-hand with a merry Christmas–and they're in line with sobriety, too.
Keeping a gratitude journal throughout the holidays and practicing daily meditation or grounding exercises is a great way to keep your emotions level and avoid anxiety spikes that might trigger a relapse.
"Having an alcohol-free Christmas celebration means that everyone can be fully present," Cronin said.
Mindfulness practices can even be something you do as a family, to help remember the season's celebrations and document special moments for years to come.
"Without alcohol, you’re fully in control, mentally and physically healthier, and able to create new memories together," the expert said.
Pursue new passions and interests
Get a jump start on your New Year's Resolutions by pursuing the hobby you've been aching to try, or doubling down on your commitment to bettering yourself.
Or, just focus on the things that make you feel happy and healthy, whether that's a daily jog or getting cozy with a good book.
"Quality sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise can combat stress, improving your physical and mental health," the experts at Ark write.
"Take a warm bath at the end of a long day. Have a cup of hot cocoa and watch the snowfall.
"Reward yourself for staying sober or find a way to relax without drugs or alcohol."
Discover other ways to find meaning and purpose
Reflect on the year you've had, the year ahead, and the growth you've undergone.
During Christmas, think about what the purpose of the season is–that might mean thinking about the spiritual aspects of rebirth and forgiveness.
Or you may choose to reflect on the "season of giving" by making an effort to be extra-generous with your time and resources, like adopting a family in need or writing heartfelt notes to your friends and family.
Volunteering or spending time caring for others could help you redefine the way you view yourself during the holidays, and it's a great way to connect with your community and find a greater purpose.
Go to therapy
Find out what your therapist's holiday schedule is like, or use a text-based therapy app to have regular check-ins and log any stress spikes that happen during the day.
That's a tactic that will help not just on Christmas, but in the new year to come.
"For many people in recovery, the hardest part of being sober on Christmas is facing triggers, stress, and mental health issues, which often lead to substance use," Cronin said.
"If you learn to understand your triggers, you can be prepared for these moments and overcome them with healthier coping strategies."
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