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Talking to Family About Recovery During Sober Holidays

At Gosnold, we know a successful recovery does not end with the completion of a treatment plan; we offer ongoing recovery support for our patients and their families.  We are committed to the community and provide family education, school-based counseling, medical care integration, and support prevention coalitions.

The holiday season tends to be a time for connecting with family and friends from out of town that you may not see very often. These gatherings can be slightly awkward or uncomfortable when you’re in recovery. Perhaps they haven’t heard about this development in your life, or have not been informed that you’re trying to stay sober for the holidays. What is the least awkward way to bring them up to speed without causing discomfort or dwelling on negativity? 

Let’s explore some options for navigating sober holidays below.

Talking to Family About Recovery at Sober Holiday Gatherings

It’s understandable to want to keep these discussions short and simple. Perhaps you won’t say anything unless you’re directly asked why you’re sipping on water instead of wine. Should the subject come up, remember that there’s nothing to be ashamed about. Struggling with substance use may still carry a stigma, but you are a strong and capable person for making changes to overcome it. Sober holidays are worth celebrating.

Here are some ways to handle the conversation if it comes up with that out-of-town aunt who hasn’t seen you since high school or even the relatives you see most often:

Suggest Ways to Offer Support

It takes a supportive community to be sober during the holidays. Having friends and relatives behind you who can offer encouragement and accountability is vital. Think about the kind of support you need most—a phone call at the end of a party? A supportive text?—and ask the relatives you’re closest to if they can help in that way. 

Reduce Sober Holiday Pressures

Only you can know what your limits are. Maybe one holiday gathering a month is more than enough. Perhaps you need to decline all invitations where you know alcohol will be present. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable, it’s okay to privately reach out to the relative who is hosting and explain your feelings. Perhaps a compromise can be worked out, like serving alcoholic beverages only after you leave. 

Communicate Ahead of Time

It might be more awkward to let relatives know about your recovery in person after a holiday event has begun when you could simply let them know ahead of time. Perhaps if your family has a newsletter, an email thread, or another means of mass communication, you may want to consider adding a line like, “Just so everyone is aware, Charlie isn’t drinking this year. If you have any questions about that, just ask him! Now as for party games…”

Adding a line of clarity like that may help prevent some people from pressuring you on the spot, perhaps by insisting that one toast of champagne “won’t hurt.” Being clear and upfront ahead of time can help alleviate some of that pressure. Simply say a polite but firm “No thank you.”

Be Clear About Triggers

Your recovery journey is your own, and a personal one at that. However, there may be certain triggers or stressors that are uniquely related to the holiday season. Knowing them and [communicating]( them allows you to prepare ahead of time so you can create a strategy or exit plan if needed. 

Say you’re the relative who is usually in charge of the cooking. If that task has stressed you to the point of drinking in the past, try communicating that to [someone you trust]( Once people are made aware, it will be easier to come up with an alternative solution, such as having someone help with cooking, or purchasing ready-made food from a restaurant to serve. 

Other potential triggers to communicate with relatives include any financial burdens about purchasing gifts or watching other people drink alcoholic beverages you used to enjoy. If you communicate some of these concerns in a tactful way, you may feel more confident about attending holiday gatherings and be able to have a good time rather than feeling anxious. 

Ask for Alternative Beverages

You may want to avoid the champagne that the adults are drinking, but that shouldn’t limit you to the juice options that the kids are having. There are lots of creative “mocktail” options for people who are sober during the holidays. Ask the host about serving them, or provide the ingredients yourself.

Start New Sober Holiday Traditions

Some traditions are expected during the holidays, such as toasting champagne as soon as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. What if you created new traditions—ones that don’t involve alcohol? Recovery may be a good time to implement some new drinks on the menu or activities that don’t involve going to bars or wine tastings. Consider gift exchanges, potlucks, non-drinking games, or watching holiday movies. There are so many creative sober holiday ideas that can be fun for people of all ages and abilities. 

Host Your Own Sober Holiday Party

Ultimately, you can’t control what other people do or bring at holiday gatherings. There’s only so much you can prepare when you don’t know what you’re walking into. However, if you offer to host a sober holiday gathering, that gives you more control. You can make it clear on the invitations that this event will be a dry gathering. Offer sparkling grape juice or other “mocktail” options so people can still feel festive and enjoy something a little out of the ordinary. You can’t control what happens in other people’s homes, but you are in full control of what happens in yours.

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