It’s the Alco-Holiday Season — 5 Tips for Folks in Recovery & Those Who Love Them

Part of the fun of the holiday season as an adult is that we’re no longer limited to the traditional, marshmallow-garnished, family-friendly hot cocoa. Spiked eggnog, mulled wine, hard cider, Christmas ale, the holiday bottle of 18-year-old single malt Scotch... there are about as many libations tailored for the holidays as can be found reasons to imbibe. Stressful family gatherings, a toast to your health, a celebration of the new year, or simply a social lubricant — wetting your whistle never seems easier than around this time of year.

So, for those of us who have a somewhat more muddled relationship with alcohol, it can be a tricky thing to navigate the yuletide — perhaps especially so this year, when the usual get-togethers are going digital and many of us are spending more time alone overall. Whether we’re getting a head start on a New Year’s resolution, looking to hold ourselves accountable, or marking down another milestone in our recovery journey, here are five tips for keeping on our path — and how friends and loved ones can support us in the process:

  1. Set boundaries. With the changes in how we’re celebrating the holidays this year, it might feel like your emotional, relationship, and day-to-day responsibilities are all over the place — which can make it hard to focus. Take some time out throughout each day to check in with yourself and ask, “what do I need, right now?” A sip of water, a meal, a deep breath with a stretch, 10 minutes of silence, jumping on the stationary bike — whatever it is, set the boundary of taking care of your own metaphorical oxygen mask before attending to anyone else’s, and make your own wellbeing your first priority.

    Loved ones: Be generous and flexible with your understanding when routines change or plans get shifted around. Remember that these boundaries aren’t necessarily reflections on you, but are the simple yet profound act of someone prioritizing their recovery to stay healthy. Give them space to diverge from the plan and do what they need to do to be well.
  2. Plan ahead. Think about your desired outcome before you enter any situation, whether that’s a small party with your safely quarantined pod, or something more distanced, like a Zoom or Facetime event or celebration. Do you want to abstain completely? Limit yourself to one glass of wine? Or two beers? Whatever it is, make the decision ahead of time and, if appropriate, let those you trust in on your plans. You’ll be more prepared to pace yourself when you have a goal in mind, and more assured in your choices if someone else can hold you accountable.

    Loved ones: Don’t assume everyone needs to have a drink in order to celebrate. If you do check in with someone and have your offer of alcohol declined, don’t press or cajole them on the issue — just support that decision.
  3. BYO-Beverage. Non-alcoholic doesn’t have to mean boring. Being mindful of the options you give yourself can make all the difference. Whether that’s simply keeping alcohol out of the house, or shopping non-alcoholic beer, artisan cola, sparkling juice, or mocktails, finding something to sip on that still feels like a treat can make those Zoom calls and pod parties more bearable — and keep you from feeling like a sore thumb sticking out.

    Loved ones: If you’re hosting the pod party or otherwise providing refreshment, think about including these non-boozy options in your offerings. Supply extra mixers or garnishes to make a non-alcoholic drink more festive.
  4. Remind yourself that you are choosing this. You have freedom and options every minute, and nobody's making you do this. Affirm to yourself that you like this choice as doing what is best for you, even if difficult — and it is a reflection of your strength and self-love that you do so.

    Loved ones: Support and encourage your person in recovery by affirming their efforts. Let them know that you see and appreciate everything they’re doing for themselves, and recognize the progress they’ve made and continue to make — as long as you’re sure it won’t be heard as patronizing.
  5. Meditate. No surprises here— this is one of those times when being able to listen to someone else’s guidance and narration can help you get out of your own head, reduce stress, focus on the positive, and re-center yourself in a place of serenity and acceptance. Inner Peace, Outward Power: Guided Imagery for 12 Steps, A Meditation to Support Recovery, and Releasing Shame; Embracing Self-Worth, are just a few of the guided imagery titles we offer for this specific and highly personal health journey.

    Loved ones: Meditate on your love and care for your person in recovery and send them your blessings, prayers, good wishes or whatever support you want them to have from you. In other words, do some loving kindness meditation aimed at them — Tara Brach’s Mindfulness Meditation: Nine Guided Practices to Awaken Presence and Open Your Heart or Bodhipaksa’s Harnessing the Power of Kindness are great places to start.

And if you’re still thirsting for more resources, tips, and suggestions about navigating the holiday season without the usual spirits, this list comprises a whopping 35 ideas to support and encourage you — from Christmas, to New Year’s, and beyond.

We salute you and the people who love you every step of the way.