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A Guide to Staying Sober During the Festive Season: Strategies for a Sober Silly Season

Strategies for a Sober Silly Season

The festive season – aka the silly season – is upon us. A time of celebration, love, and togetherness for some, and a quagmire of triggers and risks for other. For those of us navigating recovery, especially earlier recovery, it's often a challenging period. It's essential to remember the importance of staying sober during this time. Recovery isn't just about "not drinking" or "not using." It's a commitment to living a fulfilling, meaningful, healthy life.

Substance use isn’t just a bad habit; it's a chronic disease or disorder characterized by compulsive substance use regardless of ongoing, harmful consequences. Being in recovery and overcoming our addiction, is not an easy road. At times it feels like a massive battle. And for some relapse is a common part of the recovery process. Relapses are often triggered by stress, exposure to substances, or certain social settings – making the festive season a potential minefield.

The festive season is notorious for its indulgence.

It's a time when people frequently partake in excessive eating and drinking. But when recovering from a substance use disorder, the festive season can be a catalyst for relapse. It's a time of heightened stress, social pressure, and ubiquitous temptation. Recognizing these factors is the first step in staying well and safe over the December holidays.

Here’s the good news: relapse isn't a sign of failure. It's a chance to reassess, adjust, and reinforce your commitment to recovery. In this light, the festive season can serve as a valuable opportunity to strengthen your sobriety. Social science research on sobriety can be a powerful tool in your recovery process. Here are some ideas, thoughts, practices and ways to stay sober during the silly season...

Here are key findings from social science research studies:

  1. Social support is crucial for staying sober! Surrounding yourself with positive, healthy influences and people who understand your process can significantly decrease the chances of relapse.

  2. Staying engaged in healthy holiday recovery activities can help to combat temptation.

  3. Mindfulness practices can help manage stress and anxiety, which are both common triggers for relapse.

  4. Exercise and movement can positively impact your mental health, making you more resilient in the face of triggers.

  5. Having a relapse prevention plan can significantly reduce the risk of falling back into old habits during the summer holidays.

Exploring 12-Step and Mutual Aid Programmes:

12-step programs offer a structured approach to recovery. They provide practical steps one can follow to achieve and maintain sobriety. These programs can be particularly helpful during the festive season, providing an extra layer of support and guidance. They help you feel less isolated and offer practical tools for coping with triggers. 12-step meetings form the cornerstone of many people’s recovery process and these can be a valuable resource for staying focused on your recovery goals. The groups and the programme also emphasize the importance of a support system in recovery. This can be particularly beneficial during the festive season, offering a sanctuary from the pressures of the season.

While 12-step programs have aided many people in their recovery journey, they aren't the only option. Other programs, like SMART Recovery and Women for Sobriety, offer alternative approaches to recovery. SMART Recovery, for instance, emphasizes self-empowerment and self-reliance. Rather than subscribing to the notion that addiction is a lifelong disease, they view it as a series of destructive behaviours that can be changed.

Women for Sobriety focuses specifically on the unique challenges faced by women in recovery. They offer a 13-statement program that encourages emotional and spiritual growth.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery - the best programme is one that resonates with you and supports your unique journey. It's important to weigh the pros and cons of each programme. What works well for one person might not work as well for another. It's about finding a programme that aligns with your beliefs, values, and recovery goals.

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention:

Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. It can be a powerful tool in your recovery journey.

Here's how:

1. Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your triggers and how you respond to them.

2. It can help manage stress and anxiety, which can often lead to substance use.

3. Incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine can support mental well-being, making you more resilient in the face of challenges.

Urge surfing is a psychological technique used to help individuals resist the wave of temptation to engage in a harmful behavior. Think of an urge like a wave, it rises, peaks, and eventually falls. The key is to ride the wave - or "surf" - without giving into the urge. It's about acknowledging the urge, accepting its presence, and letting it pass without acting on it.

Urge Surfing Using RAIN Explanation

This technique can be particularly useful during the festive season, a time rife with triggers and temptations. With practice, urge surfing can transform how you respond to triggers, helping to mitigate the risk of relapse. Remember, you are not your thoughts or urges. You have the power to choose how you respond. And choosing sobriety, even in the face of temptation, is a testament to your strength and resilience.

Urge Surfing Using RAIN - Stages
Urge Surfing Using RAIN - Template

Evidence-Based Strategies for a Well Holiday:

  • Planning is crucial in maintaining sobriety during the festive season. It's about anticipating potential triggers and having a plan to manage them effectively.

  • Setting boundaries is another vital strategy. It's okay to say no to events or people that may compromise your recovery. You're not being selfish; you're looking after your well-being. Rather try and see it as self-loving when you choose what’s good for you, even if the people in your life don’t always agree with your choices.

  • Avoiding triggers might seem obvious, but it's worth emphasizing. If you know certain situations, people, or even foods and smells trigger cravings, do your best to avoid them.

  • Of course, stress happens. Especially during the festive season. That's why having healthy coping mechanisms is so crucial. Exercise, mindful breathing, and talking to a trusted friend can all help manage stress without resorting to substance use.

Here are some self-care practices for sobriety:

  1. Regular exercise can boost your mood and help manage stress.

  2. Nutritious food can fuel your body, support brain function, and help manage cravings.

  3. Adequate sleep can enhance your mood, energy levels, and ability to cope with stress.


  • Self-care is an act of self-love, not selfishness.

  • It's about looking after your physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and mental health.

  • Maintaining boundaries and routines supports your health.

  • It's okay to say no to things that could jeopardize your recovery.

  • Don't feel guilty for putting your needs first.

  • Your progress and wellbeing deserve protection.

  • Make self-care a year-round commitment, not just a holiday chore.

Self-Compassion - Jack Kornfield

Staying clean and sober during the festive season may seem daunting for some, but it is possible. Remember, you're not alone. Reach out to your support networks, show up at meetings, engage in healthy holiday recovery activities, and look after yourself. Keep in mind the importance of responding to triggers in a healthy way and stay committed to your sobriety goals. Your journey may have its challenges, but it's a journey worth taking. Here's to a safe, sober, and joyful festive season!


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