In many minds, the holidays are a time for celebration and for treating yourself – not just with sugar cookies and gingerbread, but with mulled wine or rum and eggnog. Culturally, using substances has become somewhat synonymous with celebrating, which can make this season especially difficult for those who are trying to stay sober. Add in some often stressful and exhausting family dynamics along with the pandemic’s new challenges, and you may be daunted by the idea of staying strong through it all. Whether you have a personal or family history of substance abuse, or are trying to create healthier habits that support your mental wellness, there are countless reasons why someone might abstain from using substances; but this doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Here are our helpful tips for staying sober this holiday season:
Keep track of (and limit) triggers
If you already know which situations or people trigger your urge to use substances, be especially mindful of them now (and even avoid them when possible). If you aren’t quite sure what your triggers are, it can be helpful to keep a journal where you can track moods and thought patterns. Journalling helps you tune into your feelings and recognize warning signs. Writing goals down also makes them more salient: you can use this journal often as a place to write down and reflect on your reasons for staying sober.
Decline invites if needed (without feeling guilty)
Despite COVID ruling out office parties and large family gatherings, people are still finding ways to celebrate virtually with digital happy hours or online drinking games. Try to let go of the fear of disappointing others by declining the invites that may be triggering for you. Create new traditions that don’t involve using substances within your bubble, like holiday-themed scavenger hunts around your house or neighbourhood, baking competitions, or movie marathons.
Practice boundary setting
Especially if sobriety is new to you, or something you’re practicing temporarily, it’s important to make your social circle aware so that they can support you accordingly. If there’s anything that they can do to make this easier for you (e.g. not using substances around you, brushing their teeth after they’ve had a drink or a smoke before coming to talk to you, etc.), communicate this to them. If they are supportive of your wellbeing, they’ll be happy to do what they can to help. Practice how you might decline a drink if one is offered to you so that it feels more comfortable in the moment. The reasons for your sobriety may be deeply personal – it’s okay to not feel comfortable discussing them with others and you do not have to. Unfortunately, this may not stop people from asking questions anyway – rehearse how you might want to politely decline to answer questions that you aren’t comfortable answering.
Care for yourself
The holidays can be exhausting and triggering in so many ways, making it vital to stay on top of self-care. Being intentional about using healthy coping mechanisms in response to stressors can help reduce urges to self-medicate with substances. A lot of what we see about self-care on social media is simplified into being all about bath bombs or online shopping, which is why self-care often gets misconstrued as being indulgent and selfish. In reality, meaningful self-care involves acknowledging what things you need to do in order to care for your mind, body, and soul, and following through on doing those things. Caring for yourself shouldn’t just be a treat, it should be non-negotiable. Make it a priority by scheduling it in and reminding yourself that you can’t fully show up for others if you don’t show up for yourself first. Self-care for the mind might include things like practicing gratitude and using positive self-talk. Moving your body in a way that feels good – whether that means a gentle walk around the block, 10 minutes of morning stretches, or a 10km run -- along with ensuring you’re getting enough sleep are great ways to practice physical self-care. Nurture your soul by connecting with an old friend who always makes you laugh or by picking up a hobby that you’ve always wanted to try.
Reach out for support
Finally, know that it’s okay to need some outside help with all of this. Knowing when you need extra support and taking steps to get it is a sign of incredible strength and courage, not weakness. Whether this means confiding in trusted friends or family members, reaching out to a counsellor, or attending a virtual support group, you don’t have to go through it alone. If you think you could use some help for substance abuse, you can find more information about Amira Health’s counselling services here.