Sobriety comes with some difficult hurdles to overcome, and the holidays may be one of the hardest. By knowing what to expect, you can ensure your recovery continues into the new year and beyond.

The first year of sobriety is often filled with emotions that range from good to bad to downright confusing. This is especially true when facing your first sober holiday season. The holidays are already filled with many stressful situations, and if you are used to celebrating with the help of alcohol, you may be a bit frightened of attending events without a drink in hand.

The season may hold triggers for you, meaning that certain people, places and events will make you feel like you want to begin drinking again. When encountering these tough emotions and triggers, it can be tempting to simply give in but you also have the choice to fight back and maintain your recovery. Choosing to commit to your sobriety is always a better option.

In order to put your sobriety first, however, you must have an idea of what to expect when entering your first sober holiday season. If you’re aware of what may happen, you’ll be better able to manage your emotions and control how you react in certain situations. Here are some of the possible situations and feelings you may encounter as a sober partygoer, as well as how you can overcome these events with your sobriety intact.

1. Expect to feel uncomfortable

Feeling uncomfortable in a situation is never enjoyable. Fortunately, it is a little easier to manage when you already expect to feel that way and can prepare yourself accordingly. When you are entering a situation where others are drinking, such as a typical holiday party, it’s important to know that the situation likely won’t feel natural or easy right away. You’re essentially learning how to act in a social situation without using alcohol, which is a substance that can make people feel overly calm and outgoing. It may seem hard to relax without drinking, but it is possible.

You may feel like the odd one out sipping water or soda, but that’s alright. What really matters is how you deal with these uncomfortable feelings. You can continue to focus on feeling like you are being left out, or you can focus on the ways in which you are being included. Remember: In order to be there, you had to be invited in the first place. The more normal and at ease you act, the less others will perceive that something is off. Your mindset plays a large role in how you feel in uncomfortable situations.

2. Be prepared to answer questions about why you are not drinking

If you were a big social drinker in the past and suddenly stop, people are probably going to notice. Not everyone will comment about it or question you, but some people might. That’s why it is important to have a response prepared.

You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but if you feel comfortable telling the truth, people typically accept that and move on. If you want to avoid a conversation about your recovery, you can tell them you are the designated driver or that you are trying to take better care of your body. These replies are hard to argue and people likely will respect your response.

3. Know that you may feel tempted to drink

For many, the holidays can present numerous triggers. You may be spending time with family members who stress you out, returning to places you’d typically drink or missing the feeling of being the life of the party. It’s completely normal to face cravings or wish things could be different, and having these thoughts does not mean you’re failing at sobriety.

What matters is how you choose to handle these thoughts. You could easily wave goodbye to sobriety and pick up a drink, but there are better ways to handle the stress of triggers. Before entering a potentially triggering situation, have a plan. This may mean having someone to call, such as a sponsor or a good friend, who will help you work through your thoughts. Another good option is to have an exit plan in place that lets you leave if temptation becomes overwhelming. It’s important to think ahead in potentially triggering environments so you don’t find yourself in a situation you’ll later regret.

4. Remember that it gets easier

Though it may not feel like it in the moment, sobriety does get easier over time. Like most experiences, in the first year of sobriety, your first sober holiday season will likely be the toughest. It is important to stay grounded and remind yourself what you are thankful for instead of focus on what your life is lacking. One way to do this is to make a list of reasons you enjoy the holiday season. Chances are you can come up with many. Now you can think of what you enjoy and come to realize that being sober and fully present makes those parts of the holidays all the more enjoyable.

Whether you are newly sober or haven’t used alcohol in years, thinking about the holiday season ahead of time is vital. With the right strategies and expectations, you will be able to manage your feelings and enter the new year sober, which is something you will not regret.

a woman in a black top smiling at the camera.
By – Beth Leipholtz
Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. She enjoys writing about her recovery and the realities of getting sober young on her blog, Life To Be Continued, and as a contributing author for The Recovery Village. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for updates. Read more
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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.