How To Celebrate the Holidays In Recovery

Holly Jespersen
The author's holiday card, featuring photos of friends, family, and travel on a red background

At this point in my sobriety, I am very comfortable with my new life. I have learned to live without substances, and have a life that is full of loving, supportive relationships.

In the beginning, I had assumed that recovery would be boring. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My life these days includes a job that I love and a very packed social calendar full of fun things with people who bring joy to my soul.

But it’s not always easy. The holiday season, especially, can be a stressful time for people in recovery like me. Luckily, there are ways to get through it. Here are a few of my top tips for enjoying the holiday season without jeopardizing your health.

Manage your expectations (of yourself and others). They say expectations are resentments in the making, and I believe that to be true. We cannot control others; we are only responsible for ourselves. Try not to set huge expectations or anticipate outcomes this season. It takes practice, but it will make life during the holidays (and for that matter any day of the year) a lot smoother and more satisfying. Also manage your expectations of the holiday season in general—it’s a fun and festive time, but the holidays do not make you feel feelings less, or make your family miraculously get along like the Brady Bunch. Give yourself a reality check. (I find that logging off of social media is very helpful for this, too.)

Do not overcommit. I used to be the queen of overcommitting, running from one event to the next, which made it hard to be present in the moment, and made people feel like I always had a better offer. Today, I try to focus. I prefer a less frenetic existence, and like to enjoy my time with my friends without having to run to my next engagement. It is no longer fun for me to move at that pace. In sobriety I have clung to peace, quiet and serenity and away from chaos, drama and craziness. “If you’re too busy, you’re too busy.” Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Learn how to say no. You do not need to go to every holiday party you get invited to. Period, end of story. Also, if you don’t feel like the activity or event is one that will bring joy to your soul, but rather feels like an obligation, then say no. No is a complete sentence, without having to provide an explanation. Just politely decline and be free in your decision.

Don’t compare yourself to others. The holidays are a great time to feel less than, and to compare other’s outsides with our insides. This is a recipe for disaster. Holiday cards used to get me down—I’d feel like since I’m not married with children, my life must not be fulfilling. But that is so not true. I decided I needed to stop worrying about others and start celebrating myself. So last year I made my own holiday card, featuring photos from my travels, and of my friends and family. It’s my new tradition!

Make self-care a priority. This includes meetings (if you go to recovery meetings), maintaining your spiritual practice, calling your support network, exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and having ample quiet time.

Take time off. If you can, take some time off over the holidays to relax and re-charge. You deserve it, and will be a better employee by taking time to unplug.

Have fun. Enjoy the season, the music, the cheesy Netflix holiday movies, decorating, baking, entertaining, all of it! It should be fun, not something to check off your list. And if you don’t feel joyful participating in it, don’t do it! This season, you will find me watching lots of cheesy Christmas movies, singing along to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” starting promptly on December 1st, wearing a light up Christmas blub necklace, and driving around with reindeer antlers on my car. What can I say—I celebrate my way!

Start new traditions. Maybe for you, the holidays used to mean one thing: Too much partying. So you need to build new traditions and reference points. Come up with some new things that make you happy, things that you can do every year. For instance, this past Thanksgiving I did my first Turkey Trot. I decided I wanted to do something active and outdoorsy for a change. I loved it! I plan on doing it again next year.

Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Holidays can bring up memories, old hurts, family issues. All sorts of tough stuff. Be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to feel however you feel. A song, a smell—sometimes triggers surprise us, and we are not prepared for the flood of emotions that follow. I know for me, I often think I am fine, but then have a wave of sadness, heavy stuff that often comes out of the blue. We can’t stop these feelings; we can only prepare ourselves for them. Reach out to your support network, and be sure to prioritize self-care time. For me, I find that also maintaining my spiritual practice, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, plus writing the occasional gratitude list help me to not stay in the hole too long.

I hope these simple suggestions help you, whether this is your first or fifteenth sober holiday season.

Holly Jespersen is Shatterproof’s Senior Communications Manager.