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Holiday Traditions in Recovery

Written by Laura Herrmann, MA | Updated on Aug 26, 2022

Medically reviewed by Dr. Patrick J. Gallus, DO

The holidays can be a difficult time for people who are in recovery for several reasons. There’s often an increase in substance use at social gatherings, which can cause a person to experience urges to use. The holidays can also often bring back old memories, some of which may be triggering. There is also a lot of chaos during the holidays, which may mean increased levels of stress, changes in schedule, having to be around unsupportive or toxic family members, and not having as much time to practice self-care.

Even though the holidays can be a difficult time for someone in recovery, it doesn’t mean that they can’t still enjoy the holiday. Instead, they just need to learn how to avoid potential triggers and how to make new, positive traditions that are not related to substance use.

Avoiding Triggers During the Holidays

It is essential to come up with a plan beforehand and be careful about which invitations you say yes to during the holidays. If visiting with a particular person is going to mean going near where you previously engaged in substance abuse or picked up a particular substance, you may be better off seeing if the location of the event can be changed. If you know there is going to be a lot of drinking or drug use, and you may feel the urge to use, perhaps it is better to make other plans. The best way to enjoy the holidays while sober is to surround yourself with positive, uplifting people who are supportive of your recovery journey.

Ideas of New Holiday Traditions to Make in Recovery

Just because you won’t be engaging in substance use over the holidays doesn’t mean you still can’t have a great time and make new traditions. Even if you aren’t able to do your usual holiday traditions, there are still ways to honor the past and bring people together.

The following are some ideas of sober activities you could partake in with friends and family during the holidays:

  • Have a Christmas cookie decorating contest
  • Decorate a gingerbread house
  • Try out some holiday mocktail recipes
  • Have a Christmas movie marathon
  • Have a game night, using either a traditional game like Monopoly or a virtual game like Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, or Jeopardy
  • Jump in the car and check out Christmas lights
  • Have a holiday bake-off
  • Make homemade gifts
  • Take a hike with a friend
  • Go sledding, snowboarding, or tubing (weather permitting)
  • Visit an ice rink and go skating
  • Decorate the Christmas tree as a family
  • Spend time with children, whether it be your own, nieces and nephews or a friend’s child, to reignite the magic of Christmas

How to Practice Self Care During the Holidays

If you are someone whose social battery is quickly drained, it is more important to practice self-care during the holidays than ever. Sometimes the business of the holidays can get overwhelming quickly, and you may feel you just need a little time to yourself. It can be helpful to take one or two nights away before the majority of the Christmas activities begin.

You could drive to a nearby town and spend some time at a bed and breakfast. Or you could spend a couple of nights in a hotel, either by yourself or with a friend or significant other. This will allow you to go into the holidays more rested, recharged, and with a calmer sense of mind.

Another way of practicing self-care while in recovery is ensuring you’re taking the necessary steps to protect your sobriety. This may mean going to a support group meeting before going to a holiday party. It could also mean scheduling a few extra sessions to speak with your therapist to discuss how you’ll deal with any potential triggers that come your way during the holidays.

Practicing self-care can also be done in more simple but equally important ways. This can include making sure you are getting enough sleep, ensuring that you’re eating nutritious, well-balanced meals, and taking care of your mental state through journaling, meditation, or yoga.

Giving Back During the Holidays

The holidays are a great time to give back to others through volunteering and other forms of community service. This can help someone in recovery feel fulfillment and a sense of purpose. Some ways of giving back include:

  • Volunteering at a soup kitchen
  • Donating supplies to a homeless shelter
  • Sending a Christmas card to a soldier who is on active duty
  • Sponsoring a family for Christmas
  • Visiting someone in a nursing home who has no family left

The holidays can be a difficult time for someone who is in recovery due to the increase in substance use at social gatherings and the potentially triggering memories that may be brought up. However, this time is also an opportunity to make new traditions to share with loved ones that do not involve drugs or alcohol. It is essential to go into the holidays with a game plan regarding which invitations you wish to accept and which you decide to pass on. You can begin plenty of new traditions with your loved ones that don’t include substance use. Some examples include a bake-off, a movie marathon, a Christmas lights tour, or giving back to others through volunteer work. It’s also important to practice self-care during this time and take stock of your mental health.

If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, our team at Gallus Medical Detox Centers can help. Call (720) 669-8178 to learn more.

Laura Herrmann, MA

Laura is the Chief Outreach and Marketing Officer at Gallus Medical Detox, she has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare marketing field in digital, social, product marketing, strategy and sales leadership. Her passion for those struggling and recovering from substance use disorder and mental health as well as advocacy for patient empowerment has driven her career and continues to be the motivation to work within the best treatment options to help those struggling. With a Master’s Degree from Tufts School of Medicine and Emerson College in Health Communication, Laura has continued to find excitement and challenge in her chosen field. She is also the Board President, BarZero and Board Member of the Colorado Professional Liaison Association.

Last medically reviewed on December 16, 2021

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If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, call Gallus at
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