As an addiction psychiatrist, I work with patients in all stages of recovery. For those in early recovery, staying sober can be hard. Former drinking buddies (the people), old haunts (the places) and old habits like using alcohol and/or drugs to escape, cope or provide reward (the things) are hard to shake. These people, places and things are often also the triggers that lead to relapse and so they must be addressed in treatment and aftercare.
Holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s, where drinking is not only common but is an expected form of celebration, can be especially difficult to navigate and are often very triggering in early recovery. This year, I helped several patients stay sober through their first St. Patrick’s Day in recovery and so I want to share some of the tips and suggestions that we learned together.
Here are some tips for maintaining sobriety on triggering Holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day and that can help you stay in good recovery, everyday:
#1 Identify and prepare for how holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day, can lead and trigger you to drink.
A “good” alcoholic does not need an excuse to drink. But how does someone in recovery avoid the parties, bars, parades and other boozy festivities celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, which is ranked as one of the top four drinking holidays in the U.S. (along with Fourth of July, Christmas and New Year’s Eve).
This may be especially hard for someone of Irish descent with a strong desire to celebrate their roots. For example, alcohol-related triggers on St. Patrick’s Day can be as seemingly benign as sitting down to a traditional Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage, which can prompt the urge to reach for a stout beer to go along with it.
Understanding and preparing for the triggers can be the difference between staying sober and relapsing. Each person is different and each situation is unique. If you have failed to stay sober in the past, learn from past mistakes. As they say, nothing changes, if nothing changes… so prepare yourself differently this time and you can expect to have a better result.
#2 Be healthy and humorous.
Those who are in recovery should be aware of the healthy and sober ways to show others you still like to have fun and let loose (without drugs and alcohol). One of my patients chose to approach sobriety on St. Patty’s Day with humor by wearing a green T-shirt that said, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish and Sober.” This slogan and similar messages such as “Green and Sober” have become increasingly popular in recent years. Approaching recovery with fun and humor can counter the feelings of guilt and shame that often feel overwhelming in early recovery.
#3 Stay close to the heard.
Plan to provide support, and receive the support, of peers in recovery with a sober celebration. Do something fun with your (new) sober friends. Support each other in sobriety by planning a non-drinking get together at home, making sure not to invite anyone who may be drinking, which would be uncomfortable and counter-productive. Many 12-step groups now schedule “sober parties” on drinking holidays (research those in your area) or consider hosting a sober party of your own. Again, the fun does not have to stop in recovery.
#4 Plan to go to a mutual-help meeting or two!
Even if local sober support groups don’t schedule any “sober parties,” it is important to attend a meeting to bolster your commitment to sobriety — and support others in theirs. The holiday might be a good excuse to attend a different 12-step meeting than the usual one, to meet new people and expand your support network. You can also setup a meet up with your sponsor to work on step work or simple share the time together.
#5 Decide how you will decline invitations in advance. And practice.
It is important to plan ahead so that you do not get caught off guard and then fall into the trap of feeling shame and guilt about your recovery, or worse, make an impulsive decision that puts your recovery at risk. For example, make a list of reasons why you will be declining invitations to parties or other activities that pose challenges to your sobriety — in a way that won’t hurt feelings (yours or otherwise). You may want to practice declining so it becomes as natural as saying “yes” to a drink was in the past.
#6 Plan an easy exit from problematic situations and how you will turn down offers to drink.
For those in recovery, who do end up at a party or parade where others are drinking, it can be a great idea to mention that you have to be somewhere else later so you can make a quick exit if you start to feel tempted to drink.
You will inevitably be offered a wine menu, a drink at a party or find yourself in another situation where your decision to abstain becomes topic of conversation. If you do not feel comfortable discussing your sobriety and/or recovery, one option is to tell people that you are the designated driver for a friend that day and need to go pick them up and drive them home. This is also a good excuse for refusing drinks. You may not be at a point where you are comfortable saying you are in recovery or you are an alcoholic — the goal is to create a safe space around you and to surround yourself with recovery. Decide what you feel comfortable with ahead of time, so you feel comfortable without however you decide to decline to drink.
#7 Start new traditions.
Many youth groups, colleges and community centers now offer sober holiday celebrations as a way for students and others to avoid binge drinking. In cities like New York, “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” events welcome those who want to celebrate Irish culture without a beer in hand. Some organizations host annual alcohol-free events at ice skating rinks or other venues where Irish dancing or arts and crafts are featured. Research local options such as these and share the information with your peers in recovery. You may find an annual sober event that becomes a new tradition where you can enjoy a fun, safe and festive atmosphere.
On the Web: docgoldenberg.com
The Huffington Post Articles: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/mattgoldenberg-950
*Matthew Goldenberg D.O. is an addiction psychiatrist, board certified in General and Addiction Psychiatry and is a mental health and addiction expert. He maintains a private psychiatry practice in Santa Monica, California.
The conditions Dr. Goldenberg treats include depression, (major depressive disorder, MDD), bipolar disorder (mania and hypomania, aka bipolar depression), anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder and panic attacks; obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD; Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD); Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD; insomnia and sleep problems; addiction (alcoholism, drug addiction aka substance abuse and substance dependence); behavioral addictions aka process addiction (food addiction, gambling addiction sex addiction etc).
Staying sober in early recovery can feel hard. However, early recovery does not have to lack fun. Taking these steps (and others you discuss with a therapist, doctor or your sponsor) will help ensure that you can enjoy and celebrate a holiday (and everyday) while maintaining your recovery.
The benefit of exploring these healthy coping tools and alternative activities will be long-lasting, and potentially lifesaving. By staying close to home, sober and off the roads where those who are drinking may also be driving, you will be set up to have many more happy and sober holidays to come.