This year was the year you finally decided to get help for your substance abuse. Maybe it was last year’s New Year’s resolution, or a family event midway through the year opened your eyes to the problem at hand. Your recovery has been going well since you left your treatment program, and you’re feeling more and more confident every day.

But now, the prospect of the holiday season is looming on the horizon. You’re making plans to see friends and family, and you’re excited — but you’re also a little worried. You know that word of your recovery has started to spread, but you don’t know who knows and who doesn’t, and you aren’t sure what people have been saying about you. You might be putting pressure on yourself to act a certain way and “be on your best behavior,” or you could be worried about people who expect you to drink or use drugs who will be confused when you say no.

Don’t let these fears take the joy out of your first sober holiday season. With the right mindset and a little bit of planning, you’ll be feeling prepared and positive. As the holidays kick into high gear, try some of these tactics to maintain your newfound sobriety with ease.

Keep Your Routine Intact

There’s no denying it: the holidays are busy. You’ll be invited to all kinds of parties, get-togethers and activities, and it’s all too easy to overcommit. But when your sister asks you if you want to go gift shopping at the same time as your daily meditation, or your coworker schedules the office potluck for an evening you usually attend a support group meeting, it’s okay to turn them down. You know which of your regular habits are the most important to you and your health, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to sacrifice them for other commitments. Keeping the essential elements of your routine constant through this hectic time can help you feel calmer and more grounded, and less likely to let the stress of the season put your sobriety in jeopardy.

Practice Saying “No, Thanks” 

We’re conditioned to say “yes” to people whenever possible. From an early age, we’re told it’s the nice, polite thing to do. But sometimes, for your own mental health, it’s better to say “no.” At first, “no” can be uncomfortable. You might feel like you need to make an excuse or come up with a good reason to turn someone down. You don’t need to feel responsible for the other person’s benefit, though — a simple “no, thank you” is more than enough if someone offers you a drink, invites you to use drugs or asks anything of you that makes you uncomfortable. If they don’t take your no for an answer, a simple explanation like “I don’t feel like it,” “I’m not drinking/doing drugs anymore,” or “Not today” will suffice. Feel free to walk away from a conversation where you feel pressured or uneasy. Practice some of these confrontations ahead of time with a counselor, sponsor or trusted loved one to get used to the way that saying “no” feels — you’ll be more confident in the moment, and you’ll feel better entering social situations in general. 

Make Time For Yourself

Even if you love to be around your friends and family, it’s common and completely normal to become mentally exhausted after too much social interaction. Spending some quiet time alone to rest and recharge is essential in recovery; it replenishes your emotional strength and helps you feel more energized to face the next task on your schedule. Remember that it’s okay to leave a party early or excuse yourself from a family gathering if you’re starting to feel like it’s too much. Take some time to yourself to meditate, exercise, write in a journal — any activity that helps you feel more relaxed and refreshed. It can also be helpful to come up with a list of these activities before your days become full of holiday events; then, you’ll have some go-to ideas if you suddenly feel tired or overwhelmed, instead of letting those negative sensations get the better of you and lead you to compromise your recovery.

Communicate With Your Loved Ones 

You likely have a handful of close friends or family members who have been an integral part of your recent steps toward recovery. These individuals make up your support system, and they want to see you succeed in your sobriety. If you are having concerns about certain people or events, or if you’re just generally feeling anxiety about your first sober holidays, talk to them. They may be willing to offer you extra support — perhaps your brother will avoid alcohol with you this year, or your best friend will come to your big family party to keep your rowdy cousins at bay. Set up a safe word with your parent or spouse in case you need to leave an event, or ask someone to check in with you a few times a day to make sure you’re not feeling overwhelmed.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Newfound sobriety can be especially fragile. At Cypress Lakes Lodge, we make sure our clients and alumni know that they always have a place to turn if they feel worried about relapsing. We offer a range of levels of care to help ease the transition from full-time recovery to independent life, and our aftercare services are designed to provide flexible, ongoing support to prevent relapse in the long run. If you or your loved one is facing their first holiday season substance-free and you feel that you may need some extra support, don’t hesitate to reach out to a treatment center like ours to find out if there are professional support services available in your area. Cypress Lakes Lodge offers addiction recovery treatment for men, women, and adolescents in Woodville, Texas, outside of Houston. Call us at 877-938-1577 to find out more about our programs.