Many people consider the holiday season a time for celebration. Families are hosting reunions, workplaces are throwing parties and everyone is adorning their homes in festive decor. If you’re in recovery, however, the holidays can be a difficult time. Many sober individuals grapple with the following challenges during winter.
- Family stress
- Presence of alcohol
Visiting family isn’t always easy. For some people, returning to their hometowns brings stress, arguments and bad memories, all of which may make it tempting to drink. For others, the holiday season is isolating. If you don’t have a close connection with family or live far away, watching others celebrate might amplify loneliness and anxiety.
The holidays also bring social gatherings, which often come with alcohol. Whether you’re attending a family reunion or a work party, you can expect themed, alcoholic beverages to be in attendance. Of course, for those who struggle with alcohol and substance abuse, the abundance of alcohol can be triggering.
If you’re early in your recovery journey, it might seem impossible to have fun during the holidays without alcohol. In reality, there are plenty of great ways to celebrate that don’t involve drinking. Here are six ideas for engaging in holiday festivities while staying sober.
1) Celebrate Outdoors
Unless you live in a warm area, the winter season probably brings cold temperatures. Many people hide from the frosty chill by throwing indoor gatherings, which encourages alcohol use. If you’re not afraid of a little cold, there are plenty of fun, alcohol-free activities waiting for you in the great outdoors. Here are a few things you can do.
- Ice skating
Are you looking for a daytime activity? Grab a few friends and head to your local rink for some good, old-fashioned ice skating. Or, if you’re lucky enough to get some snow, you can visit a nearby hill and indulge in a sledding session.
If you’re looking for a more long-term activity, consider heading to a ski range or going on a camping trip. Many camping sites offer remote cabins during winter. You can spend the holidays relaxing by a campfire, going on hikes and reconnecting with nature.
2) Attend Local Holiday Events
Are you not a fan of outdoor excursions? Don’t fret — there are plenty of easygoing, thematic events that don’t require too much travel or energy. Best of all, many should be available right in your neighborhood. Here are some fun activities to check out.
- Holiday markets
- Holiday lights tours
Many communities host holiday markets, which offer an opportunity to get in some last-minute shopping and support local businesses. You’ll also find holiday-themed plays and concerts. These could be large, professional productions or smaller, local shows. Either way, attending a play is a great way to support actors and get into a festive spirit. If you can’t find a live show in your area, consider heading to the movie theater to watch the latest holiday film.
In addition to holding neighborhood-wide events, many communities encourage locals to celebrate by decorating their homes with lights or going caroling. Have some fun embellishing your own home (or, if you’re traveling, your family’s home), then hop in the car and check out everyone’s lights. If you happen to spot any carolers, cheer them on or even join in.
3) Create Your Own Entertainment
It can be hard to go out and do your own thing when you’re expected to appear at holiday gatherings. Often, these events don’t offer entertainment. That means guests head to the food and drinks table to stay occupied. If you’re worried about getting restless or bored, consider creating your own entertainment with one of the following activities.
- Board games
- Decoration contests
- Movie marathons
- Party games
- Gift exchanges
Board games are an excellent option for smaller gatherings with friends and family. A single game of Monopoly can entertain people for hours. If you’re looking for something more holiday-themed, try holding a decoration contest. Have everyone make their own ornament, then vote on their favorite. Or, if everyone seems tired, you can propose a holiday movie marathon. Turn on the TV, put on the classics, then sit back and enjoy the night.
For bigger events such as work holiday parties, you need activities to accommodate a large group of people. Things such as icebreakers, guessing games and classic party games along the lines of Charades all work well. Another idea you could try is a gift exchange such as Secret Santa or White Elephant. Buying, opening and sharing gifts is bound to create good memories for everyone.
4) Focus On Food
Food is a huge part of the holiday season. From Christmas cookies and ham to Hanukkah latkes and brisket, there’s no shortage of delicacies to enjoy in the winter. This year, try shifting the attention away from alcohol and toward cuisine by suggesting some food-based activities. Here are some ideas.
- Decorate cookies
- Make gingerbread houses
- Host a cooking competition
- Make mocktails
Nothing screams, “holidays,” quite like homemade cookies. In addition to being delicious, they’re the perfect vehicle for a fun activity: cookie decorating. Set up a station with some frosting, sprinkles, chocolate sauce and any other sweets you can think of, then let everyone dress up their own cookies. If you have graham crackers, you could make gingerbread houses instead.
Another food-based idea is to hold a cooking (or baking) competition. Everyone makes a dish or dessert, then people vote on their favorite. It’s fun and gets everybody involved in the cooking process. You could even encourage people to create their own holiday-themed mocktails to accompany the food.
The holidays aren’t just about celebrating. They’re also about giving back to the community and supporting those in need. Spread joy this holiday season by contributing to a good cause. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are a few suggestions.
- Participate in a toy drive
- Donate to a food drive
- Visit a hospital
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen
- Help out neighbors
During the winter, many organizations host toy drives, which help ensure all children have a gift to unwrap on Christmas. You can also participate in food drives, which collect canned and non-perishable items for families in need. If you’re interested in something more hands-on, consider volunteering at a local hospital or serving food at a soup kitchen.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to volunteer during the holidays, especially if you’re busy with obligations. However, you don’t have to go out and work with an organization to give back to the community. You can make a difference on your own street. Reach out to neighbors and see if anyone needs help. For example, you could help elderly neighbors with their shopping, or give a gift to someone who lives alone. Even small actions can make a big impact.
6) Connect With Others In Recovery
From outdoor activities to at-home entertainment, there are tons of fun, alcohol-free ways to celebrate the holidays. However, no matter how busy you are, it can still be difficult to maintain sobriety, especially if everyone around you is drinking. If you’re feeling lost and frustrated this holiday season, start by reminding yourself that you’re not alone. Nearly 30 million American adults report being in recovery. Chances are, many of them are experiencing the same emotions as you. Here are a few ways to connect with other sober people during the holidays:
- Attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting
- Look for an AA party
- Reach out to your sponsor
You can attend an AA meeting anywhere, both in-person or online. Many AA organizations also host holiday parties where people in the area can unite and celebrate their sobriety together. If you can’t find events in your location, try reaching out to your sponsor or a close friend. Having an honest, open conversation with someone you trust can go a long way in helping your sobriety.
Above all, look out for your own mental health. If that means leaving a holiday gathering early to talk to your sponsor or attend a meeting, that’s OK. Have fun this holiday season, but don’t forget to respect your boundaries and take care of your needs.