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Plan ahead to have a safe and sober holiday season

The holidays are a wonderful time for most and a difficult time for some. For people recovering from addiction problems, the holidays can present some special challenges.

“How do I manage not drinking at the office party or holiday dinner party without having to announce that I am trying to stay sober one day at a time?”

“How do I manage not drinking when the in-laws are expecting me to pound the beers with them like I used to? How do I handle their awkward questions?”

“How do I handle the family dysfunction and the memories and regrets that come up when I’m around the family?”

These are just a few of the questions that seem to come up around this time of year. As for drinking events and old drinking venues, I would suggest that if you’re too new or very unsure of yourself you either excuse yourself altogether or take a sober support person. Some might think this is weak or extreme, but when it comes to drinking or not, if everything is on the line, do whatever has to be done.

If you decide to attend, you might want to decide beforehand what you’ll be drinking; diet coke, seltzer and lime, cranberry juice or water are reasonable options. Frankly, nobody but you usually cares or notices what you’re drinking.

I usually suggest people plan to leave if things get too crazy or uncomfortable. It often is discovered, though, that people with problems usually are the ringleaders, and once they stop participating, parties can seem remarkably tame. But just in case, have an exit strategy – your own vehicle if necessary, a friend who calls at a certain time, a baby-sitter who needs to be home or anything that gives you a legitimate reason to leave on your own terms.

Don’t get pulled into areas, conversations or people that are triggers for you, if possible. You never have to tell someone you aren’t drinking alcohol if you don’t want to. It may be easiest to simply say, “I don’t feel too well tonight” or “I’m allergic.” You can share your recovery at the time of your choosing and when you feel safe and understood.

As for family dysfunction, memories and regrets, the dysfunction probably will remain fairly static but may be better for you as you learn not to participate and maybe better for everyone. Memories and regrets actually can be a sign you’re getting better because now you can feel and are aware of the hurts caused. It’s how you deal with the memories and regrets that needs to change. Talk about them with trusted supporters and use them as steppingstones to growth.

Like a wise recovering alcoholic once told me, “It’s progress to be planning sobriety instead of trying unsuccessfully to control your drinking.”

For those of you who are recovering from addictions, have a safe, happy and sober holiday season.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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