Straight From the Source: Six ways to keep your addiction recovery on track over the holidays

  • Marty Cook

    Marty Cook

By Marty Cook
Gateway Foundation
Posted12/21/2018 5:38 AM
• Marty Cook is director of alumni events for Gateway Foundation, the country’s largest nonprofit treatment provider for substance abuse and related mental health disorders with sites including Aurora, Chicago, Gurnee, Joliet and Lake Villa. Cook also is founder of the Maine Township Recovery Connection.

I'm grateful to be sober this holiday season.

I'm not saying sobriety is easy. It isn't.


But I have a better hold on my feelings, behaviors and needs these days.

Fourteen years of practice helps.

But for those new to addiction recovery or thinking about sobriety, this time of year is not always filled with cheer. It's less merry, more minefield. For me, the holidays used to be all about the drinking and parties. And even after 14 years I sometimes forget that it's not.

Speaking for myself, I feel like everyone and their mother is planning a party -- friends, family, church, the office, gyms. I attend parties throughout the year and use the tools of recovery to prepare for each, but now, I'm invited to dozens of them over a span of a few weeks!

And my holiday schedule is a mess -- making it difficult to prioritize activities that keep me healthy and sober.

When my anxious thoughts finally stop spinning, I have a yearly holiday epiphany: Being sober doesn't mean you can't have fun during the holidays. In fact, it's the opposite.

You can enjoy holiday events and the joy the season brings.

When I was asked to be the director of alumni events for Gateway Foundation, I didn't hesitate. My role provides me the opportunity to pay forward my own hard-earned lessons and share great wisdom passed on to me from millions of men and women successfully living in recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.

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Around this time of the year, I hear from a lot of people who are stressed about party pressures. This is what I tell them, and this is what I am telling you. You CAN successfully navigate a sober holiday:

1. Put your sobriety first. Don't stop going to meetings because a family event is the same night. Instead, double up on meetings. Schedule exercise, meditation and meetings first -- social plans and family gatherings second. Believe me, family and friends understand. They want you to stay sober.

2. Be realistic and don't think too far ahead. Those in recovery know: Take it a day at a time, one minute at a time, or one event at a time. Yes, you are invited to a lot of events -- but no one is asking you to party all night long. It's just a few hours spread across this whole month. It is important to remember that if you feel uncomfortable attending an event, it's OK to bow out.

3. Stay connected to those in recovery. Have a go-to list of people you can reach at any time. Inviting sober friends to attend events with you. Or, texting them during social functions helps you bring strong recovery support with you to every party, while you still enjoy the event.


4. Be open with family and friends. Make them aware of your comfort level. I will pass on some events and forgo certain holiday obligations because I know people are overserved. I won't participate in anything outside my comfort zone.

5. Make a plan. If you travel during the holidays, research local recovery meetings in advance. Recovery organizations are happy to help find you a meeting if you can't find one. Then, decide on your story. If you want to tell people you are in recovery, do it. If you'd rather not, have a comfortable answer ready (such as, I'm not feeling it tonight or I have to get up early).

6. Practice gratitude. Longtime drinkers can either look back at past holiday horror stories (DUIs, horrible family arguments, etc.) or actually -- wait for it -- enjoy the holidays. Over the last few years I've developed a renewed childlike joy during the holidays -- a deep appreciation of the season's simple pleasures.

If your loved one is trying to stay sober, there's one big gift you can give him or her this holiday season: the gift of support. Each of us in recovery is different, but for me, I appreciate when people don't shine a spotlight on my sobriety. Instead, hand your loved one a nonalcoholic drink without making a big deal about it. I also appreciate when people give me space this time of year. You can assure loved ones that it's OK if you skip appetizers to attend a meeting, but ask that they still provide inclusion and appreciation when you arrive.

These days, I leave events feeling better about myself. I realize I don't have to drink to have a good time.

You and your loved ones can beat this. Being mindful this time of year is so important. This season of giving, create and live your new definition of "sober." Giving yourself the gift of sobriety and good health can be joyful. And, for those that love us, thank you in advance for gifting us the support and space we need to thrive.

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