If you’re newly sober, you’re not going to be able to use alcohol or drugs to dull negative emotions or take the sting out of certain comments from your well-meaning but deeply misguided great-aunt Mabel, but that’s okay. You’ve got this.
Here are eight ways to cope with the chaos and have a good time at family holiday gatherings this season—without endangering your recovery.
1. Set limits and boundaries, and stick to them.
Setting boundaries is one of the most important factors for successful recovery.1 Boundaries help prevent you from being abused or manipulated, and they help establish healthier relationships with family members. Set your boundaries, and calmly enforce them.
2. Bring along support.
Bring a supportive friend along for moral support. Having a friend to talk with about any shenanigans by family members can help deflect unpleasant emotions, and it can even help you find the eye-rolling humor in a situation. It may also help inspire family members to be on their best behavior.
3. Have an out.
If things get to be too much, it’s time to leave. You needn’t make a big to-do about it, but have a plan of action in the event it comes to that point. Leave quickly, quietly and gracefully, and if you need support once you’ve left, ask a friend or sponsor for help right away.
4. Hit a meeting before you go.
If you think you’re going to need a lot of support to get through a family gathering intact, find a support group meeting to attend before you go. Your group can give you encouragement and confidence as well as offer helpful tips and strategies for coping with any unpleasantness.
5. Visualize, visualize, visualize.
Don’t proverbially trek out into the gathering cold. You know your family best of all, and you’re familiar with potential scenarios that can throw you off your game. Calmly visualize the worst-case scenarios, and walk yourself through handling them in a way that will make you proud to be you.
6. Try not to sweat the small stuff.
If little things your family does tend to make you nuts, such as your sister making snide comments about your past or your mother nagging you about your unruly hair or lack of a mate, make a conscious decision to let it go. Tell your sister that you’ve moved on from your past and she should, too, or hug your mother and tell her you like your crazy hair, and there are far worse things than being single. Then walk away, and engage in a cheerful conversation about rock ‘n’ roll with your funny younger cousin.
7. Practice your stress reduction techniques.
Acute stress is an important trigger for relapse.2 When you feel your stress level rising, politely extract yourself from the situation, find a quiet place to be alone, and do some deep breathing or progressive relaxation exercises to lower your stress level and restore calm. Spend a few moments visualizing how you will cope once you return to the chaos, drawing on the strategies you’ve learned in therapy.
8. Let yourself have fun at family holiday events.
Most importantly, allow yourself to have some fun. Try to avoid the usual snares and pitfalls, and stick with the people in your family who make you feel good about yourself or who you can joke around and laugh with. Try to maintain a stable mood, and enforce your boundaries with a light, even humorous touch whenever necessary. Above all, remember why you love this rag-tag group of people—or most of them, anyway—and let the joy and goodwill of the season prevail.