Happy Holidays: Building Sober Traditions To Last A Lifetime

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There are a lot of traditions that don’t involve alcohol that you can partake in while in recovery. Let’s face it, a lot of us are adults trying to find our way in this new world of sobriety which can really get lonely; especially around the holidays. Most everyone has their routines or are trying to establish their own traditions, which led me to think, we can do the same thing in recovery.

Why shouldn’t we start making our own traditions, booze-free, to support our new lifestyle?

I read a book a while back that I continue to swear by, check it out in my Virtual Bookshelf, it’s called Get Over It! by Iyanla Vanzant. In the book, while not talking about addiction, talks about memories and how your brain’s filing system works. She describes the human mind to be much like a computer, imagine opening your brain into assorted files.

-for the purpose of this blog, let’s say one entire file is called Urge to Drink. Situations arise in your life, that fit similar instances that have already been filed and stored here, and because of its similarity gets filed here as well. Thus ‘triggering’ the urge to drink as you save new data here. (In order to deal with these triggers see a few of my other blogs, such as Taking Therapy Seriously, because this file system in your brain needs to be disassembled properly.)

In order to break the cycle, we need to introduce new situations, that will be filed differently, say this file is called ‘Happily Sober’. Soon this file begins to fill up with new experiences and becomes the default save option for your memories.

So here are some old and new holiday traditions you might not know about, that you can start this year, in order to begin this Happily Sober file foundation.

File this under, ‘happily sober’

  1. Yule Log- This isn’t just a delicious chocolate treat during the holiday season. In fact, this is one my family has observed for almost half a decade now, in which you save the log of your Christmas tree until the following Christmas Eve. Upon which you light the log in hopes it will burn the whole night through until Christmas morning. It is said that when the tradition began, the logs would smolder well on through Christmas night. In most traditions, it’s considered bad luck to relight the log once it’s gone out. Maybe you don’t have a real tree, or don’t even celebrate Christmas, no problem, let’s move on.
  2. Holiday Cards- the United States Postal Service is highly underrated in this day and age when you can instantly wish 1,000+ people an impersonal ‘Happy Holiday’. So why don’t you take some of this time to make and send some good old fashioned snail mail? Jeeze, do you even remember when you got something in the mail that wasn’t a bill? Just saying, no matter what holiday you observe, card exchanging is one tradition that should be brought back.
  3. Handmade Gifts – Pinterest is littered with ideas for literally everyone. You can make at home shrinky-dink keychains from kids handprints, begin canning, decorate picture frames, sew, knit or crochet something, make soaps and scrubs, or even get an ornament making kit. No, I’m not telling you to be cheap, or childish. Take some serious time and effort -and prepare for a few trial and error epic fails- head to Michael’s craft store, and put in some serious thought into what you are giving. These people will love the personal touches, and every single time they look at it, they will think of you with a smile. Some of my absolute favorite gifts ever are handmade items that remind me of exactly who made them and I’m transported to a slideshow of happy memories.
  4. Neighborhood Decorations- One of the coolest things I remember as a kid was loading up in the car around Christmas time and driving around the decorated neighborhoods to look at the lights. Albeit, for us the really decorated neighborhoods were in the nearest actual town, roughly 70 miles away. Needless to say, we only made the trip a handful of times, however, I imagine a lot more people reading this live closer to a city than that. Honestly, even if you are the biggest Grinch in the world, there is something magical about seeing all the houses lit up; Christmas reds and greens, Snowy white icicle lights, and blow up Frosty’s on the lawn.
  5. Baking- I mean…..well, it just seems obvious. Maybe because baking while intoxicated, for me, has always ended badly or burnt, and sometimes both! So this year it’s time for NEW traditions. *fingers crossed*
  6. Redding the House- This would be good for anyone with a fireplace and a fake tree. I suppose it’s good for anyone with an indoor fireplace who does not plan on burning a Yule log, as you will be cleaning the hearth. Scottish tradition of the New Year was sweeping the ashes from the hearth as a skilled reader was brought in to tell the future for the household; reading the ashes much like one would read tea leaves. The tradition is to clean the house, much like we view spring cleaning, lastly ridding the house of the old ashes, making room for new abundances the New Year might bring. After which the house would be smudged to ward off negative spirits.
  7. Party (with a twist)- We all think of having a holiday party and that scares a lot of people in recovery because of the probability that we can not avoid alcohol on the holidays. Well, one way to combat this is by turning to the long-forgotten Roman holiday of Saturnalia. During this holiday, families would pass off the party planning to someone of relatively low status -usually a child- to oversee the festivities of the holiday party. Kid’s can plan, adults can supervise the planning, obviously, you can’t hand your child a credit card and tell them to go wild, and in no instance will the kids ever bring up alcohol.
  8. Decorating Party- Thow on a Christmas playlist and get the household involved in decorating, pick the day after Thanksgiving if you want, but set a day and hold yourself to it. If you don’t decorate for the holiday, but you know Mrs. Smith down the street usually does, but her husband passed this year, you might offer to string them for her. Try and keep in mind that the holidays aren’t just hard for people trying to stay sober.
  9. Secret Santa- This can be done with coworkers and family alike, you can keep the gift at a $$ cap or not, the rules are really subject to how you want to play. You don’t really have to be a firm observer of any holiday to partake in this one, as it’s basically a blind-gift giving arrangement. Throw some names in a hat, but for the name you choose; swap and trade rules subject to change.
  10. Season of Giving (donate)- You know while you stand in your closet and pass up those still tagged items and ponder to yourself, “what am I going to wear today?” there are at least 842,000 people every week are waking up on the street asking the same question; only they are not asking out of option, but out of sheer necessity. Giving back on the holiday often makes you feel better no matter how your holiday is going. It also will go a long way to put life in perspective, while battling addiction is a huge thing, it might seem like less of an issue after a day volunteering at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen.
  11. Movie Day- Yes, an entire Christmas Movie Day. I don’t mean, bundle up in front of the marathon on TV, I mean think about your favorite Christmas or Christmas related movies. Make a list, check it twice and bring the candy covered popcorn!
  12. Camp out in the living room – I know we are all adult here, but who says you can’t pile up the pillows and blankets and camp out in the middle of all the holiday fun? Nothing says cozy Christmas like camping in the living room trying to catch a glimpse of the magic before dawn.


This blog is long enough so I’ll just end it by saying Happy Sober Holiday Season and I hope you find some great new ways to make memories during the holidays.

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