Alcoholics and drug addicts in early recovery seem generally to take one of two attitudes toward holiday gatherings: either they are afraid to go, or they feel they need to challenge themselves in some way.

Obviously, people in early recovery are more vulnerable than folks who have been clean and sober for several years.  Newcomers have not yet replaced their old habits — developed over years of using — with newer, healthier reflexes. There is a real possibility that being in a drinking (and perhaps drugging) environment could massively trigger a desire to use.  This is also possible when we are further along in recovery, but by then most people have learned to deal better with situations that might be triggers.

Nonetheless, there is no reason that we can’t attend holiday parties with relative safety, so long as we follow some simple guidelines.

  • Take a sober friend with you. — This is by far the most important rule.  There are excellent reasons: you are less likely to become enmeshed (especially at family gatherings) if you have someone with you who knows where you’re coming from; and also the two of you can have fun watching the partiers become progressively more loaded and silly.
  • Be sure you have your own transportation, or enough money for a cab. — The unpleasant truth is, you can’t depend on anyone but yourself to get you out of a tight spot, not even your sober friend. He or she is vulnerable, too, and if they get involved with the party, they may not want to leave.  You have to be sure that you can leave on your own — and don’t hang around trying to help your buddy.  You won’t be any help later if you relapse too.

At the party:

  • Never accept a drink from anyone else. Order your own coke, or soda and lime, and watch the bartender to make sure that’s all you get.
  • Never set your drink down. You might pick up someone else’s by mistake, or someone might decide to “freshen” it for you in all innocence — or not.
  • Always have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. It keeps you from having to explain why you’re not drinking, and keeps people from offering to get you another.  Just say, “No thanks, I’m OK for now.”
  • Nibble throughout the party. It keeps your hands busy and your blood sugar up, which helps you resist the idea of using.
  • If you walk into the restroom and someone has lines on the counter, or you see mysterious powder residue, leave.  Don’t check it to see what it is.
  • Arrive late and leave early. Minimize your exposure by limiting your time in the situation.  You may have certain obligations about attending, but being the first in the door and the last to leave increases the likelihood that you will become comfortable with the old, familiar party atmosphere.  That way lies nothing but trouble.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, leave immediately. Don’t make a pass around the room saying goodbye — just leave.  You can explain later that you “weren’t feeling well” and had to get home.  That’s true, and you don’t have to explain farther.  You suited up, showed up, and that’s all that is required.

With these precautions in mind, there is no reason that you can’t attend a holiday party.  Just make darned sure you follow ALL of them, especially the part about taking a sober friend.

Happy Holidays!

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