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Creating New Holiday Traditions in Recovery

he holidays bring with them both a disruption of daily routine and a series of long-held traditions, both of which can feel threatening to someone who is in recovery. If you or your family’s holiday traditions are not conducive to sobriety, it’s time to consider creating new traditions that support your health and wellbeing.

Risk Factors

As shared on, “If there is no history of pain or abuse linked with a holiday tradition, then the anchoring function of a holiday can be a positive cornerstone in your life. But, if there is a legacy, or onetime occurrence, of significant pain or mistreatment on, around, or near a holiday…your experience becomes super-glued to the holiday.” Holiday traditions can incite the following experiences that can make it difficult to stay sober.

  • Trauma triggers – the places we go, the people we interact with, and the ways we pass the time together may all be reminders of challenges we have faced in the past that may have contributed to mental health and substance abuse issues.
  • Chaos – even when it is joyful, the deviation from the normal day-to-day can have specific risk factors to recovery:
    • Beverages accidentally being confused at a busy gathering so that you inadvertently drink alcohol.
    • More people challenging your choice to be in recovery.
    • Self-care activities being neglected for lack of time.
  • Loneliness – Robin Williams famously said, “I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”
  • The holidays can be like that. When your life looks different from the lives of people around you, you might be in a room full of people but feel alone. You might also find yourself actually alone, if old traditions aren’t in line with your recovery journey. With loneliness being one of the top risks associated with relapse, you’ll want to take care to protect yourself from it this holiday season.

Out With the Old and In With the New

It’s not only people in recovery who may find new traditions to be helpful. After divorce, a death in the family, or a change in the geographical distance between family members, it can be good to change things up. While it might still be possible for a person in recovery to enjoy their old traditions, particularly if the people involved with those traditions are willing to make adjustments to accommodate their sober life, it might still be time to start some new traditions.

New Traditions

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This sentiment if often echoed in the recovery community. Sometimes, the smallest change can have a big impact. Consider the following small changes:

  • A new setting – if visiting your grandparents on Christmas Day will bring you near a location where you previously picked up or used drugs, it might be better to arrange an alternate place to see your family.
  • A new time – if someone going to your aunt’s for the holiday inflicted trauma on you as a child, it might be better to schedule some time with the relatives you would like to see before or after the event in question.
  • A new beverage – if you miss festive alcoholic beverages, perhaps you can offer your own event with an assortment of fun, alcohol-free “mocktails.”
  • New activities – if the people from your life before sobriety aren’t receptive to changing existing traditions, it might be time for something entirely different. Instead of staying home alone:
    • Find some recovery meetings. In some areas, recovery meetings increase around the holidays in anticipation of the challenges the season can bring to staying sober.
    • Sign up for an activity that will allow you to be of service to others, such as cooking for a local homeless shelter, visiting residents at a nursing home, or volunteering at an animal shelter.
    • Reach out to other people who might also be lonely and schedule something together. This might mean people who’ve also left behind the traditions you are no longer participating in, members of your faith community, or people you’ve met in your recovery journey.
  • Stay the course – if your regular routine is working for you, there is nothing that says you have to abandon your day-to-day schedule when the holidays roll around. In fact, continuing to get to bed on time, visit the gym, eat healthy, and take time for meditation may be just the strategy you need to navigate the holidays successfully.

Ultimately, it can be helpful to remember that, like all things, the holiday season shall pass. At Fair Oaks Recovery Center, we are here to help our guests to plan for each day of their lives, during the holidays and beyond.

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