By Sandy Boller-Bilbrey, RN, Scripps McDonald Center
As anyone who has been through it themselves or with a loved one knows, getting—and staying—sober is no small feat. It takes strength, determination and dedication to live a life of sobriety, especially during the holiday season. The following tips can help reinforce your commitment to sober living and give you valuable tools to stay on track.
1. Stay away from the first drink. If you don’t start drinking, you won’t have to worry about stopping.
2. Easy does it. When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, relax. Take a deep breath and a few minutes to physically and mentally calm yourself, and you will feel more in control.
3. Remember the serenity prayer. Ask for the strength to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
4. Change old routines. If your usual holiday celebrations include parties and events where you know there will be alcohol served, change it up. Seek out get-togethers that do not center around drinking, and avoid temptation by celebrating the season with others in recovery to remove the temptation.
5. Use the 24-hour plan. It is much more realistic to pledge that you will not take a drink in the next 24 hours than never again. Decide that for today, you will not drink, no matter what.
6. Don’t test your willpower. Get rid of all of the alcohol in your house, including bottles “for guests” or special occasions.
7. Remember your last drink. Or your last hangover, DUI, job loss, or drunken fight. Be honest with yourself about these memories and remember how ugly the “good old days” truly were.
8. Find a sponsor. Check with Alcoholics Anonymous, your rehabilitation center or church group to locate a sponsor who can guide you on the path to sobriety and provide the support only a fellow addict can give.
9. Fend off loneliness. Isolation can be dangerous. Spend time with family and friends who will support your recovery and provide companionship and positive reinforcement.
10. Get active. When your mind and body are engaged, there is no room for them to want a drink. Go for a run or swim, play basketball with friends, or kick a soccer ball around with the kids. You’ll feel energized, alive, and best of all, sober.
11. Watch out for hidden alcohol. Some baked goods, such as rum cake, may contain liquor. Ask the host if any of the food may have alcohol, and have something else instead.
12. Eat or drink something yummy. Instead of having a drink, treat yourself to a food or non-alcoholic beverage that you enjoy.
13. Get plenty of rest. A rested body and clear mind make it much easier to stay strong and make smart decisions. It’s common for people in recovery to have sleep problems at first, but give yourself time, relax with something non-alcoholic (such as caffeine-free tea and a book), and your sleep will return to normal.
14. Make use of “telephone therapy.” Exchange numbers with others who are in recovery, and use them—not just when you are feeling challenged, but to share good news and even just check in with each other every day or so.
15. Be good to yourself. Addiction beats you up. Now that you’re in recovery, treat yourself kindly. Buy a new shirt or shoes, get a massage, or whatever else makes you feel good about yourself and how far you’ve come.
16. Clean your mental house. Get rid of the negativity. Think positive thoughts, and speak to yourself with supportive, loving words instead of harsh, critical ones.
17. Take responsibility for your actions. Make a list of those you have harmed, and make amends whenever possible.
18. Keep commitments. Prove to yourself and others that you are honest and dependable.
19. Be grateful. Be thankful for the littlest things that bring joy, like a beautiful day, a dependable friend or one more day of sobriety.
20. Live in the now. You cannot change yesterday or control tomorrow. Just do your best right now.
21. Heal yourself by helping others. Volunteer your time at a soup kitchen, animal shelter, hospital or charity. When you help others, you feel better about yourself. Keep it simple.
22. Listen. Be willing to hear the words of your sponsor and others who have long-term sobriety. Keep an open mind to new ideas and viewpoints.
23. Embrace change. Change is good, especially when you are becoming a better person. Allow yourself to let go of the past.
24. Share your happiness. Let others know when you feel good—about yourself, your sobriety, your life. A joyful life is the reward for sobriety.
25. Find your own way. Realize that everyone has his or her own tools for staying sober, and they may not be right for you. The “best” way is the one that works for you.
Sandy Boller-Bilbrey, RN, is the director of the Scripps McDonald Center, a nationally recognized for excellence in treatment of alcohol and drug abuse. “To Your Health” is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps Health. For more information, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS or visit Scripps.org.