The holidays are a time for family and friends to gather and share laughs, memories – and perhaps a drink or two. But for people recovering from an addiction, all that alcohol often present at special events can be worrisome.
“Holiday parties are when many alcoholics fall off the wagon,” says John Collopy, author of the book The Reward of Knowing (www.johncollopy.com), which relates his own struggles with addiction. “There just seems to be alcohol everywhere, sometimes even at the office. It can be very difficult, especially for people who have only recently stopped drinking.”
Although Collopy has been sober for many years, he knows that the holidays are a gateway to his past life. He used alcohol to help him deal with memories of a troubled childhood with a dysfunctional family and abusive father. When he became an adult, he quickly became dependent on alcohol to get through the day, plus he had anger management issues.
“Every day for an alcoholic is a challenge, but over the holidays it can be overwhelming,” says Collopy, who today is a successful real estate broker. “People don’t realize when they offer drinks to people over the holidays how difficult it is for some people to say no. Real alcoholics know they can never have just one.”
For those who want to stay sober during the holidays, here are a few tips from Alcoholics Anonymous and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation:
1. Skip any drinking occasions you are nervous about. If you are really concerned about an event, just ask yourself if you really need to go. But you don’t have to just sit home. Take your family out and look at the holiday lights or find another activity that gets you in the holiday mood without alcohol.
2. Leave early. If you know you will be tempted to drink at a party, plan in advance to tell people when you arrive that you only stopped by briefly, and have somewhere else you need to be.
3. Go with a sober friend. There is safety in numbers, and you can help each other should you be tempted to drink.
4. Carry around a soft drink. If you already have a drink in your hand, people are less likely to ask you if you want a drink.
5. Avoid known risks. If you know your brother is a heavy drinker, for example, stay away from him. If you know the same party last year was full of excessive drinking, just stay home.
6. Create new traditions. It can be a downer if you have to skip all the holiday fun. So come up with some of your own. Buy a new board game, go look at the holiday decorations or host your own small non-alcoholic party with sober friends.
It has been many years since Collopy was an alcoholic, but he says the rewards of his life now are much better than any drink he ever took.
“Once you’re sober, you can allow yourself to begin to dream about life again, the way you did when you were a kid,” he says. “That doesn’t mean those dreams are going to be easy to achieve, but at least you can look at them and say, ‘I’ve got a shot.’ ”