Changing Habits: Building a New Pattern of Sober Holidays

Contributor: Sierra Tucson clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A.

Thanksgiving Harvest DollOne of the most popular habits for people around the holidays is spending some time reflecting on the past year and making resolutions for the New Year. Often, these resolutions involve habits that a person wishes to create or break, such as exercising more regularly, eating fewer sweets, learning a new skill, sober holidays, or pursuing a new hobby.

For people struggling with addictions, this atmosphere of optimism and self-improvement can provide motivation to continue forward on their paths to recovery. The holidays can be an excellent time to build new patterns of sobriety, but how does a person actually change old patterns and make way for new ones?

Create New Rituals for Sober Holidays

Some of the greatest joys of the holidays are yearly rituals. For some families, this may mean spending all day in their pajamas, cooking a special dish, watching a certain movie, reading religious texts, or attending a once-a-year holiday event. There are as many different holiday rituals as there are families, and many of these rituals arise organically without planning.

Despite the spontaneous nature of many rituals, it is also possible to intentionally create new ones. For example, a person might intentionally set aside time during the holidays to join with friends and family and reflect on how the past year has been with regards to sobriety, or they may set aside time to gather and celebrate another 365 days of being substance-free.

For Sober Holidays, Create New Routines

While holiday rituals typically only happen at a specific time of year, routines are behaviors that continue throughout the year. Given the disruption in current routines that often comes with the holidays as a result of attending parties, taking time off of work, and participating in other holiday festivities, the holidays can actually be an excellent time to build new routines into one’s life.

tennis shoes standing in grassPart of the reason substance abuse continues to be a problem in many peoples’ lives is because people develop routines that incorporate this behavior.

For example, one person may routinely visit his or her dealer every Thursday while another gets together with a group of friends every Saturday night to get high.

The holidays are an excellent time to take a pause, look at routines in one’s life, and be more intentional about creating routines that encourage sobriety instead of challenge it. Routines such as attending 12-Step meetings, beginning weekly therapy, or setting aside time each day or week to journal can all strengthen one’s recovery process.

Create New Relationships

While creating new rituals and new routines is certainly of benefit, perhaps the most powerful method of building a pattern of sober holidays is by developing new sobriety-supporting relationships. Willpower can be helpful in establishing new patterns behavior for oneself, but supportive relationships are what will help a person maintain long-term sobriety.

Father and teenage daughter outdoors discussing Sober HolidaysThe holidays may also be a good time to prune away relationships that are not encouraging a person’s recovery.

Substance use is often wrapped up in one’s social network so that even if a person successfully completes treatment, he or she may return home to a social network of people who want to continue using.

The unfortunate reality is that in order to support their long-term recovery, many people must walk away from relationships if those friends are not interested in sobriety. However, the long-term, potentially life-saving benefits of cutting these relational ties often far outweigh the pain of ending the relationships.

For many people, the holidays are a time to gather together and celebrate the past 12 months while looking forward to the year to come. By creating new rituals, routines, and relationships during the holiday season, it is possible for a person to continue to build a strong foundation for lifelong recovery.

About the Author:

“Changing Habits: Building a New Pattern of Sober Holidays” was written by Sierra Tucson clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A. Ryan has experience working clinically with a wide range of populations and presenting concerns. He is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology and was an adjunct professor of psychology at Azusa Pacific University from 2012 to 2015.

About Sierra Tucson:

Founded over 30 years ago, Sierra Tucson is a leading provider of mental health and substance abuse care. Sierra Tucson’s treatment model integrates evidence-based medical and psychological care and is staffed around-the-clock with dedicated, compassionate physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and Master’s-level clinicians.

The campus is situated on 160 acres in the high desert north of Tucson, Arizona, and offers stunning views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 23, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 13, 2021
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