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Resource | Lessons Learned

Early Recovery Tips to Thrive During the Holidays

By Daniel Wittler 

The holiday season is in full swing, and it’s often a time we spend with family, reflect on our past year and plan for a better 2020. I’ve been sober for nearly 5 years and can definitively say that for those in early recovery from drugs and alcohol, this time of year is very hard and emotionally draining. Getting sober demands a lot emotionally and also is a process that takes time. Relationships with family and friends do not repair overnight and can take years to fix depending on the damage done.

If you are someone who cannot be with their family this holiday season, either because you don’t have the resources and are away from home working on your recovery or because the relationship is still damaged, you are not alone. I went through this, and so are many others just like us. There were certain things I did to ensure my first sober holiday season went well and may help you. 


Make Plans

Don’t attempt to go into the holiday by just winging it. If you feel like you are in a good place about your situation going into this season, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. You never know what event can take place that will trigger you to feel a certain way. 

Give yourself an hour to look up what meetings will be around you during the holidays. Many fellowships hold marathon meetings on the actual day of a holiday meaning they have meetings for 24 hours straight in the same location. They do that so that no matter what time it is,  you have somewhere to go in case you start to feel funky. 

I cannot tell you how much those types of meetings have saved me. I remember going to one at 2 AM my first sober Christmas because I could not fall asleep and believe it or not there were about 25 people there too! There is such special energy being in a meeting on a holiday like Christmas because you inherently know you are all supporting one another and going through the same difficult emotions. 

If your recovery doesn’t include fellowship meetings, be sure you have a plan in place that works for you. Maybe it’s a professional support person, alumni services if you were in treatment, or simply having phone numbers of recovery peers can make all the difference.

Practice Gratitude

Gratitude is more than an attitude, it is an action word. During the holidays,  there are plenty of people having a worse time than you. Kids without parents, families without homes, parents who can’t afford anything for their kids. If you do a little research you can surely find plenty of opportunities in your area to be of service to others or find a toy drive to donate to. For my first Christmas Eve, I went to a homeless shelter and helped serve dinner to those who needed it. 

The genuine gratitude the people I served in that shelter had that night completely warmed my heart. Not only that, it put things in perspective in a profound way. Helping others will surely give you that attitude of gratitude and make you feel better about your predicament throughout this season. 

Look At The Big Picture

I had to spend my first sober Christmas away from my family, and it was something I really struggled with emotionally. I had found out in November my mom would rather me stay in Florida for this Christmas, I was about 6 months sober and she did not want anything ruining the good streak I had been on. She had every right to feel that way, I didn’t argue but I was heartbroken. Remember, family members need to know how to handle your first holiday sober too. After a few weeks of feeling really bad for myself, I decided to finally talk about it with someone.

My friend told me something that helped me so much. He said that this first Christmas was not going to be like the rest, that this one was a sacrifice to ensure the holidays the rest of my life would be everything I wanted them to be. I’m a logical person so that really resonated with me. It was an important life lesson for me too. When something comes up that really puts me in a funk, I just need to reach out to someone. Keeping it in my head only makes things worse and presenting it to someone can offer a really valuable perspective that completely changes my view on things as I see it in my head. 

If you are heading into your first holiday season sober, I can’t stress enough to really look at things in the big picture. Compare it to your past few holidays in which they probably were not the best. If you are sober and on the right path then you are doing a fantastic job. The greatest gift to give yourself this year is just another day sober. You can do this. 


In recovery for more than four years, Daniel does outreach for the Stout Street Foundation, a non-profit treatment center. He advocates long-term sobriety by writing for websites providing resources to recovering addicts and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Daniel believes that absolutely anyone can get sober provided they are ready to take action in their own life.