This is the opening line from the song Merry Christmas From the Family by Robert Earl Keen that has become an alt-country holiday classic. It invites listeners into a home that may be all too familiar. The song itself is considered comedic with its lines:

Brother Ken brought his kids with him
The three from his first wife Lynn
And the two identical twins from his second wife Mary Nell
Of course he brought his new wife Kay
Who talks all about AA
Chain-smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel
The First Noel.

Listening to it, it’s easy to laugh at the stereotypes of folks just having a good time as they celebrate the holidays in time-honored ways. What might it be like for someone in recovery to visit family whose lifestyle they left behind in favor of one that is more health conscious?

This is a question that many face as the holidays roll around. Some who have decided to forgo traditional “holiday spirits” may even choose to stay home rather than make the trek to family festivities. The reasons are many.

  • Family members and friends may question why the person is holding a glass of ginger ale rather than gin.
  • There may be undue pressure to indulge.
  • For someone who is in early stage recovery, the temptation to join the crowd may be excessive.
  • They may feel like the odd man or woman out and succumb in order to fit in.
  • They may not yet have revealed their sobriety.

Holidays Are Not Always Jolly

As much as we would like to maintain a festive perspective, the holidays bring with them the pressure to overspend, overindulge and overextend that can lead to the slippery slope of relapse.

  • Grief over loss may be more pronounced. It will likely be additionally painful if a loved one passed around the holidays.
  • For some who are isolated, seeing others celebrating may intensify the loneliness.
  • Long-standing family conflicts may come to the fore and when substances are present, they may be exacerbated.
  • Finances can be strained if one is trying to keep up with societal expectations.
  • They may be reminded of traumatic incidents that occurred at that time.

Some Tried and True Ways to Keep Your Holidays Merry and Bright

  • Come clean with family and friends.
  • Since the winter holidays are about miracles, recognize that your recovery fits into that category.
  • Get sufficient sleep, so your resistance to illness and temptation is bolstered.
  • Plan your own drug- and alcohol-free party.
  • If you are flying, and the person next to you orders a drink, be sure to order something non-alcoholic and distract yourself with reading or music.
  • Avoid airport bars.
  • Take drug- and alcohol-free vacations.
  • Provide good self-care. If you have a regular exercise, eating and sleeping routine, continue with it.
  • Take a walk in nature to clear your head if you are in a situation where you are tempted to indulge.
  • Design new holiday traditions that don’t involve substances.
  • Know that you have the right to say no. You need not attend every party to which you are invited.
  • If money is limited, give of your time and attention or make presents.
  • Contemplate the meaning of the holidays for yourself.
  • Know that you need not meet anyone else’s expectations for perfection.
  • Realize that some of the “good old days” for which you may be nostalgic were not always good.
  • Don’t attempt to argue with someone who has been drinking or using, especially in a high-stress situation.
  • Remember the acronym HALT and be aware of when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, since you may be more vulnerable then.
  • Write a letter to yourself as if it is after the fact in which you describe how you stayed sober.
  • Avoid overeating and walk away from the table with a small plate if food is an addiction.
  • If you have quit smoking, it may be difficult to be around those who are still engaging in the habit, so create a plan for that as well.
  • If you attend a party with those who are drinking, elect yourself the designated driver rather than getting into the car with an intoxicated driver.
  •  Have an attitude of gratitude and make a list of what you have appreciated in the past year.
  • Pour your own beverage and hold onto it.
  • Go to gatherings with a sober friend or family member.
  • Have phone numbers of sober supports. Use them if you have to.
  • Bookending: call your sponsor or another accountability partner prior to and following a party.
  • Go to a meeting before and after if need be.
  • If you are traveling, have a list of nearby meetings.
  • Have an exit strategy if the pressure to use becomes severe.

Whether you trim the Christmas tree, light a Hanukkah menorah or a kinara at Kwanzaa, celebrate your recovery and give your loved ones the gift of a sober you.


Choose a better life. Choose recovery.