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How to Navigate your First Sober Christmas

Most of us want to spend time with family over Christmas and usually that’s fine. But Christmas can put us under a lot of pressure and for people who are just out of rehab, who are in early recovery, it can be daunting. They tend to feel raw and vulnerable and if the family is not supportive their recovery can be threatened. There could be a risk of relapse.

The bottom line is that Christmas is just another day and there are plenty of things that alcoholics/addicts in recovery can do. They need to be aware of these pressures and plan accordingly: Where are you going to be on Christmas day? If there are family tensions do you have an escape plan? Have you sorted out the transport? Have you discussed this with your therapist, sponsor, mentor or friend in recovery? And don’t leave it until the last minute.

A lot of self-help groups organise sober-parties, day-long events and dances at Christmas and New Years Eve. The important thing is not to be alone and to share some of this free time with other like minded people. Part of the planning process should involve checking with your local self-help groups and seeing what’s on at Christmas and New Year — and making the arrangements in advance.

One of the scary thing for people in early recovery is that they may not have had a drink or drug free Christmas for many, many years. It can be a challenging time.

When I left the Mother Ship (Clouds House rehab clinic) I was feeling very raw. It’s as if the lights were suddenly brighter, my taste was stronger and all my senses were heightened.

When I was invited to a party I didn’t know what to do. Am I going to go? How can I talk to people without the “Dutch Courage” that alcohol or cocaine gave me?

In the recovery movement they say: “the therapeutic value of one addict sharing their experience with another is without parallel.” It’s about sharing with someone who’s been through the same thing. Knowing that it’s not just you with this problem — you’re not alone — can be very comforting.

There was a man in my aftercare group who was two weeks ahead of me in his recovery. He’d been to his first party. What was it like? What did he do? What didn’t he do? We discussed it: Who should I go with? Should I take a sober companion?

The great revelation was: “Yes — I could go. And I could leave!” The reality was that the entire party would not grind to a halt and go into slow motion as David Charkham left the room. They probably wouldn’t even notice.


David Charkham is a recovery coach at Castle Craig Hospital and Action on Addiction. During 2014, his international practice provided services in fourteen countries. He is also an actor and features in The Imitation Game (2014) with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

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