Getting Through Veterans Day Sober

Portrait of smiling African-American man.

For many people, Veterans Day brings to mind celebratory traditions such as parades and family gatherings. It’s a day that marks the service of all U.S. military veterans, so if you or other members of your family are veterans, celebrations may be even more wild or intense.

Get-togethers with family and friends may include open drinking and drugging. As a recovering alcoholic or addict, you may find yourself dealing with things or people who make the day particularly uncomfortable for you. You may be unable to avoid social gatherings or you may feel uncomfortable because you don’t have anywhere special to go.

Reasons Veterans Day May Threaten Sobriety

There are several reasons that Veterans Day and other holidays may threaten your sobriety or make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. You may feel ill at ease because you have to interact with family members you would rather avoid, or it may be a day that you feel lonely because you don’t have family to get together with.

If you are a veteran yourself, you may experience unpleasant memories or feelings on this day. You may feel angry or unappreciated, and your emotions may escalate. It’s important that you ask for help from a counselor, other people in recovery, or from other veterans who understand what is really causing you to experience unsettled or negative feelings. Don’t try to pretend that you don’t feel these feelings or try to stuff them because you think you shouldn’t be feeling that way.

Some people in recovery feel lost or restless because they have a day off from work and nothing in particular going on. Since a holiday is a disruption to your normal routine, it can set off feelings of wanting to pick up because you are bored or restless. For some people, this sense of restlessness can be as big a trigger for setting off cravings as being around people who are drinking or drugging.

Tools for Recovery

Write down your feelings in a journal so that you can work through them. Don’t dwell on negative feelings or obsess about things you can’t change. Slogans are a simple way to keep recovery up front in your mind – repeat phrases such as “one day at a time,” “live and let live,” “easy does it” and “think.” Another reminder is the acronym HALT, which reminds you to avoid becoming too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable, let someone know. Call your sponsor or a sober friend. Get to more meetings.

If you feel you have to attend gatherings with people who are drinking or drugging, bring a sober friend with you. If that isn’t possible, make sure you are able to call or text your sponsor or other people who are in recovery. If you are at a gathering and feel your sobriety is at risk, don’t hesitate to make an excuse and leave the event.

If you are feeling uncomfortable because you have the day off from work and nothing to do, make a plan to fill your day with sober activities. Go for a walk or bike ride, connect with sober friends or spend some time meditating, reading or writing. Get to an extra meeting if you can. 

Keeping It Simple

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are simple programs for complicated people. In the end, the most important thing you have to do is stay away from one drink or substance for one day no matter what. That includes holidays, and any other people, places and things that might trigger cravings.

Whatever uncomfortable feelings you have that are holiday-related will pass as long as you don’t pick up. On Veterans Day, honor the holiday and any veterans in your life, but don’t use it as an excuse to pick up a drink. Remember that you are not alone in your recovery journey, and Veterans Day is just a single day along the way. It’s not worth picking up over.

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