Staying Sober During the Holidays

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 12, 2018

The key to staying sober during the holidays? Healthy boundaries.
The key to staying sober during the holidays? Healthy boundaries.  (Source:Getty Images)

According to Sehar Ryan, Recovery Unplugged's senior outreach manager and court liaison, if there are two words to survive the holidays, it's "healthy boundaries." And if there is anyone who's walked the walk, it'd be her. Ryan has been part of Recovery Unplugged's dedicated staff for nearly four years and just recently celebrated eight years of sobriety.

"I never had an interest in working in the treatment industry," Ryan confessed during a recent phone interview with EDGE. She was still in school and completing a degree in criminal justice and sociology when friends connected her with Recovery Unplugged's chief strategy officer Paul Pellinger.

The organization was nearly a year old and wanted a presence in the court system to advocate for treatment and recovery. Pelligner pursued Ryan for a month, attempting to convince her that Recovery Unplugged was different from other treatment centers. Finally, she caved and accepted an invitation to a Friday group session featuring Aerosmith songwriter and Recovery Unplugged's director of creative recovery Richie Supa.

"I went in that day and was completely sold," recalls Ryan. "I could see it in the clients' faces. Music really made these people happy. And I knew from my recovery, in which I've used music as a form of meditation, that I could relate on a deep spiritual level. So to see it firsthand was amazing."

Sober Celebrating
Sehar Ryan, Recovery Unplugged's senior outreach manager and court liaison.  

Sober Celebrating

Ryan, drawing from personal and professional experience, acknowledges that the holidays can be a significant trigger for those in recovery. From parties and open bars to family gatherings, it's safe to assume that there will be alcohol present, and depending on what type of event (which may include nightclubs, circuit parties, or other high-energy venues), the presence of drugs. Ryan encourages those in recovery to consider the following:

1. Never go by yourself. Take a sober companion to whom you can be accountable.

2. Healthy boundaries. For those in early recovery, consider politely declining an invitation that you know may put you in an unhealthy environment.

3. Call a friend. Hold yourself accountable with someone who knows your circumstances, checking in before, after or during an event.

4. Music as medicine. Music is a known destressor. Have some of your favorite songs at the ready to relax and tune into. Music is meditative, powerful and can de-escalate overwhelming feelings.

Ryan also offers a cautionary reminder that the holidays may be the tip of the iceberg and reveal warning signs of addiction. Have you seen a pattern emerging over the past weeks or months — either in yourself or a friend or loved one? Holiday binging may be heavier because of depression and shouldn't be shrugged off as seasonal when there may be deep-seated issues to resolve.

These stressors are often amplified within the LGBTQ community, particularly if they are estranged from their birth families. Perhaps they feel ostracized or judged for their sexual orientation or gender identification. It's not unusual to turn to substances to numb these feelings in an attempt to escape uncomfortable feelings. Ultimately, though, we must find ways to cope with imperfect relationships and celebrate our unique selves.

LGBTQ clients have found a safe haven at Recovery Unplugged, where individuals are respected for however they choose to identify themselves. And with deep work, pain and trauma give way to self-acceptance and a greater sense of community.

The Consequences of Addiction
Recovery Unplugged's Fort Lauderdale treatment center.  

The Consequences of Addiction

While personal well-being and sobriety are the main objectives of Recovery Unplugged, Ryan paints a realistic picture of how choices grounded in addiction can have a life-altering impact. Those who find themselves in legal trouble are often caught up in court dates in the midst of also trying to get sober.

"Clients caught in the legal system go through so much," says Ryan. " While trying to get well, they also need to go to court, participate in mandatory drug testing, meet with attorneys, and hear feedback from prosecutors. It's all very mentally draining. From my experience, in nine out of ten cases, the crime committed was because the client was under the influence. In the right state of mind, they come to realize the consequences they're now facing because of their actions."

Recovery Unplugged's music-centric treatment program helps put clients on the right track. "Do the right thing and right things happen," says Ryan. "We undergo a character change when we get clean and sober. Things that were okay are no longer okay — there's a shift in perspective once the fog has been lifted."

For more information about Recovery Unplugged's treatment options, visit

A Song to Shake the Holiday Blues

In the holiday spirit, we asked Ryan to name a song she turns to for inspiration. She picked Jason Aldean's "A Little More Summertime."

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Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.

How Music Medicine Heals

This story is part of our special report titled How Music Medicine Heals. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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