‘Tis the season to be jolly, and nothing says jolly like a festive cocktail, sparkling champagne, or creamy eggnog. From office parties to family gatherings, it seems like everyone is raising a cup of cheer this time of year. But if you are among the millions of people struggling to stay sober, the holidays can feel more isolating than being stranded at the North Pole.
“Alcohol has become such a part of our culture that it’s difficult for us to figure out how to navigate celebrations and holidays without it,” says Cristine Varela Mayer, Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor and founder of Blue Heron Recovery in San Antonio, Texas. “It is at the center of almost everything we do.”
But before you give up and go into hibernation until January 2, take heart. There are some tricks you can use that allow you to enjoy the season with friends and family without sacrificing your sobriety or your sanity.
“The key is to plan ahead and practice your strategies,” advises Mayer, “The more you plan, the less likely you are to be caught off guard.”
Here are a few of Mayer’s tips for celebrating sober.
Know what you are going to drink before you go to a party. If it’s being held at a restaurant, scan the menu ahead of time. With sober lifestyles becoming more mainstream, many establishments now offer an extensive selection of delicious mocktails that look like the real thing and don’t make you feel like a kid ordering a Shirley Temple. If they don’t, create your own. Every bar and restaurant will have club soda and other mixers. Try combining sparkling water with cranberry juice, garnish with a sprig of rosemary, and voila! All the happy without the hangover! If the party is at someone’s home, then BYONAB (bring your own nonalcoholic beverage).
Keep a drink in your hand at all times. Why? Because when you have a festive beverage in hand, no one will ask you if you need one. They don’t need to know it’s nonalcoholic unless you want them to.
“Once you have a drink in your hand, people tend to leave you alone about it,” says Mayer. “It’s when they see you empty-handed that the pressure begins.”
Nothing can make you want a drink more than a family gathering. Whether it’s your uncle with his political views, your aunt on her fifth glass of wine, or your mother asking if you’ve gained a little weight, there’s always someone ready to stir up drama. If it gets to be too much, leave. Yes, really. It doesn’t have to be a big dramatic Oscar-worthy departure. You can simply excuse yourself politely, thank your hosts graciously, and go home.
“This strategy works best if you have a spouse, sibling, or other trusted family member that you can share your plan with ahead of time so that he or she can support you,” says Mayer.
If you already know that you are walking into a room with more triggers than the O.K. Corral, try a little humor.
“Putting a spin of humor on something that can otherwise be very upsetting helps diffuse unhappy feelings,” says Mayer, who recommends creating your own Dysfunctional Family Bingo. Mentally plan the scenarios that would normally cause you stress and anxiety, like “mom criticizes cooking,” “kids fight,” or “dog pees on floor.” When these things happen, yell, “Bingo,” and laugh it off. It also helps to remember that the event will not last forever, it’s just a couple of hours, and then you can move on.
Have you ever noticed that no one walks up to you during the holidays and offers you a shot of wheatgrass, but people will push alcohol on you like it’s their job? If someone offers you a drink and you decline, leave it at that. You owe no one an explanation for your choice. If the person persists or asks “why,” all bets are off. Answer however you see fit, including, “none of your damn business.”
“Typically, people push others to drink with them because they don’t want to indulge in what they know are unhealthy habits alone,” offers Mayer. “Whoever is pressuring you is not really your friend; they just want someone to drink with.”
Words are powerful things. When you change the story you tell yourself, you change the way you view the situation. Reframe “I can’t drink” to “I am choosing not to drink” or “I am choosing this mocktail because it tastes good.”
“Find the empowerment in making a choice that is not guided by peer pressure,” advises Mayer.
Remember, you CAN go to a party, you CAN gather with family and friends, you CAN have a good time, and you CAN do it while sober.
….options for nonalcoholic drinks. It’s your home, so it’s your right to serve whatever you want. It is also your right to ask your guests to respect that.
“It is completely reasonable to have an alcohol-free party,” assures Mayer, adding that if you were allergic to peanuts, you would not allow someone to bring peanut butter into your home. “You cannot put your lifestyle on the back burner to accommodate someone else.”
At the end of the day, none of these tricks will work unless you are willing to do what’s right for you and make your health your number one priority. It can feel challenging at first, especially if you are new to the world of sobriety. But the more you practice going to events without using alcohol, the easier it becomes. Before you know it, sobriety has become a way of life.
“The most important thing is to focus on the event and the reason you are getting together,” says Mayer. “You are there to enjoy family and friends. You do not need alcohol to do that.”
If you or someone you know needs help with dealing with alcohol addiction, there are plenty of resources available to help. Call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Hotline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357) for local treatment options and hotline counselors who can help. If you want to try out a program to help you fight the urges of addiction from the comfort of your home, check out Monument. They’ve got great options to empower you to stay sober without feeling like you’re on your own.
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