Enjoying the Season – Seven Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays

There are many different holidays celebrated between late November and early January and chances are, you will be invited to participate in some sort of holiday festivities. For many, this time of year is joyous, exciting, and hopeful, albeit a bit stressful. For others, specifically those who no longer drink alcohol, the holidays can bring a sense of panic and dread. Aside from St. Patrick’s Day, the holidays are the Olympics of acceptable and expected consumption of alcohol during virtually the entire month of December.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of the people in our society associate the December holidays with drinking. It’s as though the only way to be festive and social is to be intoxicated while doing it (hint: this is a lie!). The holidays seem to be a free pass to not only indulge in copious amounts of food but to also be day drunk any time you’re around friends and family.  We’ve all seen the trite memes- “I’m full of Christmas spirit- it’s called vodka”, “Doesn’t feel like Christmas? Drink alcohol until it does”, or “Deck the halls with lots of wine”. For people who no longer drink alcohol, being bombarded with these messages can be detrimental to not only their mental health but to their sobriety.  

Feeling like you don’t belong at a party because you’re sober and being without your usual social lubricant of alcohol to “get through” a social event can cause a lot of distress. But there are ways to mentally and physically prepare for the holidays as a sober person.  Read on to learn how to stay sober during the 2021 holiday season.

BRING YOUR OWN DRINKS TO GATHERINGS

Heading to a party? Don’t assume the host will have good non-alcoholic drink options for you so it’s best if you bring your own. Most grocery stores have a decent selection of fizzy, fun, and fancy drinks to suit any palette. There’s something oddly comforting about having something to hold when at a social gathering and now that you no longer hold a boozy drink, you can get creative and try out new products. If you feel like drinking non-alcoholic beer won’t trigger you, there are a lot of delicious near beers on the market now. Check out this article I wrote [you can link to Spotlight’s NA beer article here] for some recommendations or reach out to local craft breweries to inquire about their non-alcoholic options. If you like the taste of hops, there’s something called hop water that provides the bitter taste but without the intoxicant.

INCREASE YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM

If you’ve been invited to a holiday party where no one knows you’re sober, consider telling one of the partygoers that you feel safest with. Telling this person that you’re sober (and want to keep it that way) can take away some of the pressure you’re feeling. They can be a buffer between you and people who might pressure you to drink. They can check in with you to see how you’re holding up. They could even partake in some non-alcoholic drinks with you in solidarity.

Be prepared for big feelings. Anxiety, feeling like you’re missing out, envy, sadness are all very normal emotions for the newly sober this time of year. Even if your goal is to only be sober through the holidays it can be hard on the head. Reach out for extra support leading up to, during, and after the holidays. Support can be anything from 12-step meetings, peer support, group support, one-on-one therapy, or just calling on close friends to vent.

HAVE RESPONSES READY

Chances are, most adults in your family drink during the holidays, even that Aunt who normally never drinks. Sure, they’re your family but that doesn’t mean they’ll understand (or honestly care about) your decision to quit drinking. The same goes for friends. For some people who drink, seeing a sober person can feel threatening and sometimes those people can react harshly towards you. Be prepared for the possibility of judgement or even questions and statements like “why don’t you just have one? It’s Christmas!” or “you’re not an alcoholic, you’re fine to drink once a year”. If you do not want to drink this holiday season you don’t have to no matter who says what.  Be prepared by having some responses ready for these questions and statements. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone so tackle this how you see fit. I came up with 40 responses you’re free to use the next time you’re out- https://sobercity.ca/40-quick-responses-to-want-a-drink/

START NEW TRADITIONS

Maybe your timeline of events over the holidays stayed consistent your entire life- same parties, same people, same schedule. This year, break free from that potentially toxic routine and come up with some new activities to get you in the holiday spirit. Your new traditions might be volunteering, going on a major hike, throwing a sober party of your own, baking and donating, spa days, or limiting your social time to only the ones you care the most about. Try to only choose activities that make you smile for real, not struggle to fake smile. Only do things that make your heart full, not drain your batteries and leave you feeling negative. If you think it would be received well, consider bringing some non-alcoholic drinks for everyone at your family get-togethers. You might be surprised at how many people want to stay level-headed or even sober this year.

PREPARE FOR BOOZE GIFTS

If people don’t know you’re sober this year they might buy you alcohol or alcohol-related gifts. It’s unfortunately common in our society for people to assume that just because you’re of legal age then alcohol is the perfect gift. You of course do not need to announce that you’re sober to ensure you don’t receive booze gifts. Even if you did announce it, you still might receive them anyways. You could refuse the gift or regift it immediately after receiving it but that might be difficult not to appear rude or ungrateful. Instead, designate a friend to be the receiver of any booze gifts you may acquire. Ensure that friend is on standby to pick up or accept alcohol you receive. Tell this person as soon as you receive the gift too- don’t give your mind a chance to consider keeping it a secret.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

The suggestion of “knowing your limits” was laughable to me when I first quit drinking because I never actually had limits. So how do you “know” something you never had? Creating your limits can take time to develop and can involve a lot of trial and error. Maybe you used to be one of the last people to leave a party. This year, make a plan to leave before the party gets to that level of drunkenness where you can no longer relate to anyone.  Maybe you were always the one to entertain everyone’s children during a gathering or always the one who did all the cooking. If you feel that would be too much this year now that you’re sober, say no to that role this year. Think ahead to how you may feel in certain situations this holiday season and if you feel you’ll be too anxious or sad or triggered, either do not go or limit your exposure.

AVOID TRIGGERS

Staying sober is hard in today’s society at any time of the year.  Stress, anxiety, overwhelm can all be triggers that could make you want to numb with alcohol. Drinking used to be the fastest, easiest way to cope with negative feelings (in the short-term) so now that you’ve eliminated booze from your life you need to find new ways to deal. Avoiding the triggers before they turn into negative emotions/thoughts is the best course of action, but it takes practice and self-awareness. If you choose to give gifts don’t leave buying them to the last minute to save some stress. Do you have vacation time banked? Use it! Do you always feel drained and like garbage when you leave your grandparents house? Either don’t go this year or only go for a short period of time. Do you have limited time to see your children? Jam pack the time you do have with as much fun and quality time as you can to make the most out of it. Remember that avoiding triggers doesn’t mean avoiding feelings. Strong feelings can be crippling but you need to feel in order to heal.  Find professional support if you need and if you can afford it.

The holidays can be hard for a lot of people who choose sobriety. If you’re sober this festive season, I want to remind you that you have the power to stay sober. Find support, practice self-care, avoid triggers, and be gentle with yourself. If you’ve never tackled December sober, then of course it is going to feel scary and unknown to you. Trust me when I say, with each new experience you get through sober, it gets easier and easier. Learning any new way of thinking/being is hard at first but you will surprise yourself with your resilience. Yes, it is hard, but you truly can do it.

 

by Lee-Anne Richardson