How to Deal if You’re Not Drinking This Holiday SeasonStep one: Find your people.
The holiday season can be brutal—especially if you’re taking a break from booze or quitting for good. That’s because holiday parties and other festivities are often dripping in alcohol. Back in the day when I used, I would find myself on week-long binges between Christmas and New Year’s, simply because I had too much time on my hands.
Not drinking during the holiday season can often feel like you’re the only sober lifeform in the universe. And, if you’ve built your world around alcohol, odds are your relationships and memories are tethered to the bottle. You may not even remember past Decembers without memories swirling in snow and liquor.
Cravings can cut into you out of nowhere but, as someone who has been there, I want to emphasize that it’s possible to get through this. “If you've made it through one, you can do it again,” says Natalie Feinblatt, PsyD, a psychologist and the author of The First 90 Days of Sobriety: Recovering from Alcoholism: A Guided Journal.
Luckily, you aren’t alone in this journey. Here are some of the tools that aided me during my first few holidays in sobriety.
1. Be open about your decision not to drink.
“It’s a lot easier to stay accountable and feel supported if other people know that’s what you're trying to do,” says Dr. Feinblatt. She recommends finding a friend you trust and telling them: “I'm really trying to stay sober for the time being, and it would help me to know that you are aware of that, supportive of that, and can maybe help me navigate somebody offering me a drink.”
If the person you tell gives a reaction that isn’t understanding, “that's probably not a person that you want to rely on,” says Dr. Feinblatt.
When you do find someone who supports you, lean on them. Bring them as your plus one to any holiday events you attend so you have someone on your side.
2. Remember that you don’t have to hit up every party.
“Some people are really convinced that there are certain events that they have to go to,” says Dr. Feinblatt. "I'm one of those people that thinks you actually don't have to go to everything.”
Triggering a craving is just not fun, so don’t force yourself into situations that set you up to think about booze. Your sobriety is more important than any party. A supportive family will understand why you can’t attend Christmas dinner. (Maybe you can visit them on a day when alcohol isn’t being served.)
Instead, treat yourself to a movie, eat some ice cream, bake a cake, read a comic, watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, visit a sober friend, take a nap, sculpt a pot, whatever works for you.
3. Use “no” as a complete sentence.
Turning down a drink with confidence is badass. Most folks will accept your decision without any pushback, says Dr. Feinblatt. “If you do run up into somebody who starts to give you a little bit of grief, that's really more about them than it is about you,” she says.
If it feels easier, you can always lie about why you aren’t drinking. Tell people your medications can’t be mixed with alcohol or that you have an early morning to prepare for.
4. Figure out what to do with your hands.
Instead of standing around twiddling your fingers at parties; grab your favorite alcohol-free beverage. Sip a seltzer, ginger ale, Shirley Temple, or mocktail. You might as well enjoy yourself, and it can help alleviate people offering you drinks. “Most people aren't going to say ‘What are you drinking?’” says Dr. Feinblatt.
5. Dip out whenever you want.
“Leaving is a coping skill,” says Dr. Feinblatt. If you feel uncomfortable at an event, just tell the host something important came up and make your exit. If you have to leave immediately, just hit the door. I’m sure the party will do okay without you.
6. Double up on meetings.
If you are someone who attends a support group, whether it be Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Recovery Dharma, or any of the others, it might be a good idea to double up on meetings in the near future.
During the holiday season, the amount of meetings skyrockets, and there are 24-hour “Alcathons” in most cities, or sober events that run from Thanksgiving into Christmas, through New Year's Day. Going to meetings regularly can help teach you coping skills and reinforce that “you are not the only person who is not drinking this holiday season,” says Dr. Feinblatt.
The holiday season can be lonely, so if you’re feeling down, search for volunteer work, whether it be at an Alcathon, food kitchen, or nursing home. “It's not going to involve drinking,” says Dr. Feinblatt. “It’ll put you around people, and it'll [involve] being of service. And that will typically, at the very least, make you feel a bit better about yourself.”
8. Appreciate those overprotective family and friends.
During your early days of sobriety, friends and family may be overprotective of your sobriety, especially if they’ve seen you at your lowest. They might witness someone offering you a beer and bellow from across the room, “She doesn’t drink!”
Instead of getting defensive and confronting them in the moment, Dr. Feinblatt recommends pulling them aside and saying, “You know, mom, dad, I really appreciate your support. But it's important for me to build the muscle of turning [alcohol] down myself. Because you won't always be there.”
Today, I’ve exercised this muscle so much that the holidays don’t phase me. My coping skills are just routines at this point. After I got sober 16 years ago, six days before I turned 25, I no longer had the bottle to fall back on, so I was forced to learn how to survive. Today, I do pretty decently at this whole life thing. I have a job I love, hobbies I enjoy, and a family who trusts me. I’ve built a social circle with a wife and kids and friends who support me and love me. I have a lot to celebrate this holiday season—I just do it without alcohol.
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