How to Enjoy a Non-Alcoholic Holiday
Eat, Drink and Be Merry ... Or Sorry?
'Tis the season to be of good cheer. And for most people, clinking "cheers" with an alcoholic drink is a holiday ritual. The days and nights leading up to Christmas and New Year's Eve (the biggest drinking night of the entire year) are one giant booze-fest.
If you're a "normie" (normal drinker), overindulging a little during the holiday season is not a big deal. Okay, so you might wake up with a hangover on New Year's Day. You may get stopped by a police sobriety checkpoint. But no worries. You've either designated a driver, or you're well under that magic .08 BAL (blood alcohol level).
If you're an alcoholic, however, the holiday season can be a month-long obstacle course of relapse triggers.
If you're facing your first holiday season as a sober person, congratulations! Like every other milestone in your first year (your birthday, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, 4th of July -- and every other major/minor holiday you've previously associated with drinking) you will get through this. I promise.
As you get more recovery time under your belt, it does get easier. However, whether you have 30 days or 3 years or 20 years, it's important to stay vigilant, one day at a time.
Having said that, I realize platitudes are no match for the often overwhelming stresses and demands of this time of year. But no matter what does -- or doesn't -- happen for you this year, you don't have to drink over it (even if you want to!). Here are some tips and strategies to get you through any "slippery situation" so you can focus on enjoying the joy of this season.
Happy Non-Alcoholic Holidays!
#1. Fake it when you fill it
Perhaps the hardest challenge is how to get through a party, when your definition of party = drunk. You don't have to isolate to keep yourself "safe." But do be selective about which invitations you accept. When you do go to a social function, plan your exit strategy.
This year, you won't be the one shutting down the dance floor with a lampshade on your head. Nor will you want to be there when the booze kicks in and people start to get sloppy. Believe it or not, you'll actually notice this happening -- if you even stay that long.
More than likely, tho, you'll reach your tolerance point long before that. Rather than feel uncomfortable or deprived (which can quickly lead to "f-it, I'm just gonna have one,which leads to another, and another), consider these party survival tricks:
1. Get there early so you can enjoy people before they get tipsy.
2. Keep a glass in your hand at all times. People really are less concerned about what's in your glass than the fact that you're drinking something. Really.
3. Be careful of refill offers. Even well-meaning hosts can mix up your order or underestimate the importance of NO ALCOHOL. Go to the bar yourself so you're sure what you're getting (or NOT getting).
4. Take a sober buddy with you. He or she can provide moral support. Or keep an eye on your comfort level and whisk you away at the appropriate moment.
5. You've got a cell phone, right? Use it! Excuse yourself to the restroom or go outside and call your sponsor or a sobriety sister or brother . Never underestimate the value of a pep talk.
Resources for You and Family
#2 Change your rituals
This actually goes for any time of year, but is especially crucial during the holidays.This time of year, every activity seems to include alcohol. Old friends want to reconnect -- over drinks, of course. Christmas shopping -- makes us thirsty, so we go have a drink. Going ice skating? Spiked hot chocolate is just the thing. Trimming the tree, wrapping gifts, opening gifts, baking cookies -- any and every activity associated with the holidays goes better with alcohol.
But if you're an alcoholic and you're serious about recovery, you need to disconnect the drinking from the activity. Some suggestions:
1. Meet friends for breakfast rather than later in the day. Unless you are a hard-core 24/7 drinker, this will eliminate (or at least reduce) the temptation to order an alcoholic drink.
2. Don't give spirits as gifts. It's not that your boss or neighbor or old Uncle Charlie no longer appreciate a nice bottle of Scotch, Beaujolais Nouveau or Hendrick's gin. Their tastes haven't changed. But yours have to. Here's the deal: You have no business inside a liquor store. Or the liquor aisle. Don't go there!
3. Create new rituals. Being sober is not about never having fun ever again (although that's a common fear of newcomers). The idea is to replace old habits with healthy, new habits. It's about doing familiar things in a new way -- without numbing ourselves with alcohol.
#3 Remember the basics: HALT
Magazines, newspapers, TV and blogs are chock full of stories about "getting through the holidays stress free." They all talk about obvious things like eating right, exercising, limiting alcohol consumption, staying within a set budget to avoid a financial hangover, etc.
For years I used to roll my eyes at such advice. I mean, really. Limit alcohol consumption? At this time of year? Who comes up with this stuff???
Well, that was before I got sober. And guess what? One of the first things I learned in recovery is a little tactic called "HALT." It's a shorthand reminder never to let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
It's easy to see how all of these can come into play during the holidays -- even for non-alcoholics!! But if you are alcoholic, ignoring self-care can lead to the insanity of the first drink ...and on to serious and ultimately lethal consequences.
#4 Surround yourself with family
No, I'm not talking about parents or siblings or children who push your buttons. But hey, if you enjoy your family of origin, go for it! If you're like most alcoholics, however, family is one giant trigger (or several smaller, but equally painful triggers). Unmet expectations, unresolved resentments, and some bona fide dysfunction can wreak havoc on your already raw nerves.
Luckily, as a sober person, you have a whole other family to retreat to: your recovery family! And guess what? They understand what you're feeling and why. And they don't judge. And they're here for you. Some ideas on tapping into the positive:
1. If you're feeling off balance, go to more meetings . If you normally hit 4 a week, go to 6. If you need to, go to 2 a day.
2. If you can't physically get to a meeting, try online fellowship .
3. Pick up that 100lb. phone. Reach out and check in with others in your sober network .
4. Keep your ear out for sober holiday parties or outings. Be mindful of the "L" in HALT .
5. You're not the first -- or the only -- alcoholic to need a break from your "other" family. Many AA fellowships host alkathons that run around the clock from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day and New Year's Eve through New Year's Day.
#5 Get out of self
I'm not saying this to sound like a Pollyanna or AA cheerleader. I'm saying this because it works. The single most powerful way to stay sober is to be of service.
Even though this is the season of giving, when you're selfish and self-centered (e.g., alcoholic), it's still all about you. In the hustle bustle of the holidays, it's very, very easy to get trapped inside your own head. And that's not a healthy (or safe) place to be.
Whenever I start to spend too much time on my pity pot, I don't have to go far to get knocked off. But I can't do it myself.
If you open your ears, your eyes and your heart, you'll always find someone who's got it worse than you.
"Service" covers a broad spectrum of things. It can be formal, like taking a meeting into a psych ward or jail. Or it can be informal, like welcoming a newcomer or offering someone a ride. Or it can mean spending a little time with someone who needs you.
Remember: The principle of recovery is that to keep it you've got to give it away.
What better gift than a sober you?