6 Tips To Stay Sober This Holiday Season

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The sober and sober-curious movement has been steadily growing for the last few years, with an increasing number of people deciding to ditch the booze and go “dry” instead. Growing up with two parents in recovery through AA, I used to believe the only reason to quit drinking was full-blown alcoholism until I realized that “Am I an alcoholic?” was the wrong question to be asking myself.

Instead, the questions I needed to be asking myself were: “How is alcohol impacting my life?” and most importantly: “Would my quality of life improve if I stopped drinking?” After a decade of gray-area problem drinking and terrible “hangxiety”, I finally got honest with myself about my relationship with alcohol and got sober in November 2020.

What Is Sobriety?

Sobriety means being free from mind-altering substances. I don’t drink alcohol or do any drugs, which means I’m always fully sober, present, and clear-minded. And that’s a real gift! But in a world that, let’s face it, is pretty obsessed with booze, it also comes with its challenges.

The holidays can be an especially hard time of year for those in recovery, or even for those trying to quit or simply cut back on their drinking. We live in a society where alcohol is the very fabric of socializing, and “celebrating” and “drinking” tend to be synonymous.

Between family gatherings, parties with friends, and of course the (often infamous) office holiday party, people in recovery have to navigate many booze-soaked functions at this time of year. And there can be a lot of temptation that goes along with that.

Challenges For Sobriety During The Holidays

Some other factors that can make this time of year especially challenging are:

Family stress

‘Tis the season to head home for the holidays and spend a lot more time around our families than usual. And there’s a lot of emotional stress that can come with that! If we’ve previously relied on alcohol to cope with our emotions, this might bring up some triggers to drink.

Loneliness

The holidays are a really lonely time for many people. For those who are going through a difficult time in their lives, the pressure and expectation that this should be a “merry” time of year can sometimes amplify those feelings of sadness. Add onto that being the only sober one surrounded by people drinking at a holiday party, and the feelings of isolation can be very real.

Happiness

Happy feelings can be a trigger too! We’ve been conditioned to pop a bottle to celebrate good news, to “cheers” with booze, and to use alcohol to let loose and bond with our loved ones. Sobriety means relearning how to have a good time without drinking.

Fear of judgment

There are a lot of stigmas that come with sobriety, and it can be exhausting to navigate the never-ending stream of “why don’t you drink?” questions that come at you in social settings. The fear of being judged and not fitting in can feel crippling in early sobriety.

The good news is that just because something feels hard, it doesn’t mean we can’t survive it! In fact, it’s the hard times that really help us grow.

Sobriety takes a lot of courage and strength, and staying sober even when it feels challenging (especially when it feels challenging!) is like strengthening a muscle. It feels hard in the moment, but then we get stronger from it. And then it gets easier!

Tips For Sobriety During The Holidays

My first two sober Christmases each came with their own challenges, but getting through them without drinking felt so empowering. No matter how you’re feeling about the upcoming holiday season, it’s important to take care of yourself and your sobriety during this time. Here are my top tips to help you stay on track (and stay sober!) during the holidays:

1. Stock up on alcohol-free drinks

Gone are the days of being limited to water and diet coke. The sober movement is picking up, and brands are noticing! There are so many amazing alcohol-free drink options available now, from flavored seltzer waters to ready-to-drink mocktails, to non-alcoholic beers, wines, and spirits.

No matter what your preference is, it does wonders to have a drink in your hand when you’re socializing. So treat yourself to something delicious to sip on, and pour it into a fancy glass for extra festive vibes.

2. Play the tape forward

When the drinks start flowing around us at holiday parties, it’s easy to feel like we’re missing out on the fun by not imbibing. In moments like these, it’s so important to fast forward in our brains to how we’ll feel tomorrow if we drink. It’s never worth the payoff! But staying sober and then getting to wake up with no hangover and no regrets is always worth it.

3. Practice saying no

When I say practice, I mean literally practice. It’s easy to get flustered by the “Why aren’t you drinking?” questions when you’re put on the spot. Before going to that holiday party, get clear in advance on your answer!

Mentally rehearsing what I was going to share with others about my decision to stop drinking eased a lot of anxiety in my early days of socializing sober.

4. Have an accountability buddy

Whether that’s a close family member or friend, or a virtual accountability buddy, make sure you have someone you can reach out to if you’re feeling tempted to drink. There are so many online sober communities and Instagram accounts dedicated to sobriety – accountability and support are just a click away if you don’t have it in person!

5. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Being sober means feeling all of our feelings instead of numbing them and “taking the edge off.” That can be a real adjustment, and that’s okay! There’s so much power in soberly tackling our lives and our feelings.

That’s ultimately how we grow and develop real, authentic confidence (rather than relying on liquid courage). Keep reminding yourself that no feeling lasts forever, and you are more than capable of surviving discomfort!

6. Reconnect to the magic of the holidays

When you think of your past most magical holidays, I’m willing to bet most of them are from your childhood. And guess what – none of those involved a drop of alcohol! With all the time you’ve freed up by not drinking, plan some activities that reconnect you back to what makes the holidays feel special.

Go on a drive to look at the pretty Christmas lights, spend some time baking your favorite treats, cozy up by the fire with a hot chocolate, make a gingerbread house, and sing along to your favorite holiday tunes. Take the space alcohol has left behind and fill it up with all the joy you can.

Being sober in a world that drinks takes so much courage. So if you’re brave enough to be on this journey in the first place, then I know you have what it takes to get through this season without drinking. And when you have crystal-clear memories of all the festivities to look back on, memories that aren’t blurred or dimmed by booze, you’ll be so grateful that you stayed sober through it all. You’ve got this!

woman stands in a snowy forrest with arms out
Courtesy of Tim Gouw (via Unsplash)

This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Madeline Forrest. You can follow her on Instagram and Apple Podcasts. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

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