Holiday Drinking: The Green Light That Doesn’t Turn Red Again Until New Year’s Day

The span between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be a challenging time for those who are trying to get sober, stay sober and even for those who want enjoy the holidays without a perpetual hangover. Believe it or not, there are also people who want to maintain their serenity and remember all aspects of the holidays without feeling like crap or packing on the pounds.

Recently I was asked to contribute some tips for an article in Shape Magazine on ways to drink less during the span between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

If you’re someone who can drink normally, please check out the article in Shape Magazine. However, if you’re someone who wants to be sober and stay sober, and you need a helping hand, here are some tips to help you navigate the holidays without losing your sobriety, or your mind:

1.) Have an exit strategy: There’s no reason to pass on all the holiday fun if you’re new in sobriety, but you do need to have a way out should you start to feel uncomfortable. Now that we have Uber and other easy ways to catch a ride, you won’t have to ever be stuck. The key here is that if you start to feel like you might just want to have a drink—Leave!

2.) Take a sober friend: Make sure you go to the party with someone who understands your sobriety and wants to see you succeed. The last thing you want to do is to attend a party with a former drinking buddy who after a few drinks of their own might egg you on to go ahead and have that one glass of wine or take that shot.

3.) Leave Early: There’s no need to be one of the cling-on’s who won’t leave a party because after all, someone has to drink up all that free booze! But now that you’re sober, after a few hours, you’ve probably had a chance to visit with the people you wanted to see the most. Feel free to make a graceful exit long before the party turns into a drinking bash.

4.) Grab a drink of sparkling water: Head to the bar and grab a sparkling water, club soda with lime or any nonalcoholic beverage. Once you have something in your hand, no one will ask you if you want a drink, and you won’t have to sputter around that dreaded question, “Why aren’t you drinking?”

5.) Skip it: There’s nothing more important than your sobriety. If you don’t feel you can go to the party, enjoy yourself and stay sober, don’t go. People often struggle to navigate that first year of sobriety, and the holidays in particular can be a challenge. Who says you need to subject yourself to crazy Aunt Millie or dysfunctional family dynamics? If you do decide to skip things this year, give yourself a pass. Stay home, make yourself some hot chocolate, light a fire in the fireplace and snuggle in with a good book or a sappy Christmas movie. By the time next year rolls around you’ll be firmly grounded in sobriety and a pro at navigating tricky situations, including the holidays.

Regardless of what camp you belong, drinking or not drinking, here’s a few things to keep in mind: If you’re drinking more than two or three drinks over the course of an evening, you’re no longer drinking to be social or because you like the taste; you’re drinking for effect.

You’re already on shaky ground if you consistently go out and find that you drink, four, five, or more drinks in an evening. Any time we use alcohol to alter our internal state, we’re entering the danger zone. 3 signs to be aware of:

Are You Using Alcohol to:

  • To change the way you feel
  • As a coping skill
  • To drown out negative self-talk or perceptions—if so, you’re already immersed in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and your drinking is no longer “social.”

The reason you have more than a few is that you like the way the alcohol makes you feel. The social anxiety that you felt a minute ago is erased as soon as you take those first few sips, or gulps. People slug back alcohol to numb feelings of anxiety, depression, feelings of inferiority that may have no factual basis other than the person’s perception about themselves; people turn to alcohol for a number of reasons, but all of the reasons have to do with changing their internal emotional state. After several drinks, any thoughts of not feeling good enough or not belonging flee, and the person suddenly feels like they do belong in the world.

Be mindful: of your emotional equilibrium, especially during the holidays. Can you do some deep breathing, yoga stretches, meditation (there’s some great apps out there. I like Insight Timer. It has meditations from 5 minutes to far lengthier ones.) Watch your HALTS aka triggers: Don’t allow yourself to get to Hungary, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

It’s all about taking care of yourself and your sobriety. I learned very early on that I am responsible for my sobriety. My life depends upon me staying sober. I have the life I have today because I did choose sobriety, and no one is going to be as vested in my sobriety as I will. I have to take the responsibility to take care of myself and I learned how to set healthy boundaries. People have their own concerns, and we can never expect someone else to protect us or make sure that we don’t drink.

The whole reason you got sober was so that you could come to know in your heart that you were meant to be in the world that that you do belong. It’s a beautiful way to live when you can feel comfortable in your own skin without the adjunct of alcohol or some other substance. When we can accept who we are and that our lives are so much better without numbing; when we can live free of alcohol and drugs and we can learn to face and deal with our emotions–now that’s a Merry Christmas, and a priceless gift worth treasuring.