This is my fourth year celebrating the holidays after entering recovery from alcoholism and, if I am being honest, I would tell you that it hasn’t gotten all that much easier. The holidays can be a turbulent time for anyone who suffers from anxiety (like I do) or who used to self-harm (like I did) or who is recovering from addiction (again, me). But even though things can still be sticky, I can say for certain that I have learned a thing or two about how to celebrate the holidays without a drink and I’ve come out better for it.
For anyone who is currently sober or trying to get sober, here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned during my years in recovery on how to stay sober and still have plenty of fun this time of year.
I make lots and lots of cookies.
One of the things that really get me through the holidays is the food. For the past couple of years, ever since I quit drinking, I’ve also had more time during the busy holiday season since I am no longer going from party to party and dealing with hangovers the rest of the time. That’s why I have started to try my hand at baking. Now, I will fully admit that I am not the best at it (as my not-so-cute Cuban merengue cookies will show you) but I’m trying. And that’s what counts right now.
I talk to friends and family about why I don’t drink.
Sometimes, especially in early recovery, it’s difficult to discuss openly why you are no longer drinking. Some people quit because they no longer enjoy it and others quit because they have a problem managing their alcohol intake. I was definitely the latter and it took a long time before I could really discuss everything that happened. But these days I take pride in being open about my sobriety, even when occasionally well-meaning loved ones need a bit of a reminder during this time of year. A simple “I no longer drink and I’ve found that I am much happier without alcohol” can do wonders.
I evaluate every party invitation with care.
I know what you’re going to say: But what about holiday parties?! Although our instinct when we first go into recovery is to hide under the covers and never come out, that’s the wrong thing to do. For me, one of the worst things I did during the worst days of my addiction is that I hid from everyone. So, when it comes to my new sober life, I choose the opposite. Still, I have to be mindful of what I do and who I do it with — which is why I never automatically say “no” to parties but I do take time to consider the situation, the location and who will be there before making the decision to go out or stay in.
I make sure to bring a sober buddy whenever I can.
Most parties are more than happy to have you show up with a friend, which is precisely what I do and recommend that others in sobriety do. If you know that most people at a party are going to be drinking, then you know that things will be a whole lot less awkward if you bring someone that doesn’t drink (just like you). For me, this usually means bringing my husband since he gave up alcohol shortly after we met because he wanted to support my recovery. For others, it might mean bringing a new sober friend or knowing who is going to the party that is also not drinking, then gravitating towards them at the start.
I have a backup plan if I go to a fiesta.
Whether or not you have a sober buddy at the party, it’s always good to have a backup plan. For me, that backup plan usually involves having someone that I can call in case I feel awkward or awful or, at worst, like I want a drink. I also make sure that I have a solid exit plan in place. That’s for my own safety and for the safety of all my fellow party-goers who might not want to get super drunk in front of someone who isn’t drinking. That doesn’t mean that I can’t have plenty of fun at the party, it just means that I am probably going home much earlier than I used to back in my drinking days.
I make myself helpful to the hostess.
One way to make yourself a fabulous party guest is to help the hostess. I love going to someone else’s party early and helping them set up or asking them if I can bring a dessert for the festivities. If there are little kids at the party, I volunteer to watch them or play with them. If there’s some emergency or something to take care of, I volunteer for that too. It makes me feel useful and also gives me something to do so that I’m not always just standing there and talking to those who may be drinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but making myself useful just makes me feel better.
I give myself plenty of opportunities for self-care.
During the holidays, there’s a lot going on. Not only are there all of those friend’s parties you want to go to and family gatherings you have to attend, but there are work events and who knows what else. It seems like this is the busiest time of year for even the busiest of people. That’s why it’s especially crucial to take some time off during this time of year. I make sure to schedule in self-care just the same as I would schedule any of my other holiday festivities.
I schedule extra calls with my therapist.
Although this can count as part of my self-care, I want to talk about therapy and support systems as a separate topic because they are just THAT important. Yes, having a sober buddy at parties is a great start but you know what’s even better? Having a solid support system behind you which, for me, always includes my therapist too. During the holidays or any other time when I am experiencing high stress, I like to schedule extra calls with her to make sure that I am doing okay and continue to do okay.
I bring holiday cheer in other ways.
As I mentioned above, bringing a sweet treat or helping the hostess is a great way to participate in the festivities without doing too much or putting yourself at risk of drinking. But there are also other ways to bring the holiday cheer without picking up that cup of sangria or rum-soaked coquito. Personally, I am all about dressing up in as many sparkly things as I can in order to bring some holiday cheer to the party. I also like decorating, bringing presents and giving out as many hugs as possible.
I have a signature mocktail.
One of the big keys to successful sobriety is that you have a go-to mocktail. I know that sounds a bit simple but, honestly, people can sometimes forget what it is that you can drink that doesn’t include booze, especially during a party where they themselves might already be tipsy. That’s why I have a go-to: Arnold Palmer. That’s half-lemonade, half-iced tea that’s delicious and refreshing and almost always easy to make. You can also try a classic Shirley Temple or come up with your own concoction. The key here is that you HAVE something that you can depend on that’s easy to make and has no alcohol.
I remember that this is my life and my choice.
CREDIT: msirinagonzalez / Instagram
The biggest thing that you need to know about partying while sober during the holidays is that you should remember why it is you are here in the first place. Whether you had issues with alcohol (as I did), gave it up for health reasons or are simply trying something new, this is your life and this is your choice. It’s a choice you made for good reasons and you should stick to it… For good reasons. It’ll make you happier and you know it. Plus, think how much better you’ll feel when you wake up NOT hungover on New Year’s Day and can tackle 2019 with ease.