Sobriety can change the holidays for many people. Maybe alcohol was what made it possible for you to spend time with family who merely “tolerate” your existence or, worse, who outwardly express disdain for you. Maybe it was the way you and your parents could relate to each other and, now that it’s gone, things are just… different.
For many queer and trans folks, dealing with family around the holidays can become even more complicated when sobriety enters the picture. For instance, maybe booze was the only thing you had to help you deal with the stress of not being totally out to your family.
If you’re anything like me, the fast-approaching holiday season has you feeling a little out of sorts. I’m someone that: feels the need to be there and support everyone and keep everyone happy; ends up traveling between states and homes; swallows what I need to say in order to keep the peace. So the holidays mean dealing with all of this and the free-flowing booze at every turn.
The good news is that we get to decide what we want to do. That’s right: We can decide how we want to spend our holiday season—or if we want to celebrate the holidays at all. We don’t need to do anything out of obligation, especially if it might threaten our safety or sobriety.
Here are some ways to put ourselves, our safety, and our sobriety first this holiday season.
For many queer and trans folks, dealing with family around the holidays can become even more complicated when sobriety enters the picture.
1. Gather with your chosen family.
Creating a “chosen family” isn’t a new concept: it’s something queer and trans folks have been doing for ages. Historically, many of our families have rejected us and we’ve had to create our own support systems outside the framework of a traditional family. It’s beautiful that we’ve been able to adapt, but also heartbreaking that we’ve had to.
For the past five holiday seasons, I’ve lived 3,000 miles away from where I grew up and where all of my friends and family are. I didn’t particularly have the means—in terms of money, time, or emotional energy—to make the trip home.
Although I often welcomed the quiet of the holidays away from the hectic event schedule I had while I was still living in New Hampshire, sometimes I really longed for a full house, laughter, and the chance to cook a big meal for loved ones. A few times I’ve been able to get a group of sober queer folks together for holiday festivities. Your group doesn’t have to be all sober or all queer but make sure it’s all people who are supportive and affirming of both your sobriety and queerness.
I personally love cooking so I often cook the entire meal for my guests, usually centering the most restrictive diet so everyone is able to enjoy what I make. If you’re not someone who enjoys cooking, maybe host a potluck instead. Whatever you do, you can’t go wrong with having good people, a variety of snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks surrounding you during an emotional and magical time of year.
And remember: You don’t have to be far away from home to do this, either. It’s just as valid to opt out of family celebrations if you live three miles from home as it is if you live 3,000 miles from home.
It’s beautiful that we’ve been able to adapt, but also heartbreaking that we’ve had to.
2. Limit exposure to triggering events.
Participate in family traditions selectively. If you know that it would be too costly or in any way unsafe to immerse yourself in all of your family’s traditions, but you still want to be able to spend quality time with certain family members, choose only what you think is safe.
There is often an expectation that folks should make time for all of their family’s holiday events, especially when you’re unpartnered. But you’re not required to go to every single party, dinner, outing, event, or shopping trip throughout the season. Choose the parties or activities that are least threatening to your sobriety. If you want to help trim the tree but skip the boozy holiday party, that’s okay!
Not all family activities are created equal, and you get to decide which ones are most important to you.
3. It’s not quantity, it’s quality.
Maybe you don’t have a big group of sober or queer friends where you live. Or, perhaps the thought of organizing a big holiday soiree makes you want to hide in a blanket fort. That’s okay, too!
If the idea of a big gathering is overwhelming for you but you aren’t interested in being alone, invite one or two close friends over. I tend to get caught up in making the “perfect” meal or having the “perfect” holiday but, in my sobriety, I’ve been working to let go of a lot of that.
Shifting my focus away from completing a perfect holiday checklist and directing it instead to what I actually feel comfortable taking on has been a game changer for me. Some of my best recent holidays have been the ones where I shared a tray of nachos with my best friend, wore sweatpants, and watched movies.
You’re not required to go to every single party, dinner, or shopping trip throughout the season.
4. Treasure your alone time.
Don’t underestimate the joy of being by yourself on a holiday. Sometimes, I love just cozying up at home with some snacks, seltzer, a book, and a blanket. I can feel the expectations and pressure of the season melting right off of me.
We can be complete humans even if we choose to spend time alone and, sometimes, recharging on a day when everyone else is busy feels extra luxurious. So, if it speaks to you, spend the holidays alone and treat yourself.
5. Volunteering at Queer community centers or investing in community self-care?
If you don’t want to spend the holidays alone but being with your family is off the table and you don’t have friends who will be around, there are other options.
Check with your local LGBTQ community center to see if they have any holiday programming or events going on for queer folks who won’t be spending time with family this holiday season. If they don’t, maybe you can help organize something: a potluck, a meditation group, an outdoor activity, a craft night, anything that will get folks together in a supportive way.
If there isn’t an LGBTQ community center near you, check with your local queer-friendly place of worship to see if there are any holiday events or volunteer opportunities you’re interested in.
If you live in an area without any in-person resources or you’re homebound, you could also set up some time to video chat with friends. You can share your holiday traditions and festivities or have a nice, long conversation. Sometimes just seeing the face of someone you care about and having a conversation can help you feel less alone.
No matter what you end up doing (or not doing) this holiday season, remember that it’s okay for your priority to be your safety and your sobriety. Whatever you choose is completely valid and you don’t have to justify it to anyone. Happy holidays—your way.