The holiday season has arrived. And, just like every year, it brings with it a mix of emotions for all of us.
Whether you’re excited, anxious, or a little bit of both, remember that the holiday season can be a great opportunity to flex your sober muscles and show yourself that you can survive and even thrive in situations where eating, drinking and being merry are the focal points. I made it through my first holiday season sober last year and, while I can tell you it was a lot different than years past, I can also tell you it was so much better than the previous seasons I had spent in a wine-filled haze. Spoiler alert: There were far fewer tears!
Here are some tips to bookmark for managing your upcoming holiday soirees, like Thanksgiving, while sober:
1. Don’t show up too early if you can avoid it.
A lot of the drinking tends to happen before the meal during idle time, so if you’re an invited guest, bring a dish or dessert you’ve prepared (or bought, like me) to the event rather than making it there. If you want to help the host, you can always offer to help with clean up after the meal, which will also keep you busy.
2. Have your sober friends queued up and on speed dial.
Chances are you’re not the only one that will be sober this Thanksgiving (I know I will be!) so let your sober friends know you might be reaching out and when. They’ll probably need the support, too. Letting others know you’ll be forgoing booze adds a layer of accountability, which will be helpful if you feel tempted to have a drink.
3. Bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverage.
Never assume, even if the host knows you’re sober, that there will be something other than water for you at the event. Not to say your host is inconsiderate but a lot of drinkers just aren’t aware of the delicious non-alcoholic beverage options for adults available today, so it’s better to come prepared with your own.
4. Have a drink in your hand.
Number three brings me to my next point, which is to have a drink in your hand. This will be especially helpful if you’re not comfortable with telling others you’re not drinking because they won’t offer you a drink if you already have one. It will also make you feel more comfortable to be sipping on something while others are drinking. My personal favorite is seltzer with a splash of pineapple juice because it looks like a mixed drink, is low-cal, and not too sweet.
5. Have an escape plan.
One of the many perks of not drinking is that you have the ability to ensure you get home safely and can leave when you’re ready to go, whether it’s driving yourself to and from the event or just calling yourself an Uber. Do not rely on a friend or family member you know will be drinking to be your ride home. If I know I can leave whenever I want, my anxiety is lower and I feel more comfortable going to events because I know I can always dip out if it becomes triggering.
6. Take care of yourself first.
Don’t worry about how turning down a drink or leaving a party early will affect others. Seriously. Your sobriety comes first, ALWAYS.
7. Play the tape forward.
We’ve all heard this one, but there’s a reason we continue to hear it — it truly works. If that glass of boozy eggnog looks oh-so-tempting, reflect on past seasons when you imbibed too much and remember how those nights ended, or how you felt the next morning. Still tempted? Probably not.
8. Let the people you’re with know in advance you won’t be drinking.
Being honest with who you’ll spend the holiday with will ensure you won’t be tempted if you’re offered a drink at a weak moment and they will be there to support you.
9. Bring a sober friend with you.
Strength in numbers, y’all. I have gotten through countless booze-heavy events with my boyfriend, who is also sober, by my side. Though I’ve also made it through plenty on my own, I cannot tell you how comforting it is to have someone else there who isn’t drinking either.
10. Avoid triggers.
Triggers can be anything — a person, place, food, smell, etc. While you don’t always know what will trigger you, especially if this is your first sober Thanksgiving in a while, being prepared will help you from feeling caught off-guard.
11. Accept that the holidays may look different now.
The fall and holiday seasons always make me feel nostalgic, and sometimes that nostalgic feeling brings with it the good memories of drinking and conveniently leaves the bad ones behind. However, I’ve made peace with the fact that my holiday season looks different now than it did when I drank, and I don’t let those fuzzy memories lure me in because I know they’re not the whole truth. Different is good. Different is growth.
12. Remember what this day is about.
Make a gratitude list. I seriously love a good gratitude list and do one almost daily, but they are especially handy when I find myself as the guest of honor at my own pity party. If this is you, ask yourself: What is in your life today that wasn’t when you were drinking? Give thanks for what you have gained in sobriety, give thanks for your own strength. At the very least, give thanks for the pie.
13. Start new traditions.
Visit a pumpkin patch, host a Friendsgiving with your sober pals, go apple-picking, or eat tacos instead of the traditional Thanksgiving fare. It is never too late to start an entirely new tradition that doesn’t revolve around booze.
14. Give yourself something to look forward to.
Plan a reward for yourself to celebrate making it through Thanksgiving sober. Book a workout class, a massage, a day of absolutely nothing, or whatever it is that makes you feel good. Whatever treat you pick, make it something you know you wouldn’t have been able to enjoy if you drank through the holiday. This will reaffirm what you’ve gained by staying sober.
15. Bring your literal “toolbox.”
In Tempest Sobriety School, we’re taught to make our own toolbox a.k.a. a collection of soothing items we can reach for in anxiety-inducing situations. Mine consists of a makeup bag filled with lavender oil, teas, hand lotion, and a notebook filled with my favorite mantras.
16. Give yourself a breather.
If you start feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk and breathe in some crisp fall air or step outside and call a friend. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the situation. Again, take care of yourself first.
17. Don’t go.
I cannot say this enough. If you’re newly sober or even if you have been sober for ages but your instinct is telling you this event won’t be good for you, remember, you absolutely do not have to go. If your family and friends want what’s best for you, they will absolutely understand. No event, no matter how big or important-seeming, is worth risking your sobriety (or your sanity).
If you remember none of these tips, then remember one thing: You are not alone.
There are so many of us choosing not to drink this holiday season. And that’s precisely what this is; a choice and an act of self-love. It may not feel that way while you’re watching your friends and family spending the night toasting with champagne but, because you’re sober, you are free from all the potential pain that comes with the clinking of those glasses. You can do hard things — including this.