I may have called this article the Christmas Survival Guide, since we are only 3 weeks away from Christmas. However, the knowledge, strategies and advice I give here will help you conquer any celebration, holiday or family gathering.
Make The Decision Not To Drink
I hear a lot of people say things like. “I’ll try not to drink” or “I’ll see how the night goes”. If this sounds like you, then you have already made the decision that you are going to drink without even realising it.
The decision to drink happens way before you pick up your first glass. It starts with a thought. The thought is just like planting a seed. Just like a seed grows, the thought starts to grow. Eventually the thought overtime becomes big and loud, like the seed turning into a plant. Soon, your thought it is too big to ignore and you drink.
If you are on the fence about whether to have a drink or not, then you have already planted the seed. You have left drinking as an option so I can say with certainty that you are going to fail. Or at best, set yourself up for a horrible time as you will be surviving the festive season on sheer willpower alone.
If you make the definite decision not to drink; you will not be planting the seed.
Being undecided about drinking or not, means you are walking into the holidays hoping for the best. When faced with the pressure to drink or when a craving hits, your indecision will be your downfall.
Make a decision that you are NOT going to drink. Tell a friend or loved one that you are NOT going to drink. Say it out loud to yourself. Repeat it like a mantra. I am NOT going to drink. Your strength comes from making the decision.
Get Your Sober Toolbox Ready
I’ve listed some of the tools which helped me navigate some tricky situations in the past. To be honest, most of them I still use today either at some unavoidable party or family gathering.
- Bring your own non-alcoholic drinks to the party. Don’t rely on the host to provide a selection of nice non-alcoholic drinks for you. It won’t be the first time I’ve been offered only water or had to pinch the children’s drinks! Play safe, bring your own.
- If you are out at a bar or restaurant, then make sure you always have a nice drink in your hand. This will help ward off any do-gooders trying to buy you a ‘proper’ drink, as they would put it.
- Have someone in your phonebook who you can call or text if you are tempted to drink. The simple act of reaching out and telling someone how you feel in the moment takes the power out of any craving you might have.
- Take the car or have someone on standby to pick you up at a moment’s notice. Having the ability to leave whenever I wanted really helped me. Just knowing I could leave, meant I didn’t panic about being stuck at a potentially awful party. It calmed me and most of the time I ended up being one of the last to leave. Having an escape plan is a priority..
- The best one, is having a treat waiting for you when you get home. It could be something as little as a nice hot chocolate or a bubble bath. My personal favourite is getting to put my feet up with a cookie or slice of cake at the end of the night.
Your sober toolbox is a lot to do with self-care. You are doing something difficult, so don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back and look after number one for a while.
Visualise Yourself Having a Good Time Without a Drink
Many people believe they won’t have a good time without a drink. This is simply not true but it can be a fear for many newly sober people.
Using the visualisation technique can help massively with re framing how you feel about socialising sober.
How does this work?
Your brain is a really powerful tool and studies have shown that your mind cannot tell the difference between a real memory and a visualised memory. You can use the visualisation technique to create a visualised memory which can actually effect your future reality and how you feel.
When I was newly sober and nervous about a party, instead of moping around believing the night was going to be rubbish. I would instead imagine meeting up with my friends, smiling and ordering a Cranberry Lime & Soda. I’d visualise the dress I was going to wear, what I would say to my friends as well as seeing myself laughing and having a good time. I would sit with my visualisation for about 5 minutes putting as much detail into it as possible.
Visualisation techniques have been used for many years by psychologists to help people enhance their skills, create desired emotional states and achieve life goals. In a nutshell, being able to do something in your head greatly increases your chances of doing it in real life.
When your visualisation is colourful and as detailed as you can make it, your brain will strive to make that a reality. Keeping your vision positive and focussed on the desired outcome means your brain will start to associate, emotionally, that a sober night out is a fun and happy experience. Which it is!
A word of warning
When you are visualising your party, meal or family gathering do not focus on what you don’t want to happen. Don’t sit there thinking I don’t want to feel awkward or miserable. Your brain doesn’t understand the difference between I want and I don’t want. It simply takes the image you are providing and tries to make it a reality.
That’s why people say, if you think you’re going to have a bad day, then you will have a bad day.
So, make your visualisation as detailed as you can make it, using all your senses. Imagine laughing and talking to your friends. Visualise yourself listening to music and dancing. Imagine eating that pudding and how great it tastes. Focus on how you want to feel emotionally, and how you will feel at the end of your evening.
If you imagine the evening going well then it will, no alcohol required. Soon you won’t have to visualise having a good time sober because you will have plenty real memories to rely on.
Have a Plan
Like the Scouts, I say, be prepared. When heading into a situation that may be difficult or which may be a trigger for you, it doesn’t harm to have a plan.
Firstly, I would recommending only go to the gatherings, work parties or family meals you want to attend. Try not to get overwhelmed by committing to them all. However, there are going to be times when you have to visit family or attend a function you’d really rather not. In this case, its best to be prepared.
Accept the fact that you will have to see and talk to your boring uncle or annoying Auntie for a while. Prepare some things to talk about so you can control the conversation. Don’t let anyone trigger you or get you down. Imagine you have a protective bubble around you and allow all their comments to just bounce off you. If you do feel yourself getting agitated, it’s okay to smile and walk away.
I have been known to hide out in the bathroom for 10 minutes just to have some time out. Large gatherings can be overwhelming and I find taking just 5 minutes out to breath, really helps me. You could also volunteer to take someone home or head out for extra supplies as an alternate way to escape for a while.
Change your focus
If drinking is the main focus of the night and you feel awkward or bored, try becoming the photographer for the evening. Taking photos of your friends and family is a great way to get round everyone for a catch up and it gives you something different to focus on.
If you are attending a family gathering indoors, volunteer to do the washing up or read the kids a bedtime story. Not only are you helping out but it will give you something to do that isn’t drinking.
What to tell people
Lastly, I would prepare what you are going to tell people when they ask why you are not drinking. I found that when I was put on the spot, I would get flustered and stammer out why I wasn’t drinking. This didn’t make me sound confident or convincing, which was the opposite of how I wanted to come across. I still cringe at the memory now.
It really isn’t anyone else’s business why you’ve decided not to drink but it can help you feel more confident if you practise what you are going to say before the inevitable questions start. I wrote a great article on this called What to Tell People When You Stop Drinking. It goes through many suggestions depending on the situation you are in or the person you are talking to. Give it a read Here.
I would suggest attending only one party or family function. It is important not to tire yourself out or get overwhelmed. Remember you are in control.
From experience, I have found that it is better to manage people’s expectations early on.
Explain before you arrive that you can only stay for a couple of hours. It takes the pressure off you and people are more understanding when you have to leave early. The bonus is, if you are really enjoying yourself you could stay longer if you wish.
Unless it is totally unavoidable, I would not encourage staying over. If you do have to stay overnight, for travel reasons, book yourself into a nearby hotel or B&B. This will ensure you have your own space to escape to at the end of the night.
Equally, if you are hosting a party, choose a time and venue suitable for you. Let people know when it will be finishing so no one outstays their welcome. Make it early afternoon so people have time to travel back home. Even pretend you are in the middle of decorating so no one can stay over.
Remember It is not your responsibility to organise everyone’s travel and accommodation plans and at the end of the day it is okay to say no to people and parties. There will be other times and there will always be next year.
Your responsibility is to yourself at the moment. I strongly believe that every sober first; first party, first holiday, first birthday etc, is a learning curve. Once you have tackled your ‘first’ everything that comes after is easier. You are growing your sober muscles and finding out what works for you.
For too long you have soaked the festive holidays in booze. You’ve done that and got the t-shirt. Now, let’s try a different way.
Alcohol is not required to have a good time. Follow my suggestions above and you will be smiling through the festive period, not just surviving it.
Being sober will make you more present and available to others. You will not be run down or hungover. You will still smile and laugh and have a good time. It will be done authentically because you are not in a drunken stupor. You will emerge from the festive holidays stronger in your sobriety, healthier and with more energy.
Being Alcohol free this festive holiday is the best gift you can give yourself and those around you.
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