As the Christmas holiday nears, it is often the best time of year for friends and family to come together so they can enjoy each other’s company, friendships, and joyful spirit. But for so many people, the Christmas season can also trigger stress and anxiety, and feelings of loneliness.
It’s important that we acknowledge those loved ones this holiday that may be in treatment or recovery for substance abuse or alcoholism. This week, Nicole Soria published an important piece in Thrive Global acknowledging these difficulties some face during this holiday season.
Soria herself used alcohol to cope with feelings of anxiousness when she felt obligated to socialize more during the holidays. As I discuss in my new book, Your Turn: Ways to Celebrate Life Through Storytelling, I also dealt with some of these substance abuse issues and developed ways to heal and cope.
I want to re-share my holiday post from 2018 outlining some strategies for those who want to be alcohol-free this holiday, as a principal strategy to avoid stress and anxiety. It’s also important that my readers come to understand how to support those who may be trying to avoid alcohol this holiday season.
I hope your time with loved ones is special. Have a happy holiday season.
Tis the Season: How to be alcohol-free at holiday parties – or any time of year
Being with family and friends around the holidays can be exciting but, for those who are recovering alcoholics or don’t want to overindulge in alcohol, it can be a particularly challenging time of year. Some people who are inexperienced with the prospect of not drinking during the holidays face conflicting stresses. They have a desire to fit in and would rather not have to explain why they are not drinking. At the same time, they are trying to manage their own internal battle over whether to drink just one last time.
Over the years, I have learned some great techniques to be comfortable at parties, stay true to my sobriety and ensure that others around me are comfortable, too.
1. I get my own drink as soon as I arrive at a party
During the first years of my sobriety, I spent weekend nights and many Sunday mornings in self-help recovery groups. When I did feel obligated to attend holiday work events, I made it a point to choose a drink soon after I arrived. My favorite choices were a tonic or a coke with a squeeze of lime. If I had a drink in my hand, well-meaning people didn’t insist on getting me one.
2. I confide in the person I am attending the party with
Three years after I quit drinking, I accepted a new position in Illinois. The Board of Education was wonderful, but I quickly realized that work-related parties where alcohol was served were the norm. These parties were often hosted by Board Members or administrative colleagues and my attendance was expected. The Christmas and New Year’s parties were the first major parties I would attend where no one knew I was a recovering alcoholic, and I knew from the talk at the lunch table that alcohol would be served.
I made a conscious decision to tell one of the administrators in the central office that I was a recovering alcoholic. I took Mark to lunch and told him my story and asked if I could hang out with him and his spouse at the party. “Let’s make it one better,” he said, “let us pick you and you go with us.” My relief was palpable.
As we arrived, the hostess’s husband met us at the door, took our coats and asked us what we would like to drink. Before I could answer, Mark said, “I’ll get our drinks but thank you.” Mark and I had even discussed what I like to drink at these parties: tonic on ice with lime, coke on ice with lime, and rather than mimosas, orange juice straight up.
From that point on, with the help of Mark and his spouse, work-related parties were never a problem. Because that worked out so well, I had more confidence when I attended both personal and professional parties. Among friends I often said, “I don’t drink but you feel free. Enjoy. I’ll have a sparkling water with cranberry juice.” In fact, I often brought my own beverage to events.
3. I remind myself that it isn’t about me
After three years of sobriety I realized that most people are really not thinking that much about what I am drinking. It was not about me. Most people are focused on themselves and what they are drinking. The more confident I felt in my response, the less chance of it being an issue.
In that same party I attended with Mark and his spouse, there was one Board Member who was gracious and kind but had also enjoyed a good number of mimosas. She said to me, “Dr. Manning, are you widowed or divorced?” “Yes,” I said. She smiled and asked if I was dating again and offered to introduce me to a very special friend. “Not right now,” I replied politely.
I was very pleased with myself because I got through that just fine without being rude or making a mistake. I realized, if I was comfortable answer those types of questions when I was not drinking, I would make it through. When others showed interest in making sure I had a drink, they were trying to be gracious to me.
4. I trust my instincts
Before I left that party, the host joined me and a colleague and asked if he could bring us each a drink. He was one of those people who drank a lot himself. “May I get the two of you refills on the mimosas?” he asked. My colleague said he’d love one and I said, “I’m drinking orange juice straight up.” “Got it,” he said.
When he brought me the drink, something inside me felt uncomfortable and I instinctively smelled it before taking a sip. Smelling alcohol, I walked over to the serving table and put down the drink. Another guest said, “What are you having?” “Just orange juice,” I replied.
There are some people that do have a need for everyone to drink like they do but they are not typical. Most people are just trying to be good hosts.
As we get more experienced with continued sobriety, and regularly attend support groups with other recovering alcoholics, we become more adept at comfortably managing social situations where alcohol is served.
5. I continue to meditate daily
I am grateful to have celebrated 37 years of sobriety in July 2018. I say the serenity prayer five times out loud, every morning and every night. During the early days of my sobriety, when I was truly stressed over something and considered drinking, I broke down the serenity prayer word by word as if I were diagramming it. It kept me sober until I could get comfortable in my own skin, one day at a time.
One more story
Years ago, and early in my sobriety, I attended a support meeting for recovering alcoholics where a seasoned recovering alcoholic told his story. He said something that I’ve carried in my head since.
Old Butch (not his real name) said, “Once after I told my story of how I got sober, a young man, a newcomer, came up to the podium as I was stepping down”
The young man said, “Sir, if you’ve been sober for twenty- five years, you must not have been a real alcoholic. If you’ve been dry for twenty-five years and still can’t drink, something must be wrong.”
The old man replied, “One day at a time I don’t drink. If I did drink, I’d be back in the bottle in a matter of days.”
The beginner commented as he walked away, “You’re talking about no drinking ever! You must be one of them really bad drunks…”
Enjoy the holidays. Be good to yourself and those around you.
© 2019 Tyra Manning