By Beth Kennedy
Photo: Brooke Cagal
Quitting drink is a life changing journey as it is - but what happens when you face special occasions?
You may be living and loving the sober life, but even the festive season can potentially bring up the ghosts of Christmas past when it comes to drinking.
They say “'Tis the season to be jolly” and many would equate that with getting tipsy throughout the whole of December. This can make it harder to go sober for the festive season, but never fear...I’m here to give you a few tips on how to thrive during your first sober Christmas (spoiler - it’s probably going to be the best Christmas you have in years).
- Prime your timing
Christmas is full of parties and get-togethers, you can’t really avoid them (and you may not want to avoid them!). Start late, leave early - that’s my motto! Give yourself enough time to have fun before it gets too boozy. And if it gets a little bit too much to handle then feel free to leave - nobody will judge you if they’re decent people. Also, if it’s a Christmas party then chances are that no one will be keeping tabs on who’s there and what time they leave. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably leave after two or three hours of socialising, because without booze you’re much more likely to want to head off at a more reasonable time.
“But what if I have to stay later?” you might ask me.
I know. It can feel impossible to leave an event or party early sometimes. The most effective way to work around this is to be the designated driver. Not only will people accept that you’re not on the booze, they’ll love you for driving them home safely.
You’ll be everyone’s hero and your own hero! Cheesy, but true.
- No harm in little white lies
When you run into someone who doesn’t know you’re not drinking or someone, who’s not close enough for you to explain your situation, asks you why you’re not drinking or where the heck your drink is, it’s alright to tell little white lies.
Even though I’ve personally told everyone I know that I don’t drink any more, there will always be situations where I meet new people. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to explain why I’m not drinking. Some of my favourite tried and tested ‘white lies’ include:
- “I just finished one”
- “I’m coming down with a bit of bug”
- “I’m designated driver” (and if they say “well, you can have one drink!” tell them you just did!)
- “I’m on antibiotics”
- “I already feel a bit tipsy, I need to sit this one out.”
If all else fails. You could always claim that the coke in your hand is actually a vodka and coke (works like a dream!). But if you’re in a bar, just make sure you ask the bar staff to put it in the same glass as they would for an alcoholic drink.
- Coast off of others' energy
Worried that people will say you’re boring if you don’t drink? This may be the case at the start of the evening, but as the merriment continues I find that people who are drinking will tend to relax a bit more. Use this to your advantage. It’s easier for a sober person to relax in the presence of a tipsy person, as you can coast off their energy without getting drunk yourself. As humans, we’re receptive by nature so you’ll find you’ll start to feel less like “sticking out like a sore thumb” and more comfortable as the night goes on. And, the more tipsy people get, the less likely they are to remember that you’re not drinking. Also, quitting drink really does help you realise who your true friends are, because they won’t care that you’re not drinking...just as long as you’re hanging out with them, they’re happy.
- Focus on reconnecting
One of my favourite parts of the festive season is the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. That’s why it’s a great idea to put more emphasis on who you talk to rather than what you’re drinking. Find out what your friends and family have been up to, ask them questions, be interested in what they have to say. You’ll soon find that they will reciprocate and start taking an interest in your life too. What’s more, you’ll actually remember these treasured conversations in the morning, instead of worrying about what you said or did to upset anyone!
- Buy your own drinks
What happens when you come across that type of person who absolutely insists you have a drink even though you’re told them you’re not drinking until you’re blue in the face? Buy your own drinks so people won't hassle you to buy an alcoholic drink. This way, you’re staying in control and at the top of your game - go you!
- Indulge in non-alcoholic cocktails
I say indulge because non-alcoholic cocktails are amazing! One of the best things about non-alcoholic cocktails is you can mix your drinks without fear of a dreaded hangover. All the flavour and all the fun and you feel refreshed the next morning! Here’s a few amazing mocktail ideas from Drinkaware.
Most bars, pubs and clubs will have all the ingredients for most non-alcoholic cocktails - you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And imagine waking up the next morning hang-over free and with a very healthy bank balance. My biggest motivator for not drinking is never having to deal with a nasty hangover ever again. Every time I think of this, I feel really happy...and I never thought I’d feel that way just by not drinking!
If your family has a tradition of drinking Buck’s Fizz in the morning or a mulled wine on Christmas eve, then you can still join in! Non-alcoholic ‘mulled wine; is made from all the same tasty ingredients except the ‘wine’ part is a much more delicious winter berry cordial. The bottle of cordial is 500ml, so you can easily get 10 drinks out of that for just over £3. This non alcoholic mulled wine recipe is a winner for me - and it’s so fun to make and I’m pretty sure it’s fended off some colds and sickness bugs.
As for Buck’s Fizz...well I’ve got news for you that you’re going to love. The mocktail version of Buck’s Fizz (orange juice and sparkling white grape juice) tastes better than the real thing - seriously!
- Home is your happy place
Who said you have to go out during the Christmas period? No one!
Personally, my home is my safe space. It’s where my fiance is, as well as my cats, my fish and all my books and, when Christmas comes around, a fridge stocked full of cheese. Ten years ago I would have thought it was boring to stay in, but now I’ve come to realise that having a place where you feel completely at ease is the biggest priority for your first sober Christmas.
Way more people than you think actually stay in and entertain at home rather than go out. This might be because they want to avoid the noise, the crowds and, yep you guessed it, drunk people!
All you really need is good food and good company. I know it’s an age-old saying but it’s so true...and the key to happiness over Christmas. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a hilarious board game night with your friends or a movie night snuggled up with the family.
- Go easy on yourself
Not only does this go for people who don’t drink, but it goes for everyone. If you feel like you’re spreading yourself too thin over the festive season, then take some time to sit back and treat yourself to some personal time. It seems like we all have to be in ‘go go go’ mode when Christmas comes around. But actually, it’s completely fine to do everything at your own pace.
If you absolutely can’t miss a certain party because, say, you haven’t seen the guests in a while, then ring a friend who knows you don’t drink. In the USA, I hear they call this person your “sponsor.” They can help you to build your confidence, motivate yourself and hold you accountable. I’m very lucky that I have a supportive family and friends, but there will be moments where you’re tempted to drink. Deep down you know you don’t want to, but the temptations are a natural part of being sober. If I ever have the urge to drink, I will tell my partner as soon as I can. All she does is listen to me, ask questions and tell me she’s proud of me. This is enough for me to kick any cravings right in the face!
- Remind people before they buy you a gift
This one is so often underlooked. But the national average of people receiving alcohol as Christmas gift stands at 37%, according to a survey by Sainsbury’s.
Whether it’s receiving alcohol from your secret Santa at work or a well-meaning relative buys you a wine or beer gift set, people might forget that you’re not drinking anymore. The trick is not to take this personally, but to grab the bull by the horns beforehand.
So it’s always a good idea to gently remind people you’re not drinking anymore. If you feel awkward mentioning this, then you could always drop a few hints at what you actually want. I’m not saying we should all ask for tropical holidays, but you can hint that you want a GFW shirt (hey, I love this company, I’m going to name drop haha!). After all, a well-crafted shirt lasts for years, but a bottle of wine just lasts the night.
- Prepare for stressful situations
Christmas can be a time of great stress - family arguments are more likely to erupt and just the general busy nature of the season can get to you. The trick is to be prepared for this. Instead of reaching for the booze if your relatives try to pick a fight, just leave the room and focus on something else such as reading a good book, watching a motivational YouTube video, going for a nice long walk to clear your head or even playing a board game with the children. Actively turn your stresses into positives - you’re far less likely to need or want a drink!
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. You got this!