The Sober Sister’s 6 Rules of Seasonal Survival
Trying to stay dry over the festive season? We’ve got your back
From Buck’s Fizz at breakfast to Champagne at lunch, a snowball at suppertime to Bailey’s in front of the box, if there’s one thing Christmas is synonymous with, it’s booze. And while sobriety can be daunting at the best of times, during the festive season, the hurdles can feel higher than ever. From relatives pushing you to have ‘just one’, to friends and colleagues speculating that your temperance is motivated by either an unexpected pregnancy or raging alcoholism (cheers, indeed), it’s enough to turn even the most dedicated tee-totaller to drink.
As I approach my own one year sober anniversary, no one is as surprised as me that what started as Dry January has become a permanent lifestyle choice. Yet, here I am, embarking on my first free-from festive season not with trepidation, but with glee. And while there’s no question societal pressure to drink and be merry exists, I wholly believe that there’s no need to pay any great social cost for sobriety. Here then, are the tools I’ve engaged to get to today without hitting the bottle, and the ones I hope will get me through the next week and into 2020 with a gloriously present grin on my face.
‘Why aren’t you drinking?’ It’s a question you will definitely be asked but, frankly, who cares? Whether you’ve given up because you needed to for health or addiction reasons, or you’ve done so as a lifestyle choice, your decision requires no justification. That said, questions will come regardless, and it helps to be ready for them. Here are some of the most common queries and observations I’ve faced, and my stock responses, but feel free to be as honest, or as sarcastic, as you fancy. After all, it’s your choice. I repeat, you don’t need to justify yourself to anyone. You do you.
Sadly, in the course of the festive season, you will likely encounter someone who just doesn’t want to take no for an answer. It can be easy to feel judged, but I find it hugely helpful to consider those people’s motivations rather than my own.
Alcohol is a singular beast – if you give up smoking, or crack cocaine, you’ll find your decision will be applauded from all sides, but with booze, the reception is very different. We could spend all day breaking down our societal reliance on alcohol as an essential partner for good times, bad times, and all days ending in Y in between, but all we really need to remember at Christmas is that those associations are so strong, plenty of perfectly ordinary, non-addicted people can feel quite panicked at the idea of a booze-free celebration. When you don’t drink, you cause them to examine their own relationship with alcohol – and at Christmas, the chances are they simply don’t want to. Now is not the time to convert anyone to the cause. Simply reassure them that you have no problem with other people drinking, then move on.
Some non-drinkers don’t like substitute drinks, such as non-alcoholic beer or wine, while others love them. Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Personally, after much experimentation, I’ve found that I enjoy a glass of non-alcoholic fizz to make me feel like I’m joining the celebration, and I always keep some kombucha in the fridge for those Friday pizza and movie nights that would have previously entailed beer. Whatever your tipple is though, even if it’s a basic diet coke or a tonic hold the gin, I find it helps to keep one to hand at celebrations – when you’re holding a glass, you’ll find people are less inclined to push one on you.
You will, at some point, encounter people who try to make you question your decision and, in some instances, such as professional gatherings, you’ll just have to grin and bear it. In your own time though, you get to choose who you spend time with, and a good friend or partner will support you in your sobriety. My friends don’t even bother to ask about mine anymore, and my boyfriend bought a crate of non-alcoholic Champagne for me as a pre-Christmas gift. They know I’ll dance on the table regardless, they don’t see my choice as any reflection on their own, and I love and appreciate them all the more for it. These are my people. Find yours and remember, as hard as it can be, that someone who doesn’t support your decision probably wasn’t that great a friend to begin with.
If you’re still trying sobriety on for size, the party season can be a great opportunity to question our relationship with drinking. Think alcohol makes everyone more fun or socially confident? You might find that examining a party through the lens of sobriety makes you view things differently – in my experience, confidence can quickly become loudness after one too many, while for every person tearing up the dancefloor, you’ll find another who gets sad, aggressive or vulnerable after one too many. What is it you’re nervous about? Whether it’s getting on a dancefloor sober or walking into a room full of strangers, be kind to yourself, remember that it’s ok to feel challenged, and celebrate yourself when you conquer your demons. Rather than fear a sober festive season, if you view it as an opportunity to really test your ingrained thinking and push yourself our of your comfort zone, you might well find the experience strengthens you in unforeseen ways.
It’s natural to wobble sometimes. I always loved a glass of red wine, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes eye one with jealousy, but at those times, I find it helps to remember why I quit in the first place. To think about how much worse my anxiety used to be with a hangover. To consider that a migraine is now a rare signifier that I need to rest, rather than an indicator that it’s Saturday. To think about all the new hobbies I have filled my weekends with, now that I don’t have to allow for feeling sluggish and hungover. I’ll be swimming in the North Sea on January 1st, rather than seeing in a whole new decade with the fear. And I can’t bloody wait.