My first Thanksgiving was really rough.
It was my first big holiday traveling and visiting family.
I had lots of sobriety under my belt. Almost 9 months. Still I felt wobbly, shaky, and fragile.
I drank a lot with my family. I wasn’t sure what to do without it. Everyone in my family drinks, but most did not drink as much as me. Some of my family drank more than usual when I was around, because I could be kind of a drink pusher. Just one more. One more.
This first Thanksgiving I didn’t want anyone to act differently around me. I didn’t want my sobriety to be weird. I wanted to be cool, confident, and simply fly under the radar.
This was an impossible desire. I wasn’t cool or confident. I have big energy and have never been able to fly under the radar.
My family saw my self diagnosed alcohol problem and they were trying to learn more about my newfound sobriety. I didn’t have words for it. Neither did they. They wanted to support me, but they weren’t sure how. I wanted them to read my mind. Duh.
I also wanted to micro manage everyone’s drinking.
When I quit drinking I wanted everyone else to quit drinking too.
There I said what I said.
I was itchy in my own skin being with my family even after months of sobriety. Everything anyone said felt like an attack on me. I felt hurt by my Mom and then my Brother. What I knew to be true was that the problem wasn't them. Honestly, it was me.
So I had to admit how I was feeling.
The question I had to ask myself was, how do you take care of yourself when you feel this way?
The automatic answer would be to have a drink and change my mood.
So many of my client’s admit to drinking to change their mood.
The better answer was to give myself some space to think and feel.
I walked around the block and cried so many times. I had to leave the house to stop myself from opening a bottle. I still was learning emotional regulation. Every nerve was on fire. That’s what happens when you visit family sometimes. I was still learning how to take care of myself. I didn’t know how to cope without alcohol. People didn’t read my mind. Like I said, they were annoying me. I didn’t have words for the discomfort I felt. It was excruciating.
Here’s my top 5 tips to get you through the Holidays.
1 - Plan to succeed or prepare to fail
You cannot go into a gathering with a “wait and see” attitude. If you think maybe you’ll have a drink, you are guaranteed to have a drink. As a drinker, our brain is wired for it. Our default mode is set to alcohol. You have to go into the event with a sober mindset. You can tell yourself “I am not drinking today.” You don’t have to commit to not drinking forever, but you can keep your commitment for a weekend, a week, a month, or whatever you have challenged yourself to do today.
2- Play the tape forward
You have tried drinking, and you know how that plays out. For me, drinking resulted in regret, hangovers, and disappointment. It might not be easy to turn down drinks at the soiree, but think forward about how good you will feel sipping your morning coffee or getting up for a hike the next day.
Playing the tape forward is a great way to get you through a craving when you are surrounded by triggers. Think about the negative outcomes you may have already experienced from drinking too much, and how you are avoiding them by staying alcohol free. Don’t think about the first drink, that will always sound enticing. Think about the last drink. The loss of control, fogginess, and disappointment. Fast forward to the shame and make a connection between those feelings and that romantic glass of wine. Those feelings of despair is what drinking that pretty drink will bring you. Don’t be fooled.
3- Drink Up
No alcohol doesn’t mean no fun. You can laugh, dance, and enjoy all the festivities. I have found I have more fun, more intimate connections, and more freedom from not drinking. You can treat yourself to a special drink. You still drink, you just don’t drink alcohol. These days the options for alcohol free spirits are growing rapidly. I have had nonalcoholic beers, wine, gin, and more. You do not have to stick to water. Bring your own beverage. Add a garnish. Splurge on something fancy. Put it in a pretty glass. No alcohol is extra reason to please all your senses with a gorgeous and delicious treat. If it is your first sober weekend, you don’t have to put any pressure on yourself to be the most sober, fun person either. There will be other weekends, other holidays and other parties. Just stay in tune with your own feelings, and have a fun treat to look forward to. Even a candy cane milkshake, a peppermint latte, or a caramel hot chocolate bomb can serve as a sober treat.
4 - No thanks
How do you turn down a drink when everyone is drinking? It may feel impossible, but there are so many ways to do this. You can bring your own, as mentioned above. You can say you’ll start with water or help yourself. You do not have to tell anyone your whole relationship with alcohol. It’s not their business. They don’t know all your deep dark secrets.
Not drinking doesn’t mean you have a problem with drinking. Not drinking means you are making a healthy choice for yourself. 30% of the population doesn’t drink for a variety of reasons. Recovery is only one of them. In my experience, when people notice that I am not drinking, they envy me and are trying to cut down on drinking themselves. You can say you’re taking a break, have an early morning, training for a run, not drinking right now, on a detox challenge, driving, or just a simple no thanks. You don’t have to get in your head about it. If drinking is required you might just want to skip the event this time. Typically nobody cares as much as you think they do. For more ways to say no to a drink offer check out my blog 23 Ways to Turn Down a Drink
5-The Vanishing Act
This genius idea came from a book, The Sober Lush. I love a good sneak out. When you are done or you have had your fill you can leave. You don’t have to announce it. You don’t have to say goodbye. You can just walk out whenever you are ready. That is the best part of being sober. Nobody notices. You can always follow up with a text or call the next day, if you feel it’s necessary. You can say you had to take the dog out, or use any excuse you want. Or you can use no excuse at all. No reason. Just leave. That is you taking care of yourself and that is what ditching the drink is all about anyway. You have permission to just up and go when you are ready. This can be 5 minutes or 5 hours into any gathering. When you are not having fun, just go.
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