In a world brimming with alcohol, being the one sober person sitting at the Christmas dinner table can be hard. It’s not only the obvious booze temptations that make it difficult, it’s the strain of being with family all day, the hassle that comes with cooking and wrapping presents, the humiliating games we’re forced to play and the pressure to fit in when you’re feeling on the periphery. There is no doubt about it, your first sober Christmas might bring up a few unexpected hankerings, that need to numb out might envelop you before you’ve even had time to try on your new fluffy Reindeer socks.
Because Christmas is all about the traditions, the crackers before the turkey and the tangerine at the bottom of the stocking, we get pissed and wear silly paper hats, sing songs and then sleep off those early glasses of bubbly. Then we start drinking again after a nanny nap gets interrupted by Grandads whisky induced snore. Ingrained customs on repeat since childhood. We put out carrots out for Father Christmas and we pretend to like gawdy jumpers, we start the day with a glass of fizzy and end it with a creamy glass of Baileys. So, when someone throws a spanner in the works and does something completely out of character (like get sober) it can create a big stocking full of disapproval.
So, if like me, you’re the one that has decided to break tradition and confront these annual festivities sober? Then, a few tricky situations may arise. Confrontations that you’d normally drown out with an extra glass of sparkly, have to be navigated through without wine, without the usual crutch and... it can be a challenge.
Your lack of ‘joining in’ and ‘party poopery’ could make you a target, but there are a few ways to swerve the Nerf bullets and get through Christmas without leaning on a drink.
By following these tips, you can be sure that your elbow remains firmly untwisted and your sobriety makes it through to the New Year and beyond.
1. Plan your day – Knowing when to leave.
For me, having kids is my perfect ‘forever’ excuse. I can use tiredness, upset tummies or their ‘ungrateful’ behaviour to get me out of a fix. If I’ve had enough and can’t cope, I can just say,
‘Sorry, that baby has diarrhoea, we're off!’
But if you don’t have kids, you need a cunning ‘get out of jail free’ card way before the dusty monopoly board is even out of the cupboard. Because, if things get too much on Christmas day then you need an exit strategy.
Let’s face it, being sober when everyone around you is half-cut can be very intense. People will find your sobriety confronting and will therefore try and cover up their own insecurities by giving you a hard time. You might want to run away and hide. There’s nothing wrong with that. Hiding is better than a conflict or a family fall out.
If it gets too overwhelming and you feel like reaching for a bottle, change the environment. Take yourself away. It will distract you and centre you. Even if it’s just 5 minutes solo time in the garden to re-group. Just give yourself some space.
Another good way of dealing with your stress levels is to make a plan with your host the day before. Tell them what time you are arriving and leaving. Make it a time you feel comfortable with, preferably when it’s still light outside and before the ceremonial ancient bottle of port is cracked open. Then... everyone knows where they stand, and you avoid awkward questions and negative interactions with dribbly Aunties. So, plan your time... then run for the hills.
Knowing when to leave means you’re not there when things get messy later on and you won’t feel tempted to join in the pandemonium that all day Christmas drinking generates.
2. Be Alcohol-Free Prepared – Time to buy some Gas for the Soda Stream.
At Christmas I spend a little more on my AF drinks, I buy posh fizzy grape juice and elder flower cordial. I invest in nice teas in stylish packaging and buy pear kombucha from Aldi. I get the good stuff, the green bottles of sparkling waters instead of the Coles home brand. I pack at least 8 bottles of fizzy water to last the day and add sprigs of mint, lemons, limes and juices to my cool box, all to jazz up my sober mini bar. I also splash out on ‘drink decor’ and fill my cocktail glass with as many ridiculous looking straws, mixers and balanced fruits as I possibly can, until it looks like a lady’s hat at a Brazilian carnival.
Feeling like I’m getting a treat is what gets me through, and my drinks are just as fantastic as everyone’s else’s. I find the simple act of adding a plastic parrot or a paper umbrella to a soft drink, helps me feel a sense of inclusion, like I’m not missing out on the celebration.
So, fill a cool box with a rainbow of your favourite alcohol-free beverages and feel proud that this year you’ll not only remember midnight, you’ll also wake up feeling amazing.
3. Explaining your sobriety – Awkward conversations.
Christmas is often a time when you catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while and if you got sober since your last meeting then there might be some awkward conversations. (there will also be some very beautiful ones!) If you haven’t explained your reasons why, people will be asking questions or perhaps whispering behind your back,
‘What’s wrong with her, why is she not drinking?’
‘I didn’t know she had a drink problem?’
Annoyingly, people will have certain expectations that you’re going to be the same person they partied with last year. Trying to explain that you most definitely are not! is confronting for those that still enjoy a drink, it’s like a reflection of something they want but can’t imagine having and it confuses people. They will feel like they’ve lost you, a reliable drinking partner and that maybe you’re no longer on the same wavelength as them. Lots of unsaid emotions will fill the space between you.
So, you need to be prepared to get a bit of flack and you need to have some responses ready for when you’re interrogated.
The best thing you can do is nip this in the bud, put out the fire before it burns down the house. Call the people that you’re going to see and tell them about why you have chosen sobriety and how much happier you are. If they’re true friends, they will understand. They will support you and stick up for you when anyone tries to vomit their opinion over you. If you talk about your decision not to drink in advance; you won’t have to spend the entire day explaining yourself.
But, there’s always one,
If you come into contact with one particularly unsympathetic, heavy boozer this Christmas, one of those people that hates the concept of a tea-total sober person, (me, three years ago, I’m sorry to admit) then be ready. They will be determined to pounce on you at the first hint of a fizzy water and lime.
Lines such as ‘stop being a total pussy’ might pop up, as might ‘grow some balls’ and ‘What’s your ‘effing problem?’
You can take a deep breath here, just before the predictable,
‘Come on, get a drink inside you, it’s Christmas’
Instead of taking the bait, be strong, stand up straight and be proud... then shoot back an amusing retort. Something that will stop that person and make them think.
I say things like ‘Drinking makes me mentally unwell’
(They usually back off quickly looking a bit scared, especially if you add an animalistic growl at the end.)
Or, ‘I’m not drinking because I don’t want to be a slobbering mess like you’ Slightly offensive but fair.
Or ‘Drinking makes me feel sad’ (then pretend to cry)
Then if those haven’t shut them up? You can try my favourite...
‘Did you know an estimated 5,797 Australians aged 15 and over died from alcohol-attributable causes in 2015 Cancer was responsible for 2,106 (36%) of those deaths while injuries, cardiovascular disease and digestive diseases were the next leading cause (17%, about 1000 deaths each) Breast cancer (18%) and liver disease (15%) were the biggest killers among women; among men, liver disease (18%) and bowel (colorectal) cancer (10%) were the most common conditions caused by alcohol Hospitalisations attributable to alcohol exceeded 144,000 in 2012-13, an average of about 400 a day Alcohol dependence (21%), falls (12%) and alcohol abuse (10%) were the main causes of hospitalisation. That’s why I’m not drinking’
That usually shuts them up.
Sometimes it’s just easier to say nothing. I know when I first got sober, I found it easier to just keep quiet. My sobriety felt very personal to me. Not anyone else’s business but mine and my husbands, so, I didn’t mention it. I had two Christmases where no one even asked me if I was drinking or not. I found if people were getting sloshed, they were so wrapped up in their own blurry world that my actions had no impact upon them. I got away with it and I didn’t have to deal with any questions or any objections. Being secretly sober made my Christmas dinners much more palatable.
I’m not saying keep quiet forever, be loud and proud when you’re ready. But if you can’t bear to reveal your sober truth to anyone quite yet and want to bide your time until your feeling more confident within your sobriety, then stay shtum. It’s your life and you shouldn’t have to explain anything to anybody.
Address it at a time and place that feels safe.
4. Eat more. (is this the best list ever?)
I find eating is a great distraction from drinking. It may mean I put on a few kilos over the Christmas period but at least I haven’t tried to kiss the local vicar under the mistletoe or put the Christmas pudding in the dishwasher. I think allowing yourself to have a few treats to get through alcohol cravings means you’ll avoid FOMO, you won’t feel like you’re missing out and you’re still getting to do something you enjoy.
It’s not all good news, better to pack some healthier snacks too, make some bliss balls and cut up some fruit, dip some strawberries in chocolate and slice up some carrots, otherwise stuffing a kilo of dairy milk into your face and eating enough nuts to feed the entire squirrel population of East Anglia, will end up making you feel tired, bloated and in need of colonic irrigation.
Over- eating will make your first sober Christmas more uncomfortable than the time you passed out and slept an entire night in the dog basket. So, don’t go over the top, moderate the chocolate covered raisins and avoid the cheese platter. Have a nibble plate of healthy treats at your side ready for that moment when a cold beer becomes overly appealing. Those fleeting thoughts of alcohol will pass, and when your driving home listening to your favourite sobriety podcast you’ll be pleased you chose the mince pie over the Caribbean Rum.
5. Be kind to yourself – You’re doing the right thing!
Learning to be the sober person takes time. Everything is new, bright and raw. So, you need to stop and give yourself a little pat on the back now and again. Congratulate yourself when you turn down that Christmas drink, go and point at yourself in a bathroom mirror and say ‘You can do this’ because what you’re doing takes guts, determination and strength.
Giving up drinking should be praised and applauded, but for some reason our culture makes sober people feel like outcasts. Just try and remember that you’re making the best decision for you and your health., stuff modern day drinking culture, time for wine memes and expectations. You are doing something incredible.
The Christmas period does mean you’re putting yourself out there, shining a light on your transformation, but try not to worry what people think about you. Don’t allow the opinions of others effect your choices. For me, letting go of expectation was a huge step forward in my sober journey. Learning that I didn’t have to be the drunkest person in the room to be liked, freed me from the grip of heavy binge drinking. It allowed a better version of me to appear, one that’s more present and doesn’t wake up on Boxing day full of fear and regret with a stranger’s feather boa hanging from my bedpost.
Just be you, this sparkling, shining new version of you.
6. Playing the tape forward - then enjoying the moment.
So, for the newly sober, it’s time to look forward to something for once. I used to dread going to any social events knowing I’d make a massive fool of myself and vomit on my black dress. But now, I look forward, I know nothing embarrassing will happen because I’m in control. I’ve got the tools to deal with anything that comes up, and believe it or not, I know I’m going to have fun and be safe. It’s liberating looking beyond Christmas day knowing I won’t be in bed with a hangover, missing out on watching my children playing with their new toys. Playing the tape forward reminds me that my drinking was toxic, I never had just one, I drank until I fell over. It’s a harsh reminder that drinking made me feel utter shame and anxiety and that it was never ever worth it.
Becoming a sober Christmas elf doesn’t mean your festive time has to be boring. I play stupid games and blow 'Jingle Bells' on my mini party horn, I do the macarena and will even join in the Karaoke. I’ve simply cut out the chaos. That whirlwind that used to follow me around has dissipated and turned into a warm, soft breeze. I’ve become quieter and am happy to sit at the end of the dinner table in a wonky paper hat absorbing the joy of Christmas, soaking up the laughter and being with the ones I love. I’m no longer wasting time thinking about my wine top ups or when’s a good time to suggest jelly shots, that’s all gone, all that’s left is a happy, wonderfully content sober person. It took a few years to get used to but now I manage to enjoy my sober Christmas.
Your first sober Christmas might not be an easy ride, but expect to feel hugely satisfied when you make it through unaided. You just have to be prepared for the bumps, have support nearby, someone to talk you through and bring you down, you need to have your snacks in one pocket and your AF drinks in the other and leave the expectations of others at the door, you have to laugh when granny buys you gin, dance when a hand reaches out for yours and cry when it’s all over.
Then all you have to do is look forward to next year.
All these tips are discussed more in depth on the latest episode of Sober Awkward - Out later today. Just search Sober Awkward wherever you find your podcasts.
My inflatable Santa was a little bigger than I expected!