Holiday Tips for Staying Clean and Sober

Holidays can be a stressful time for many people new and old in recovery.  Here are a few of my favorite tips for staying sober during the holiday, or any other, season.

If you are invited to a party where drinks will be served and you want to go:

  1.  Bring your own beverage.  A bottle of water, a cup of coffee shop wonderfulness or a craft root beer are all good things to have in your hand.  Nobody has ever turned me away with a six-pack of fancy soda or box of expensive tea.
  2. Plan an exit strategy.  Have tickets to a movie or a game; better yet, agree to chair a 10 PM meeting.   Get a sitter for only a few hours, not all night.
  3. It should go without saying, stay away from the bar area.
  4. Food is great.  Make sure to eat things that you actually like, or would like to try.  Ask your host if anything contains alcohol (or these days cannabis).  Watch out for booze-flavored candies and pastries such as bon-bons and tiramisu.   (When in doubt, spit it out.)
  5. Go late enough that the drinkers have only had one or two rounds and leave early.  Being sober, hopefully you will begin to notice that the jokes get re-told, louder and less funny as people become more intoxicated.  After the first two rounds the drinkers usually won’t be able to remember who was there, or for how long.
  6. Have your own ride.  A sense of independence can be a sense of safety.  Leaving, or not going at all, should always be an option.  If it is not, then it may be time to take a hard look at your personal commitment to sobriety.

If I am ever asked why I am not drinking, I claim  a severe allergy to alcohol, even alcohol that has been cooked out of a dish.  (It just so happens that when I drink alcohol I break out…windows…relationships…in handcuffs…in jail.) On this note, I purposely do not eat anything which contains even traces of alcohol or alcohol-flavored foods such as beer-battered onion rings or fish.  Both of the brain cells I have left might get confused and decide that something that tastes good might be good for me again.

Back to the allergy excuse; most people would not press strawberries or green beans on someone who has identified they have an allergy to them.  I have learned that usually the only people who have ever had a problem with me not taking a drink were people who had some sort of perverse relationship with alcohol themselves.    Remember, you never have to answer to anyone who questions your decision to not drink.

Religion and health are both great cop-outs.  Nobody but the biggest dolts or idiots would try to slip an observant Jew or Muslim a slice of bacon or cause a serious athlete to fall off their training and diet regimen.  If you claim religious observance or health consciousness, back it up with your behavior.   Most seasonal holidays have some sort of religious associations to them and revisiting them with a clean and sober perspective may be enlightening.

Bring a game that can be played by both young and old.  Most children will gravitate towards an adult who is willing to pay attention to them, especially if that adult is not intoxicated.  I like dice games and cards because they are portable and not age-specific.

I have been and have used a sobriety partner when I go to holiday parties.  Before going, I have a conversation with my support person, often my wife, about a code word or phrase that either one of us can use to leave immediately, no questions asked, no repercussions or pouting about how much fun they are losing out on that night.  Steely stares and emotional outbursts in the car on the ride home are not much fun; but, they sure beat a hangover or a night in jail.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, nor is it entirely original.  Most of the best stuff that I have gotten has come from someone else that has shared it with me.  What I have shared is things that have worked for me, in my own sobriety.

Enjoy the holidays and remember that whatever you observe, it is just another day sober.

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