How To Thrive As A Sober Queer During The Holigays

holiday illustration: cola cans, a december calender marked with hearts, and a pile of delicious holiday treats and food

Five years ago, I hadn’t even taken off my snowy boots in the decorated foyer of my childhood home before my mom asked me to help her with the holiday preparations and make the Irish cream.

My face froze.

“You want me to what?” I asked, thinking I’d heard wrong.

“Go make the Irish cream, please,” she replied, cheerily bustling about. “I need to put it in the gift baskets for tonight and haven’t even made it yet and OH MY GOD is it really 6 p.m. already?”

About eight months sober at that point, I had two thoughts scream through my mind at nearly the same time – first, “Oh hell yeah, all the whiskey at my fingertips” quickly followed by, “Oh hell no, this is cruel.”

I said nothing, put down my bags, changed into my slippers, went to the kitchen and began pouring all the ingredients into the blender – heavy cream, instant coffee, chocolate syrup, condensed milk, and of course, a healthy helping of Canadian whiskey. Staring warily at the half-gallon jug like it would bite me, I threw caution to the wind and picked it up to measure out cups of the golden liquid. I smelled it, dredging up memories of drunkenness and failure, and began to pour.

Then, like it was the most natural thing in the world, it spilled over the rim of the measuring cup. It felt cosmically personal. Of course the whiskey would splatter onto my hands, and of course the initial response tracking through my body was to just lick it up. But instead, I just looked at it, unsure what to do because I already knew the truth about myself: One taste would be too much.

Giving up booze the April before, I knew I’d be careening into the holidays eventually, but I didn’t really understand how difficult it would be to exist as a sober person in the land of hot toddies and spiced rum and mulled wine and hot schnapps-colate.

Alcohol is everywhere, something I hadn’t noticed until I was trying to avoid it, but holidays are especially boozy. Crystal punch bowls offer sugary-sweet surprise concoctions at parties, sure to shoulder some of that seasonal-depression for you; holding paper cups steaming with hot cider and whiskey while standing outside, giving you a booze layer to wear under your thermals and ward off the chill.

And then add how I was using alcohol – as a crutch, as a coping skill, as my only means of stress relief – to the ever-tense specter of forced family time, and well, you’ve got a blizzard of feelings, a storm that booze used to help me numb out and quiet down.

But without it, I walked into that holiday season a naked, raw nerve, as opposed to a drunk, naked, raw nerve. Never one for the Christmas spirit – except if I’ve had some Christmas spirits – the prospect of being sober through all of the green and red and mistletoe and caroling and sitting for extended periods talking to people I haven’t seen in months or years seemed overwhelming. But a big part of my sobriety was learning how to handle these socially uncomfortable situations on my own, without alcohol holding my hand or greasing the skids. It was a chance to practice my other coping skills, which, like muscles, will atrophy without use.

My first plan of attack was to remind myself that I’d been sober for about 260 days, and that’s a lot of days in a row. Did I want to end my streak? No. I was, and still am, very self-competitive about it (1,679 days as of this writing).

Which brings me to the next step in this coping skill: Remind myself that beyond those 260 days, I’d survived every day of my life so far. I’d made it, maybe not gracefully, maybe not perfectly, but I was alive and functioning. I had resilience in me somewhere, and I needed to find a well of it within myself because I hadn’t found it in bottles or barrels or pint glasses.

OK, so I’m sober and I’m alive, and those are two miracles in and of themselves, but now what? What about all the holiday parties and general frivolity of the season?

It’s easier to get through these events once I figured out how to not take other people’s drinking personally. That seems like a simple idea, but when I first sobered up, I was enraged about other people’s seemingly casual relationships with alcohol, a relationship I could never master within myself. I wasn’t mad at them, but I was painfully jealous and ashamed about what I assumed was a character flaw that only I possessed, in that I couldn’t drink just one or two beers and socialize. No, instead I needed to know there would be a steady supply of alcohol and a party atmosphere so no one noticed how many times I went back to get another one.

The secret to getting over this was a) realizing that I am not, in fact, the only one who might have trouble with alcohol, a realization I came to after being sober long enough to watch other people be drunk, and b) time.

The latter one I can’t do much about, sorry to say, but I can say eventually, after about a year, the jealousy of drinking lessened for me and it became less about my personal failings and more about seeing how other people didn’t seem to recognize theirs.

text: food image: a pile of holiday treats and food

One of the biggest bonuses of being sober during the holidays is the food. Nearly every holiday event has food, which I didn’t really know because I was focused on the bar and if it was free. Now that I don’t have that distraction, there’s an amazing bounty of treats and cookies and meats and even entire houses made from candy and gingerbread.

text: so many meetings image: a december calendar marked with hearts

Also, though I’ve not gone the Alcoholics Anonymous route myself, AA (and Narcotics Anonymous, any group really) is reliable during the holidays, because it’s overwhelming for so many people.

text: byob image: a can of cola

And for those times when I socialized with people outside of my family during the holidays, I made sure to bring my own seltzer or Diet Coke. This serves two purposes: I knew I’d have something to drink, and if I poured it into a cup, people would stop bothering me about having something to drink.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten, “Why aren’t you drinking?” at parties. Being sober when you don’t really want to be is hard enough, but people asking you about a super personal issue as if they’re making small talk about the weather is excruciating.

(Shout out to non-sober people: Stop asking this question!)

Even with all those coping skills, the idea in which I found the most solace was that fulfilling a momentary desire would make me feel intense regret in the morning. It might not sound comforting, but knowing that regret would eclipse the immediate discomfort I felt not drinking helped keep those urges in check. I knew I wouldn’t wake up wondering if I had to apologize to someone, or if I’d said too much to my mom or my sisters, giving myself and my secrets away. I wouldn’t wake up with a hangover, and I wouldn’t have the sneaking suspicion that I’d fucked up somewhere and couldn’t place it.

Because I knew there was no possibility of “I’ll have just one booze-nog to celebrate,” just like I knew there wouldn’t be coming back from licking up the whiskey that had spilled on my hands in the kitchen.

That day in the kitchen when my mom asked me to make the Irish cream, after a few moments contemplating my next move, the desire to keep my non-drinking streak alive and avoid soul-crushing disappointment in myself for giving in won out. I unspooled a paper towel and mopped up the stray whiskey and threw the damp paper towel in the trash, an action that both made me proud because I knew I’d made the correct choice and bummed me out because I’d thrown away perfectly good whiskey.

That Christmas set the tone for the next five years of holidays for me. It was sloppy, it wasn’t perfect, and I struggled, but somewhere inside of my chest, the idea that my future and myself were worth fighting for took root. I didn’t know it then, but through that one, small action of standing up for myself and my sobriety, I’d given myself the gift of trusting myself, and with every passing holiday and year, that small seed of hope blossoms.

Now, when I go to my parents’ house for the holidays, I’ll still offer to make the Irish cream, much to my mom’s delight. “Molly makes it the best,” she told a visitor dropping off presents and, in turn, taking home a quart of the Irish cream. “She’s got a heavy hand with that whiskey.”


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Molly Priddy is a writer and editor in Northwest Montana. Follow her on Twitter: @mollypriddy

Molly has written 27 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. I’ve never been a big drinker and since my early 20s I’ve been almost but not quite teatotal and have had to frequently deal with people asking me why I don’t drink, as if the idea was incomprehensible.

    Then a few years ago I started taking medication which means I have been totally teatotal through necessity (which is surprisingly frustrating to not have the choice). Since then though I quite often answer the “why don’t you drink” question with “I can’t due to medication” because people understand that reason better, but every time I answer like that I feel a little bit annoyed with myself. (It kind of feels like answering the question “do you have a boyfriend/husband?” with a simple “no”)

  2. Thank you for this, especially the “Why aren’t you drinking?” paragraph! It’s suuuuch a personal question, particularly because people often ask it in a way that implies “Why are you allergic to fun?” Even rephrasing to something like “Can I get you a drink?” is way less loaded and allows room for a reply like “Nah, I have to drive home” or “Not right now but maybe later” without placing the burden on the respondent to potentially divulge some pretty heavy stuff about their religious/moral beliefs, personal/family history of alcoholism, etc.

  3. thanks for this, molly! i feel really fortunate that my family holiday traditions don’t include alcohol, but i skipped my job’s holiday party because i didn’t want to have the “no i don’t drink, i just don’t like it” conversation 100x in a row. i appreciate you sharing your own story.

  4. Thank you for writing this, Molly. <3

    I'm nearing the 2-year mark of my sobriety and every day I know it's the best gift I've ever given (and can keep giving!) myself. Being able to trust myself, as you put it, means so much.

    Have wonderful holidays & enjoy all the delicious festive food!

  5. <3
    This was great! I never drink, never have, and won't, and the questions about my not drinking are sooo tiresome. Like yes I still want to be invited out, no I personally don't mind if you are drinking, no don't ask me if I want one, and no I'm not missing out.
    I don't know if it's available everywhere, but may I suggest Martenellis sparkling Marionberry apple cider! It is so good and even better mixed with lemonade! Personal favorite non alcoholic drink

  6. First off, congrats on 1679, that’s an enormous accomplishment. Thanks for haring this inspirational story of overcoming temptation and knowing yourself Molly 🙂 I haven’t had a drink in over 400 days now and I’m just glad that it’s gotten easier with time, but the fist holidays was difficult. It wasn’t so much the inability to drink as a sober gal, but the uneasiness with family knowing that this was like the 50th time I’d attempted to stop. We need each other’s stories to stay motivated though and this was refreshing to read. I can especially relate to the uncomfortable feeling that you talked about when offered a drink, but that also get’s better with time and I find myself talking more about my sobriety when people ask me if I want a drink. Fortunately, this will be my second holiday season without a hangover, blacking out, a fed up wife or an embarrassing morning apology. It’s all still really scary for me, but like you, things continue to get better in almost every aspect. Happy sober holidays!

  7. Congrats on your sobriety! I stopped drinking about 10 months ago – I’m not an alcoholic, but drinking a) did not bring out the best in me and b) made me feel like garbage mentally and physically. After finally saying no to offers of beer at parties or to meet friends at bars, I realized the only reason I kept drinking at all was because everyone else is. All the damn time. I still haven’t figured out how to navigate conversations about why I’m not drinking without wanting to slam my head into the wall. I can only imagine how much more annoying and hurtful it is for someone with an addiction; thank you for sharing this.

  8. Coming from a Muslim family, Christmas isn’t really much of a thing (well we’d take up friends’ invites) and our Muslim celebrations don’t do alcohol because, well, HARAMMM. But my family still drinks, and in the last few years I’ve been trying to see whether I am too close to developing an alcohol problem, mostly due to an ex who projected her very obvious problem onto me and then accused *me* of projecting.

    Being involved in both tech/games and the arts means there’s alcohol EVERYWHERE, especially at conferences where free drinks start even before sunset. It’s at events like these where my alcohol fears come up: there’s an expectation to have at least one drink, usually two, but when this becomes a daily thing it’s easy to wonder “am I binging unhealthily or am I just on vacation or what”? I feel like queer circles can have this problem often and we as a community really need to talk more about alcohol as a cornerstone of socializing.

    Thank you for this <3

  9. Thank you so much for this. I could acutely relate to the spilled-whiskey story, & am happy to be going into the holidaze with 1,590 days sober myself. It does get easier, but then sometimes it unexpectedly gets hard again, so everyone take really good care of yourselves! (And each other! Offer to get your sober friend a soft drink so she doesn’t have to approach the bar! Taste the chocolates to make sure they aren’t full of booze!)

  10. I really enjoy mixing drinks, exploring new recipes and craft beer and cocktails, etc., the same way I enjoy experimenting with cooking and new ingredients. But there are situations where alcohol is not the right choice for everyone: people don’t like the taste or how it makes them feel, staying sober, designated drivers, pregnant people, new patents, etc. I’m currently trying to conceive, so during the two weeks that I wait to find out whether or not my wife and I have been successful, I’m a complete teetotaler. But the pressure to drink–from peers, people at parties, just to have something tastier than juice or water–can suck. So I’ve been developing alternatives.

    There are all sorts of good “mocktail” recipes, including my favorite summertime beverage, which is basically a mojito with water substituted for white rum (still minty and limey and refreshing)! But lately I’ve been on a fancy soda kick. My favorite brand is Q, a super pretentious mixer and soda manufacturer that can be found at Target. I’m currently addicted to their ginger beer, which is not sweet (unlike ginger ale) and has a super fizzy and very spicy kick that is way more exciting than you’d initially think from a soda. Stoli also makes a good ginger beer that is sweeter with less spice. I’ve also been enjoying lemonade or sparkling water with herbs such as mint or sage or thyme, or muddling berries into water and juices. I also make non-alcoholic “mimosas” (you can feel fancy and brunchy! before work, even!) with orange juice, peach nectar, and Perrier.

  11. My best friend just celebrated her 1000th day of sobriety…in the beginning, it was a thing we talked about a lot, but as sobriety has become a part of her daily life, it’s something that she mentions less and less. I mention that just to say that I’m grateful for this post and the insight into what she might be going through this holiday season…

  12. i’m 100 days clean and sober today. in two weeks i’ll fly home to spend christmas with my dad’s side of the family, like i always do. a huge part of christmas every year has been my cousins and me spending a shitton of time in the basement using my drug of choice and then coming upstairs to join everyone in their drinking. i’m not worried about relapsing because i know that using is a dead end for me and i’ve relapsed enough times to be completely sure that i cannot use substances successfully or responsibly, but i do feel like i’ll be missing out. these days i don’t want to use so much as i want to be *able* to use. i wish one drink or one hit or one whatever didn’t so quickly spiral so far out of control but the fact is that it just does and there’s only one thing i can do about it: don’t use. no matter what. i haven’t yet hit the part of recovery that people in the rooms promise is coming where my life becomes better than i ever could have imagined and recovery exceeds all my expectations. i’m just clean, at the mercy of my emotions, and fucking exhausted. but i’m grateful that i’m stubborn enough to keep going.

  13. I like this I like this I NEEDED this. Last weekend at a party I caved to peer pressure and took a very tiny, entirely inconsequential sip of fancy whiskey just to get my friends / family to stop hassling me (“OH MY GOD, TASTE THIS WHISKEY”).

    Whiskey was never my drink – I think it tastes like a dry heave, and it triggers immediate, terrible headaches – so I knew I wouldn’t throw my sobriety away with that one sip, but I still felt shitty about it.

    I have a reputation in my immediate family for being Prickly, unable to take a joke, no fun to be around, especially to my mother. Recently, social outings with her go like this:

    Mom’s Friend: “can I get you a drink?”

    Me: “I’m fine! I don’t drink :)”

    Mom’s Friend: “Oh wow! That’s great! I wish I could do that” *laughs, looks at my mother*

    My Mother: *rolls eyes* “yeah, she’s real fun at parties”

    THIS BOTHERS ME?? My mom makes punchlines out of things that she’s anxious / embarrassed about. I do the same thing! I GET IT, I DO! BUT: It’s really annoying when parts of your life & personality are the things that your mom makes anxiety-jokes about.

    • Also I find it very telling that my entire immediate family’s reaction to my sobriety – a personal decision that I made for my own self – was to take it as a personal attack on their own drinking habits

      • Unfortunately this isn’t uncommon, and it’s one of the reasons some people find it so hard to stop drinking (because it alienates them from their social circle / family).

        Also it is totally valid for you to be bothered by your mom’s response – that’s fucked up. I’m sorry you have to put up with that, but glad that you seem to have the presence of mind not to let it interfere too much with your choices.

      • I usually say “thanks” in a really dry way bc if I call her out on this she gets really defensive and in a bad mood and says that she’s not allowed to say ANYTHING, is she?? And then is kinda mopey and down on herself but in a very prickly, defensive way, and then she stress picks her fingernails or pointedly plays words w/ friends on her phone

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