My first sober Thanksgiving was spent alone in my apartment where I cooked a feast for myself, including all the classic vegan dyke favorites: lentil loaf, roasted veggies, and savory mushroom gravy. I listened to a lot of blues and wallowed more than I would admit to my friends. Spending your first big holiday without drinking can be very difficult, but you don’t have to isolate yourself in your one-bedroom apartment in order to stay sober. There are plenty of great tips and tricks to keep yourself away from a drink.
Thanksgiving & Holiday Parties
1. Focus on the food
Thanksgiving has passed but we are still in the season for Friendsgivings and incessant holiday parties at work or among social circles. If you’re headed for a potluck I recommend focusing on the food. Throwing myself into making an elaborate series of dishes is the best way for me to keep my mind off of the stress of drinking. If you will be traveling to another person’s house, commit yourself to make something aligned with your cooking abilities. It can be fun to push yourself and make something you saw Ina Garten do flawlessly, so if you’re in the spirit, step outside of your comfort zone. If not, store-bought works fine.
2. Practice setting boundaries
Rehearse a message to use with family and friends to let them know you aren’t and can’t drink. Here’s a little something to get you started: “I actually quit drinking back in XX, so I can’t just have a sip. I’d appreciate support from the family/friend group moving forward with my decision.”
3. Have a backup
Bring your own drink! Make a night of it and have a mocktail bar with just yourself and supportive friends or family members. One Thanksgiving before I got sober I was trying to lessen my drinking, so a friend brought over an Aldi bag full of frozen fruits, coconut water, and sparkling beverages and we made fizzy mocktails all night. You can also bring your favorite nonalcoholic drink. I recommend spicy ginger beer, mango juice, or a warm spiced cider for when the cold has set in.
4. Hit up a meeting or sober party
If you’re a twelve stepper this is probably already in your repertoire. Before traveling home or even if you’re by yourself, find a meeting near you or a sober club if you don’t like the style of traditional meetings. Many meetinghouses know that people struggle a lot during the holidays and so will host “parties.” You may be thinking that nothing is sadder than a bunch of retired drunks dancing, but with the right support group, they can be a lot of fun.
5. Make a gratitude list/gifts
This is reportedly what the season is all about, right? Gratitude lists are big in sober communities. Make yours by starting with your innermost circle: body and things close to you; middle circle: friends, family, community; outermost circle: institutions, societies, entities.
1. Be the best gift-giver
This can be done without spending a shit ton of money on fancy gifts. It gets said in many sentimental ways but making a gift is a great way to keep your hands busy and mind preoccupied during the days before the holiday. Make your friends body butters or candles based on their favorite scents and personalities.
2. Keep your pockets sweet
One thing that is close to the fulfillment you can get from a drink is sugar. Getting sober is notorious for increasing the sugar cravings you have which are probably already spiked from the holiday sweets circuit. Fuck every salacious article you see about avoiding “putting on the pounds” during the season and keep some of your favorite candy in your pocket. Fatphobia isn’t the Christmas spirit! I’m very partial to any sort of sweet mint but have had success with fancy chocolates and date caramels. Christmas is full of great candy and you’ll surely find something portable and delicious.
3. Be in the know
Ask questions about what food was prepared directly with alcohol especially desserts like rum cakes or drunken punches. Vanilla extract is a point of debate in sober communities because it has quite a high alcohol volume. It can be found in almost every dessert you’ll eat; the best way to tackle this is judging for yourself. When baking with it, ask yourself if your intent is to ingest alcohol to get the flavor of vanilla/almond/lemon into your food (once baked you can’t taste it at all so it may not even be an issue for you, but that initial boozy smell can be head-spinning). If it is a huge worry for you, try vanilla bean paste, alcohol-free extracts, or make a simple syrup.
4. Deck the halls
If you’re like me, you love to put yourself in charge of things, so do just that and become chief decorator even if it isn’t your home. Get some tinsel, mistletoe, bells, and candy canes and make the spot a winter wonderland. Make yourself a crown of lights and fake snow, sing carols to your nearest neighbor. Be extra. If the Mariah Carey approach isn’t your style, go ahead and engage in acts of service. Do the dishes, help provide a meal or warm clothing to someone in need.
5. Plan a day outdoors
Go sledding with friends or try to enjoy an icy hike. If you need to get your body moving and as far away from temptation as possible, a great way to do so is to get outside, only to come back in to enjoy a hot chocolate or coffee.
New Years Day/Eve
1. Crush on something else
This one is hard because the point of the holiday is to get drunk or try and kiss someone you have a crush on. Keep the drive to drink away by busying yourself with tonic waters or pop. Go to a local club and dance with your friends to keep yourself moving and smiling.
2. Go to a strictly sober bar/party
This is pretty self-explanatory, but there should be events in your city to go to if the need to party is strong but the lack of friendly options in your cohort is slim.
3. Make a list, read it twice
If you’re content with staying in with a small group this season, flip the script and make a list of the things you have accomplished in 2019 that can be expounded upon in 2020. Resolutions list can often be a bog of lofty goals that end up being abandoned in three to six months. Capitalizing off of what you’ve already accomplished gives those things their due recognition and allows you to mold a realistic future.
4. A new crew
If the friends you usually spend New Year’s with are guaranteed to have an all-night, booze-fueled rager, it might be best to find others to hang out with for the day. In sobriety, friend groups will shift as you change into a person no longer dependent on substances. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your life is making room for your personal growth, you may have to edge out some people that don’t support the changes you’re making.
5. Have an exit strategy
My favorite way to leave a party is to have never shown up in the first place. If you have to be at a dinner or event, have a sober friend on speed dial that you can contact, or they can contact you for when it’s time to get out of there. Prepare a brief but cohesive goodbye to give to the host and a few important people, and haul ass outta there as soon as things get uncomfortable.
Whether it’s your first or your fortieth time through the holidays, it can be incredibly difficult to get through without a drink. Remember that you are not obligated to stay anywhere, if you need to go you can leave. Don’t worry yourself about appearing rude or ungrateful. Sometimes the most important thing is you and not the feelings of others. Enjoy yourself and the spoils of the season without having to worry about the hangover.