The festive season is supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’… but it’s also the booziest.
There are parties to navigate, family gatherings and endless occasions where we’re encouraged to ‘celebrate’ with everyone’s favourite drug – alcohol.
This will be my 7th sober Christmas and I’m really looking forward to it.
I consider sobriety to be a lifestyle upgrade – I don’t want hangovers spoiling my fun (or making this hectic time of year any harder than it already is).
But I haven’t always felt this confident.
I know December can be a challenging month if you’ve recently quit drinking or you’re trying to drink less.
Here are 20 tips to help you survive the boozy festive season, sober!
1. Decide you’re not going to drink
I know this sounds so obvious, but seriously – don’t just ‘wait and see’ how you feel. A ‘maybe’ nearly always ends up being a yes (you just do a lot of dithering first!)
Before each event, decide in advance whether you’re going to drink or not. Once the decision is made, move on. You’ve done the thinking bit – now it’s time to take action.
2. Create an empowering playlist
Stamp out any thoughts about being a sober loser or missing out. If you keep telling yourself that you’re going to be bored because you’re AF, then guess what? That probably will happen.
Listen to your favourite songs and focus on what you’ll gain from showing up as your awesome, alcohol-free self. Think about how great you’ll feel afterwards – you’ll be so proud.
3. Act like a non smoker
What I mean by this is own your sobriety. There’s no need to go around apologising for not drinking. (Would you apologise for not smoking? Or not eating meat? I don’t think so.)
You don’t owe anyone an explanation – your decision not to drink is your decision, no one else’s. Click here for some ideas on how to answer the ‘why aren’t you drinking?’ question.
4. Get clear on what each event is about
In this boozy world of ours, it’s easy to forget that parties are about more than drinking. They’re really about humans coming together to connect, socialise and have fun.
Your Christmas meal is about spending time with family. And that work party is about celebrating with colleagues (people who, FYI, you spend most of your time with sober!)
5. Plan your drinks
This isn’t the time of year to be making do with any old drink or leaving things to chance. You deserve to celebrate with something special too! Take control of your drinks and plan ahead.
If you’re going to a party, offer to supply the alcohol free drinks. You’ll be amazed how quickly they disappear. The chances are, other people will appreciate having more choice.
6. Do your research
If you’re going out for a meal or drinks in a bar, check out their website before you go. Most places have a drinks menu online so you can see what AF offerings they have.
I find mocktail menus aren’t always that easy to spot in a busy bar (they tend to put the more expensive, alcoholic options at eye level) so it’s great to have this information in advance.
7. Keep doing the basics
What’s helped you get this far? Maybe there’s a special mocktail you rely on at wine o’clock, a blog you love or a podcast you listen to on your way to work. Keep these habits going.
Whilst your regular routine is likely to change during the festive season, staying in contact with your sober world will help keep you focused and in the right mindset.
8. Give yourself permission to say no
When you’re truly prioritising your sobriety, there’s nothing that you really ‘have’ to do. You can leave early, you can stay at home and you can just say no.
A few hurt feelings are an acceptable price to pay if it keeps you alcohol free. Whenever you feel you ‘have’ to do something, ask yourself – will this matter a month from now, or a year from now?
9. Don’t romanticise alcohol
It’s not what’s in your glass that dictates the success of an evening – it’s the mood you’re in before you go, the people you’re with, the atmosphere, the music and 101 other things!
Drinking at a bad party just means you’re drunk at a bad party. Booze isn’t what makes the festive season special. All it can do is help you numb out from your one and only life.
10. Look out for other non drinkers
Make a conscious effort to do this. Otherwise it’s very easy to talk yourself into believing that you’re the only non drinker on the planet (or at least in the room) and that just isn’t true.
I went to a party in a brewery the other week and even there, I wasn’t the only sober person! There will always be other people who aren’t drinking, even if it’s just because they’re driving.
11. Learn from the kids
Whenever I find myself getting socially anxious, or too stuck in my own head, I find it really helpful to observe how kids interact with one another.
Are they waiting to grab another beer before plucking up the courage to talk to the others? No way. They just get stuck in. We were all kids once, and it really helps to remember that.
12. Make sure you look great
Being alcohol free doesn’t mean it’s not worth making an effort. You aren’t less of a person because you’re sober. You have the same right to be there as everyone else.
So, buy something new to wear. Get your nails done and do your hair. If you look good on the outside, it will help you feel more confident on the inside.
13. Drive yourself
Not only is “I’m driving” an easy way of explaining why you’re not drinking, it’s totally brilliant when you can jump in your car and leave whenever you want.
Offer other people a lift there (and back) if you want to, but don’t feel obliged to stay until the bitter end, unless you’re having tons of fun. You came and now you’re going.
14. Always have a glass in your hand
I think that one reason we love drinking is because it gives us something to do with our hands. It doesn’t matter what’s in the glass, we just need something to hold.
Having a full glass is another great way of turning down any offers of alcoholic drinks. That way all you need to do is look at your glass and say, “No thanks, I’m good.”
15. Confide in someone
Don’t keep your sobriety a secret. When you share your goal with a friend or partner, it helps make it a bit more real, and you get some accountability.
Remember, you’re not asking for their opinion, just their support. If they can’t offer you this, consider looking elsewhere for help. You can find details of my online programme here.
16. Write down your wins
Everyday, write down one or two things that have gone well. What are you proud of? What are you pleased about? Give yourself the acknowledgement you deserve.
Put a reminder on your phone so that you’re prompted to do this every evening before bed. By the New Year, you’ll have a great list to look back on.
17. Make a list of alcohol free things you love about this time of year
I love the Christmas coffee in my local cafe, the pretty lights outside people’s homes, the smell of Christmas candles and the chance to catch up with friends. What do you love?
This is a great exercise to keep your head in the game and your focus in the right place. There’s so much more to the festive season than alcohol.
18. Understand that not everyone is going to ‘get’ it
Things would be so much easier if everyone was open minded and responded to our sobriety in exactly the right way, but life just isn’t like that.
Keep in mind that you’ve quit drinking for you and no one else. This means you don’t need the approval of those around you. You know you’re on the right path, and that’s all that matters.
19. Keep things in perspective
In a few short weeks, this will all be over. In many ways, the festive season is just like any other time of year – there are good bits, bad bits and bits that are just ‘ok’.
If this is your first sober Christmas, take some time out to think about how you want to feel by the time we hit the New Year. You haven’t come this far to only come this far… right?
20. Treat yourself
I say this to my students all the time – just because you’re sober, it doesn’t mean you need to be ‘on’ 24/7. Don’t skip the downtime you’d get if you were drinking. You aren’t superwoman.
You deserve lots of sober treats and rewards, because having the courage to go against the grain is a big deal. Take extra good care of yourself – you’re awesome.
Now let me know…
What are the tips and tricks that get you through the festive season? What will you be focusing on over the coming weeks?
Leave me a note in the comments below – I know so many people head there for encouragement and support.
Hi Kate! Great post! Last year, my father in law – who speaks another language, and may not know for sure I’m sober – plunked beer, champagne, wine, tequila in front of me at a big dinner with about 20 people in attendance. I laughed it off, but then it felt like it could be a situation. So I excused myself and went to bed, I was staying with them. Best sober advice I’ve heard: go to bed early. I wrote for a couple of hours, reflecting on the year before and the one to come. Merry Christmas, and happy 2020! xx
Going to bed early is often the best thing to do! Well done on handling a tricky situation, and happy 2020 to you too 🙂
This will be my 3rd sober Christmas and I like to focus on self care when things are getting tough. A nice candle lit bubble bath with a good book and an early night is my idea of heaven. Up early and feeling great to enjoy the things that matter…. family time. Also if I am going out I make sure I look my best, happy in the knowledge that there won’t be any sloppy drunken photos of me on social media the next day. Merry Christmas to all
Yes… I love that there are never any cringe-worthy photos of me the next day! And you can’t beat a good bubble bath 🙂
I’ll be sober for 2 months on December 10th, my first sober holiday season in many years. I suppose I’m fortunate that I live with my sweetheart in a somewhat remote area, and pretty much just go to my work (in a restaurant that thankfully does not serve alcohol) and then go home. My boyfriend is very supportive of my choice to embrace sobriety. I’ve already discovered that most of my acquaintances were drinking pals, and they disappeared upon hearing of my lifestyle change. So no parties, no large family gatherings and basically no social scene to navigate. I guess my deepest struggle is the time I spend doing things I always did with a glass of wine in hand. Cooking and baking (certainly more this time of year), taking a bubble bath or watching my favorite movies. These are the times I really crave a drink. It’s getting a little easier. I just keep trying different things. Coffee and tea. I guess my biggest confusion is how I learned to associate an alcohol high with such normal activities that are pleasant in their own right? I am grateful for what I have, and I feel much better as a sober person. I focus on that as much as I can. Sometimes are harder than others…
I always have an alcohol free beer in the fridge for getting home from work and for cooking. There are some great ones now and it’s all I need. The swig and the bottle. Don’t miss the alcohol at all. Indeed now I’m not a bit tipsy by the time the food is cooked. Hooray for freedom.
Someone once said to me, “nothing good happens after midnight”. I tended to ignore that advice in my drinking days, but in sobriety it’s a mantra that has served me rather well; I go home without any guilt or FOMO. I’ll be one year sober on 1st January thanks to your course, Kate.
That is so true! I’ve stayed long past midnight before and nothing good came of it – the best part of the night was much earlier. Congratulations on your sobriety Mary – always good to hear from you and I’m excited to see you celebrate 1 year soon ❤️
THANK YOU for your effort to help others to be alcohol free!!! Your suggestions are GREAT!!!
I’m SO thankful that I was born into an alcohol free family, and the pressure to drink has never been an issue for me. My aunt was a member of the WCTU, and asked me, at the age of 12, to sign a pledge promising God that I would never drink alcohol. I did, and continue to carry that pledge. It helped me to be strong, faithful to myself and God, through my teenage years and my husband’s work parties.
Throughout my lifetime I have been privileged to work with children and youth educating and encouraging many to also sign the pledge. It has been a blessing when a youth, as an adult, returns to thank me and to tell me that they use that pledge as an excuse not to drink!
Keep up the GOOD work!!
I think your comment above: ‘Drinking at a bad party just means you’re drunk at a bad party. Booze isn’t what makes the festive season special. All it can do is help you numb out from your one and only life’ is one of the best pieces of advice on this topic I’ve ever had. It’s SO TRUE. So often I’ve gone to events I didn’t really want to go to and got drunk simply from boredom. Thank you! Roll on my first sober Christmas!
Thanks Vanessa! Wishing you an amazing, alcohol-free Christmas! 🙂
Last year, I informed my family that I had an AA meeting at 6pm on Christmas evening. I went, and it was the most well-attended meeting at that particular venue that I had been to!
Number 20 all the way. My first sober holiday I created a role for myself clearing up the detritus of partying, finding lost phones, purses, keys and dignity; ministering angel with the paracetamol and water, the fried breakfast run, the washing and tumble drying . Often self pitiful, feeling put upon, left out- then it clicked – it was my choice to be sober as it was theirs to drink and it was my choice to act like Cinderella! Years in, I’m happy to drive to and also from, if you leave when I am; I make sure there’s something I love in every night out- music, theatre, a quiz, food, conversation – and skip those that are all about the rounds of alcohol . I love children’s carols, open fires, candlelight, new books, frosty walks and my chosen family of friends and that’s where I’ll be indulging this year
I love this post Felicity! Such great points here. No more playing Cinderella 🙂
Well I have just joined this journey, I was actually reading it last night with wine in hand, knowing that my journey was to start today 3rd Dec 2019
A very hard time of year to start however I am looking at this as the best time, if not now when!
I am 63 a lot of drinking years behind me, I have tried before but this has been the best encouraging course I have read, it makes me feel I can do this.
That’s great to hear Vicki, well done for going for it and getting started. If you need any more support to make this change happen for you, take a look at my online course – the next one starts in a few weeks: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
Hi Vicki – I took the Sober School course last January, at 68, with over fifty years of drinking behind me. In 29 days I will be alcohol free for a year. It’s never too late. Rose F
I think the best advice is number one, just decide you are not going to drink. Then, take care of yourself, get to the basics and relish the true meaning of the season. I am looking for a new mocktail; I’ve been quite satisfied with my grapefruit juice and Fever Tree light tonic, but going to look for something special for the holiday.
I’m just starting my journey too Vicki, AF for 2 days. I just turned 60, major milestone and have spent my entire adult life (with the exception of 2 pregnancies) drinking too much. While I never had a real rock bottom, and no one would know by looking at me or my life, I know I have missed out on opportunities and relationships over the years as I was numbing my life with wine. I have been reading Kate’s blogs and find them extremely inspirational. I too feel, if not now – when?
Good luck Vicki. I stopped drinking at 64. I will be celebrating 3 years alcohol-free on Jan 1. The best years of my life so far! Go for it!
if not now when? that’s really hit home. day 1 again but still trying!
Keep going Ailin!
All good reminders and for me not romanticizing alcohol hits home. I get my mind straight on what booze is and what it will do to me. I picture myself at the party looking good with clear eyes and having fun. I also plan to stay for two hours most because after that there isn’t much else to say and drinkers are not fun by that point. People talk louder and get sloppy. No thanks! Happy to drive myself home and know I have nothing to regret the next day!!
Picturing yourself looking good and having fun is a great visualisation technique! And being able to drive home at the end of the night is always so nice 🙂
Hi Kate, I’m 31 days sober and am absolutely dreading Christmas, I am a binge drinker, it’s either all of nothing, I have been getting plastered for the last 10-15 years mostly one or two nights a week, my family were falling apart and I didn’t care, I couldn’t understand what they’re problem was, I’ve hurt myself, fallen down stairs, locked myself in bathrooms, fallen while walking home, passed out……. oh now that I’m thinking about it the list could go on and on, I’m so ashamed of myself. On November 1st it was one of my Friday night binges and I was in my sisters house…. she got fed up with me and told her 17 year old son and partner it was time to get me home…. (how embarrassing) on my way down the path I fell and burst my head, blood everywhere (I’m also on warfarin for a blood clotting disorder) when they finally picked me up and got me home covered in blood my husband took one look at me and walked away in sheer disgust, my 13 year old daughter helped me upstairs (while crying) and cleaned up my head and kept pressure on it to stop the bleeding, I just kept crying and saying sorry, poor mite was crying too, she finally got me to sleep and slept beside me to keep a check on me, he stayed on the couch in disgust yet again. I woke up the next morning to a very sore head both from drink and from the fall, my clothes were covered in blood, and so was the bed. No one was talking to me, I apologize again as again and spent most of the day crying with disgust at myself, I promised my husband and my two daughters that was the last time and so far I haven’t taken a drink, I still feel such a let down and am finding it hard….. as for Christmas I really don’t know how I’m going to stay sober but I’ve decided to use some of your tips like drive to the Christmas party for work but talking my drink loving relations who I normally get drunk with that I’m not drinking at Christmas is going to be a nightmare, one especially who is seriously fond of the drink and will not take no for an answer and who would nearly pour it down my neck, that’s going to be the hardest. I feel better in myself but have been tempted several times but I keep thinking of my daughter that night and I know I have to do this. I love Christmas but I love the celebration side of it so I’m just going to sit myself down and use some of your tips which I think are great by the way. I’m sorry for the long message but it has taken me four weeks to get up the courage to admit to my shame and disgust with myself and for all the things I’ve done wrong. Feeling very down reading this back…..
This is like my story! I fell over and really damaged my knee. This was in front of work colleagues ( and I’m the manager) so was mortifying! Just had Xmas do this year which I was dreading for the same reason of applying me with alcohol. In the end I found the best thing was to be honest. That worked for me. Good luck. Btw the feeling the following morning having been to a party and enjoyed it, without a hangover or guilt is so so so worth it!!
I will not be drinking at Christmas time. Christmas dinner is at my home and I will drink fruit juice. I am also very lucky and grateful. My brother and his wife have also stopped drinking so things will be much easier for me. I also like to remind myself that the festive season is about family and friends not alcohol! I don’t want to wake in the morning with a hangover not remembering much and having to face a cleanup! I also used to fall a lot how embarrassing. This year will be great. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone stay strong we are all champions.
Thank you for your understanding and advice, it’s really appreciated, work party this Friday night so fingers and toes crossed, thank you again