Christmas is a time of high anxiety for almost everyone. But if this is your first Christmas moderating your drinking habits or going alcohol-free, it is an especially challenging time of year.
The good news is that if you can get through this significant ‘first’ with your goals intact, you can get through almost anything life throws at you in 2018!
So what might be worrying you most? Here are Club Soda members’ top 8 Christmas fears about alcohol answered.
No one likes feeling like the odd one out (well maybe I revel in it slightly), but generally at a boozy Christmas event if you are not drinking you can feel very self-conscious. This becomes more obvious the more other people drink, because the jokes are just not that funny when you hear them for the fifth time. So what can you do?
Make sure you have something in your hand to drink so you can deflect offers of another round or questions about why you are not drinking. They just compound those feelings of difference. So get to the party slightly early or slightly late, so you can get your own drink in without being part of rounds. You can even have a word with the bar staff who can queue up an alcohol-free ‘usual’ for you. So even if someone else comes to the bar for you they can just ask for ‘Elaine’s usual’.
Take your own drink if you can (or just a small bottle of cordial to pimp your fizzy water). If you are moderating, then delaying your first alcoholic drink as long as possible will allow you to make a more conscious decision about what you want to do with the night.
All well and good, but this does not help you cope with drunk people. For this, you have to remember a few things. There will be other people there who are not drunk. Honestly, there will be others moderating or alcohol-free too. Seek them out – there is strength in numbers!
Plan to leave early, drunk colleagues won’t notice and won’t really care (and won’t remember by the next morning). Arrange a supermarket food delivery or a frozen yoghurt stop on the way home as a treat. You don’t have to stay anywhere where you are not enjoying yourself. So feel confident that when you are ready, you can go home. If that is hard, take some time out – an extra long loo stop, a walk around the block, or check out the venue you are in and find a quiet corner.
Finally, if you are tempted to drink or drink more than you planned, fast forward to tomorrow morning. How good will you feel compared to everyone else around you? You could even plan an activity for the following morning, to keep you motivated to feel fresh.
This is a common Christmas fear, but the member who asked it actually answered her own question: ‘…I never stopped at tipsy!’ If we could stop at one or two glasses when that hazy feeling kicks in, then we would not be looking to change our habits now. So what you need to change is your perceptions of missing out.
Is drinking until you can’t remember what happened missing out? Or is being present for the whole day, giving your family (or yourself) all your attention the real point of the day? Imagine remembering what you watched and the games you played, is that not opting back into life? Is wasting tomorrow in a hungover state missing out? Or is that day now a blank canvas to do something fun with? A whole extra day ‘doing’ rather than recovering?
List the things that bring you joy – you now have time to do them! Often we choose drinking instead of doing the things that make us happy. We spend time talking about our great plans for things to do but end up with no energy to do them. Whilst there may be some things you like doing that alcohol may have helped happen – is it really true you can’t do them and enjoy them without wine as an aid? Well, you won’t know until you try! So get scheming and start practising joyful things without alcohol. It will be different … but also brilliant!
You do not need anyone’s permission to not drink. You owe no one an explanation. But we know it doesn’t work that way. So find a way to describe your new mindful drinking or alcohol-free lifestyle that works for you and practice saying it out loud – when asked, you can say it without missing a beat and with confidence.
If you are still drinking moderately you may have to deal with the ‘but I saw you drinking last week so you can’t be cutting down’ response from your buddies. Again be clear: ‘Yes, which is why I am not drinking tonight. Today is not one of my drinking days and that, my friend, is my last word on the subject!’ (Note: they are just jealous of your self-control so allow yourself a little inner smile at this point too!)
A fellow Club Soda member had the best response to this dilemma. We often fear that “drinking problem” is what people think, but it is not the case at all. It is just your perception:
“I used to worry that I was painting a big red “ALCOHOLIC” on my forehead by NOT drinking. I don’t feel that way anymore. I am now a NON-DRINKER – I am simply ALCOHOL-FREE. My reasons are my own and frankly anyone who “judges” me can kiss my ruby red non-alcoholic XXX”
Who set the rule that you have to be smashed for the whole of Christmas? Is drinking really a treat or reward for a few days off work? It is a bit worrying if you think about it. How did we ever get to a place where a majority of people think you can’t enjoy yourself without alcohol?
Think back. Are the arguments you get into drunk really ‘enjoying’ yourself? Is the hangover you get really a reward?
Again you need to twist this perception on its head and use logic as your guide. Surely the best way to enjoy time with loved ones (or deal with those that try your patience) is to be present the whole day, give them and yourself the attention you deserve and treat yourself well on your holiday. Then you will be fresh and lively on the following days off! Win-Win!
The key word in this dilemma is not ‘wine’ but ‘escape’. You can still escape from situations without the aid of alcohol. Admittedly you may not be able to run away for the whole of Christmas day, but along with avoiding and controlling, escaping is a strategy you can use to deal with a situation that is getting out of control or testing your resolve.
Take some time out (even plan in advance how and when you may do this). Plant a book in the garden shed for later, take a long bath, go for a walk, whatever you need to do. Just so you know you can take some time out when the family gets a bit heated.
If that’s impossible then plan ways to get people to leave you alone for a bit. Send your family, partner, parents, kids, friends…whoever you’re spending Christmas with, on a mission somewhere or give them a task. Then grab your favourite alcohol-free treat and give yourself twenty minutes.
Make sure you are never hungry or thirsty on Christmas day, so you feel no compulsion to hit the f**k-it button.
You are drinking less and have a clear head, so dedicate some of your extra brain capacity to working out how to do less.
Does everything have to be ‘perfect’? What can you not do? Who can you ask to help you with some tasks (go on and try, you may be surprised as to who steps up)? Can you make a last minute booking at a local restaurant where someone else serves the food and does the washing up?
Protect your sobriety or mindful drinking goals at all costs. If that means asking for help then do it. If you need to lower your high standards for the big day then go ahead. It is not forever.
Changing your drinking habits is not always easy, but it is not always hard either. You may have to temporarily change some Christmas traditions until you feel more confident, or you may need to create some new ones. You can still be a party house, but maybe the party is now just a bit different from last year.
Was being the party house always that much fun? Was it an excuse to get drunk more often than usual? What were the days after the party like? Assess the reality rather than the myth.
What is it you enjoy most about seeing the people that used to come over? Can you recreate some of that in a new way? It may feel different but it does not mean it will be worse or unbearable.
Think about the people you want to see. Do they all have to come at once? Can you spread the joy of connecting with people over a longer period of time, and do different things; walks, market visits, watch panto, brunch – different types of fun? You don’t have to google for long to find all the things that people who don’t drink have been doing when we were not watching.
You don’t have to be a party house, you can become the person that finds and organises the best things to do over the Christmas period. Hire that minibus and take your tribe on tour!
We all have a drink that we associate with this time of year. I used to enjoy shopping around for the best price for Baileys. Most of the time it is a tipple that has a higher amount of alcohol too, and Christmas gives us an excuse to drink it in large quantities (don’t look at me like that, you know it is true!). I used to drink Baileys, port and brandy in the same quantities as wine and cider, all in the name of Christmas cheer. What a dickhead.
Spend some time finding your new favourite Christmas alcohol-free tipple. Buy lots of it so it is always at hand and make sure no one else nicks it! You can create new associations. After all, liking alcohol is a learnt behaviour. You can learn to like something else. Hit the alcohol-free section in Tesco and start experimenting. Check our social media pages for ideas, such as our “12 drinks of Christmas” countdown. There is even an alcohol-free Baileys recipe (it is mostly sugar!). By next year the smell of that port will repel you!