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M(3), 12/14/15: ‘Tis the Season to be Sober!


I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in my neck of the woods it could not feel less like the holiday season, it’s so warm!

This, by the way, is not a complaint.  Although I’ve heard a few grumbles from the skiers I know.

Unseasonable weather aside, I had close to a record high number of attendees this morning.  I actually could not accurately count without looking like I was counting, which would mean I was not paying attention to the person sharing, but I’m guessing in the neighborhood of 20 attendees!  And it was a true cross-section of sobriety, one person shared with close to 40 years of sobriety, next was a newcomer with 70 days sober, and after that two people struggling after a recent relapse.

Today we read from what I consider the timeliest book of all the possible selections, Living Sober.  Reading more like an instruction manual than an actual piece of literature, Living Sober gives practical, easy-to-follow suggestions on how to get and stay sober.  I selected what seemed to be the most topical chapter given the upcoming holiday:  “Being Wary of Drinking Occasions.”

Both the chapter, and the subsequent discussion, turned into a comparison of helpful (and unhelpful) strategies for dealing with the prevalence of alcohol in the upcoming weeks.  The reality is that alcohol is everywhere, and it would be impractical to expect the world to stop drinking simply because we choose recovery.

The chapter, and every single person that shared in today’s meeting, agreed on one point:  in early sobriety the best strategy for dealing with alcohol is not to deal with alcohol.  Opt out of the events that center around drinking.  Make excuses to avoid your usual haunts.   Skip the holiday happy hour.

At this point a reader could be protesting, “But that’s impossible!  It’s a required function/I am indispensable/the event cannot go on without me!”  And possibly in a few select cases, this is true.  But it is an amazing thing, when you really break it down, how rare those situations are.  One holiday season can survive without your presence, it truly can.

I was one of those people who figured there was no way of getting around it… holidays did not exist unless I was present.  And since I wasn’t stopping the rest of the world from drinking, then I better learn to deal. As a result, I relapsed habitually.

When I finally took my recovery seriously enough to claim it a priority over social gatherings, an interesting thing happened… those social occasions proceeded quite nicely without me.  Sure, people missed me, but then they continued to enjoy the event.  Soon, I grew comfortable enough with my sobriety to attend drinking functions with serenity.  Not arrogance or cockiness, but with a peaceful ease.

For those occasions where your presence is required alongside alcohol, here are some strategies, a mix from the chapter itself, and the wisdom shared by the group:

  • Arrive fashionably late, particularly if the first hour is cocktail hour.
  • Ensure you have the freedom to leave on your terms.  Don’t carpool with anyone who might insist on staying late.
  • If the event has a bar, make sure you head there first, and order something ambiguous:  ginger ale, tonic, sparkling mineral water.  No one will have a clue if your drink is alcoholic or not!
  • Make sure someone knows that you are planning to attend the function, particularly someone else in recovery.  If possible, arrange to call that person afterwards.  Accountability is key.
  • Remember:  “No” is a complete sentence.  It is not a requirement that you explain to anyone why you are choosing to abstain from alcohol.
  • Plan in advance what you will say if someone asks why you are not drinking.  There are a multitude of options, from the white lie of “I’m taking medication” to the completely candid, “I’m a recovering alcoholic.”  Many more possibilities exist in between those two; pick one and practice it, out loud, until you are comfortable with it.  I have been in the situation where I’ve been caught off guard, and I’ve been in the situation where I’ve rehearsed, and I promise, the latter is the way to go.
  • Bring your own drink with you.  I know people who carry around their own water bottles wherever they go, and will only drink that.  For a fancier function, bring a fancy non-alcoholic drink as your contribution to the party.  The people in my life know I am a huge fan of fountain soda; for a long time I brought a large Diet Pepsi from the nearest convenience store right into the party.  Presto!  The dilemma of anyone asking me what I wanted to drink, solved!
  • Plan to leave before drinking gets out of hand.  My extended family holiday parties can get rowdy as the night wears on.  I have a small phrase I’ve said to my husband, “It’s time.”  He knows this means I recognize the party is changing from regular holiday cheer to drunken antics, and we are typically out the door in under 10 minutes.  And if you understood all the people I had to go around and kiss goodbye individually, you would be very impressed!
  • Offer to be the designated driver.  No one is bugging the DD to drink!
  • Create new, sober holiday traditions to replace the old drinking ones.
  • Gravitate towards the people at the party who don’t drink.  You will be pleasantly surprised to find there are more of those than you ever thought possible!

Alright, that’s what I’ve got to report from this morning’s group, but I’d love to hear from those of you with more ideas… what’s your best sober holiday suggestion?

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20 people at the meeting this morning, it really has been awhile since I’ve seen crowds like this!

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