This article may be triggering for some. If you or someone you love is in need of support, Lifeline (13 11 14) is available 24/7, free of charge.
There’s no shortage of reasons you might be sticking to sobriety this holiday season and beyond. Still, nothing tests your resolve quite like a loved one going on a political rant, or interrogating you about your life decisions, or otherwise pushing your buttons in a way only family can. For many of us, family time is like alcohol consumption: It’s best in careful moderation.
Just because your family tests your patience or causes stress, that doesn’t mean you don’t love them; and just because they’re drinking alcohol or questioning your reasons for sobriety, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t support you. Regardless, it’s helpful to have a strategy in place to survive a sober holiday around family. According to Dr. Deni Carise, chief scientific officer at Recovery Centres of America, it’s important to “acknowledge that [triggers to drink] are in your life, identify what or who they are, and plan accordingly.”
Here are some concrete tips to get through family-time-merriment without reaching for the bottle.
Anticipate your triggers
You know your family — and yourself — better than anyone. “You need to put yourself and your sobriety first, always,” Carise writes. “People who love you and want the best for you will respect that. Anyone else can go deck the halls.”
Mentally prepare yourself for how different loved ones will react to your sobriety, as well as any other behaviours they display that typically tempt you to drink. Consider writing a list with potential triggers in one column, and then your prepared response to them in the other.
Tell people you won’t be drinking ahead of time
Accountability is key. As we approach the self-improvement season — which is what I call the time period surrounding New Year’s Resolutions — you’ll hear this tip again and again. Alerting other people to your goals is a surefire way to hold yourself to them. And as long as you’re comfortable sharing your sobriety pledge, this tactic helps prevent people from offering you drinks in the first place. In the event that someone tries to push you to drink, you’ll have others supporting you. Plus, the act of telling others you won’t be drinking will help to reaffirm your motivations in the first place.
Keep your hands busy
This tip is simple yet effective. Try to always have a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand in order to curb alcoholic temptations. Make sure to check that there will be non-alcoholic options available to you, or be extra safe and bring your own. Who doesn’t love a mocktail?
Additionally, you can stay busy by offering to help with dishes or wrangle any kids running around. Not only will you be distracted from alcohol, you’ll be winning the host’s heart.
Visualise your strategy
Visualisation is a powerful tool to prepare for difficult tasks. While you’re anticipating your triggers, take the time to truly envision yourself saying “no” to temptation. Don’t be afraid to practice in the mirror, either. And if saying no is a challenge for you (it certainly is for me), here’s a template to stand your ground and turn something down.
Have an exit strategy
Think ahead of time how and when you’ll be leaving the festivities. Maybe you leave as soon as plates are cleared, or you arranged for a friend to fake an emergency right at 9 p.m. No one needs to know the real reason you’re leaving early. As Into Action Recovery Centres puts it, “Saying you’re feeling unwell isn’t an untruth. It’s ok to put your recovery first, stay a little vague and take care of yourself.”
Carise also offers the BYOC trick: “Bring Your Own Car. You don’t want to have to count on someone else for transportation. When you want (or need) to leave, you have to have the freedom of your own car.”
Have a support system ready
If you’re attending in-person gatherings, see whether you can bring a sober buddy with you. If not, phone a friend. Ask someone you trust ahead of time if they’ll be around for a chat when things get tough, if needed.
If you’re struggling, you can contact the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline at 1800 250 015 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
Set (and keep) boundaries
“Boundaries” and “family” don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. Still, communicating your boundaries to your family is the best hope you have for your loved ones to respect what you’re trying to do. Whether you’re in long-term recovery or sticking to a week-long challenge, keep reminding yourself of the larger reasons you’re staying sober. Chances are those reasons are more important than one family gathering.
And if your family doesn’t understand or respect your boundaries, simply don’t risk it this year. You don’t have to visit family members who don’t support you properly. Hopefully they can be there for you, but if not, don’t feel obligated to be around them.