November 26, 2019 at 8:15 pm EST | by Adam Ouanes
Staying sober during the holidays

Surviving the holidays is a difficult task for many LGBTQ people, but for sober members of the community it can almost feel like an impossible feat. It seems like alcohol is woven into the fabric of the holiday season. Between family obligations, office parties, and your friend’s annual, ugly holiday sweater party, it can feel like liquor has an inescapable presence. Not to mention the stress of dealing with family members and financial pressures can really take a toll, which makes relaxing with a peppermint Schnapps hot chocolate all the more enticing.  

Though every person has their own go-to strategies that allow them to pursue their sobriety, here are seven uncomplicated tips that can help you remain alcohol free throughout the holiday season.    

Set clear boundaries for yourself and others. If you’ve made the decision to begin the journey of sobriety, then that is the No. 1 priority. It is perfectly OK to say no to anything you feel may put your sobriety at risk. If you are afraid that being at a family event will be too stressful and triggering for you, then don’t feel obligated to engage.   

What to say when someone offers you a drink? No is a complete sentence. If someone offers you a drink, it’s OK to say no and leave it at that. Most people won’t think twice about your response and will move on. In the event that someone pushes you to say more, try coming up with a brief response beforehand so you are not caught off guard. For example, “I’m just trying to be healthier” is a perfectly legitimate and truthful answer.

Keep a drink in hand. Nonalcoholic, of course. This is a way to avoid the dreaded “Would you like a drink?” question altogether. Many people choose to nurse a club soda with lime, club soda and cranberry juice, or some other variation to easily blend in. After all, no one can spot the difference between a La Croix in a glass or a gin and tonic.

Bring your own transportation. It can be helpful and comforting to know that you have the ability to leave a situation on your own whenever you may need to.

Know your limits. You are responsible for your sobriety, and it is OK to honor your limits. You will become acutely aware of the situations that trigger your desire to drink or use other substances. Early on in recovery, this might even look like setting time limits for yourself when you need to be at a party.

If you are at a family event and find yourself in a conflict with a family member, try to remove yourself from the situation. Fighting with family can be extremely triggering, and it’s best to make sure you are safe. Calmly walk away, and either go to a safe space to collect yourself or leave.

“Bookending.”  If you are concerned about a particular family event, one good strategy is to bookend the event with something to do before and something to do or somewhere to go after. Bookending is a great way to ensure an easy escape in case the event is too much to handle. Try grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend prior to the event and setting up a hangout session with another friend afterwards.

Use this holiday season to make some new, alcohol-free traditions. There are a lot of awesome holiday events you can engage in that don’t necessarily have to be centered around drinking. Try having a holiday cookie decorating party with your friends and watch some bad Hallmark Christmas movies. Gingerbread house contests can get pretty intense among friends too. Zoo lights are a fun way to get out of the house and in the holiday spirit if you don’t mind the cold. There are plenty of events like your local Gay Men’s Chorus holiday show and other theater productions.

All it takes is a little bit of reorganizing what the holidays means to you. Creating new traditions and honoring your self-care choices can brighten up the season and help you not only survive, but also thrive this holiday season.

Adam Ouanes is a therapist intern at an LGBTQ health center in Philadelphia and an MSS candidate at Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. A primary focus of his work is looking at the inherent challenges faced by the LGBTQ community due to collective trauma. 

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