Health / Expert Advice

How to Enjoy the Holiday Season Sober

A sober person shares how she takes the emphasis off alcohol.

When most people think of the holiday season, they think of eggnog by the fire, wine with Thanksgiving dinner, and way too many champagne cocktails at the office holiday party. But, not everyone’s holiday revolves around alcohol and some may choose to have a sober holiday season.

I stopped drinking almost nine years ago. In that time I’ve had to learn how to navigate the holiday season (and all the festivities that go with it) without a drink in hand. That might sound boring or un-festive to some. But, the truth is that the holidays have become infinitely more enjoyable for me since I gave up alcohol. If you’re thinking about giving up alcohol, but are worried that you won’t know how to get through the holidays (and other occasions) without it, here are my top tips for making it through (and actually enjoying!) a sober holiday season.

Celebrate your wins.

When you’re not drinking during the holidays, it’s easy to think that everyone is having more fun than you—especially when you’re at a party or celebration and everyone is tipsy off of cocktails while you’re clutching your club soda with lime.

In moments like these, it’s important to celebrate your wins. Forgoing booze allows you to be more present with your family, friends, and colleagues during the holiday festivities. (And isn’t that kind of that point?) Plus, it also allows you to get through the holiday season feeling better than any year prior. When you don’t drink, you get to enjoy the celebrations and fun—and then go home, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up hangover-free.

One of my biggest wins is that every Thanksgiving I run a 5K before the day’s festivities get underway. Nine years ago, waking up at 6 a.m. after the biggest drinking night of the year (also known as Drinksgiving)—let alone for a post-drinking workout—would have been impossible. But, since giving up alcohol, I have no problem going out to see friends on Wednesday night—and then waking up bright and early for my Turkey Trot on Thursday.

Make things other than drinking the focal point of your celebrations.

While it might feel like every single holiday gathering centers on alcohol, that’s not the case. If you can find a way to make things other than drinking the focal point of your celebrations, it will make them a lot more enjoyable for you.

Instead of hosting a cocktail party, have a “wrapping party” where everyone wraps their gifts and listens to old-school holiday music. Or, instead of meeting your old high school friends for a booze-infused brunch, opt to catch up during a hike. And, instead of hosting a wine exchange with friends, switch it up and swap desserts.

One of my all-time favorite holiday celebrations is my annual tradition of getting together with my two best friends (and now our husbands). We bake holiday treats and watch Elf in our pajamas. There’s no drinking involved, whatsoever. But no one misses it because we’re too busy laughing (not to mention eating an obscene amount of cinnamon buns).

Fill up on the feel-goods.

One of the reasons why people drink is because it makes them feel good (at least that’s the way it was for me!). But, you know what delivers an even more potent dose of the feel-goods than a cocktail?

Volunteering. The holidays are an incredible time to get involved with your community. See how you can donate your time to make the season a little brighter for others. Most charities ramp up their efforts as the holiday season approaches and can always use an extra set of hands. And all that volunteering can do seriously positive things for your health. Research shows that volunteering increases individual well-being, reduces stress and depression, and can even help you live longer.

Last year, my husband and I worked with a local charity to shop for and deliver presents to a family in need. Let me tell you—the feeling of knowing that I did something to make someone else’s holiday a little more joyful? There’s no cocktail that can compare to that. Fill up on the feel-goods you get from volunteering and you won’t miss the feel-goods you get from booze.

Have an exit strategy.

Everyone has their own reasons for giving up drinking. But, if you’re quitting alcohol because it’s become a problem for you, it’s important to have an exit strategy for any situations over the holidays that might make you feel uncomfortable. After nine years, I’m perfectly comfortable being around a large group of people drinking. But, at a certain point in the festivities, when everyone’s crossing the line from “tipsy” to “drunk,” it stops being fun for me—so I leave.

If you’re heading to a party, dinner, or celebration and know people are probably going to drink too much, have an exit strategy ready to go if you start to get uncomfortable. This could be letting your host know in advance that you have an early morning the next day. Or have a code word with your partner so they know it’s time to leave. If you plan ahead, there’s no reason to skip a party where people are going to be drinking. But there’s no reason to stay if you’re uncomfortable, either.

Allow yourself other indulgences.

You’re saying no to the wine and the champagne and the cocktails and the eggnog. Live a little and have a slice of pie.

A sober holiday season is just as festive as any other.

If you’ve never gone through the holiday season sober, it’s ok to feel a little worried that this year might not be as festive as the others. But, after nine straight years of booze-free holidays, let me be the first to tell you—alcohol isn’t what makes the holidays special. It’s the friends, the family, the food, and the fun. You don’t need a drink in hand to enjoy that.

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