Here are six tips to help you stay sober over Christmas and New Year, no matter what invitations, social events or festivities are thrown at you:

1.  Get happy saying no

If any social events, meals and parties are going to be too challenging for you, simply say no to them. It doesn’t help to put yourself under pressure. If you go into situations that are too challenging or too triggering, you could end up feeling overwhelmed and caving in.

It’s okay to put yourself and your needs first and to avoid those situations. I hereby give you full permission to say no to the invitations and events that might have been causing you anxiety. You can come up with excuses, you can develop a temporary illness or you can tell the truth - it depends on your context and what you’re comfortable with.

It’s also a good idea to practise saying no out loud. If you’re someone who isn’t used to being assertive, is worried about letting other people down or feels under pressure to live up to some kind of party animal expectations, then rehearsing out loud what you’re going to say alongside a confident “no” will really help.

Looking after yourself and hiding away from events that are just too challenging for you is important. So, get happy saying no and choose only to socialise where you’re confident you’ll have the control you need to stay sober.

2. Plan ahead

When you do agree to a social gathering, spend some time planning:

  • What you’re going to drink instead of alcohol
  • What you’re going to tell people who might be curious about why you’re not drinking (again, rehearsing out loud in advance helps build your confidence with this)
  • How much time you’re going to spend there
  • What you’re going to do or say if anyone gives you a hard time or pressures you to drink.

The more time you spend planning and rehearsing, the more confident you’ll feel about staying sober and the easier it will be.

You can even crank up your chances of staying successfully sober by imagining yourself doing it. In your mind’s eye, play a little movie of yourself navigating the event successfully sober. You can imagine what you’ll be drinking, what you’ll be saying to people who are curious, how you’ll be dealing with any pressure or challenges and when and how you’ll be leaving. Doing this in your imagination sets up an expectation of success and you’re more likely to create this reality.

It’s when we don’t plan and prepare that we’re more likely to be taken by surprise, feel overwhelmed and cave in, so plan ahead and create your own successful sober Christmas reality.

3. Have an escape route

If there are social invitations that you feel obliged to attend but you’re still anxious about them even with the planning and preparation in place, you can make it easier on yourself by creating an escape route.

If you know you’re only go to be at a social gathering for an hour, it’s easier to remain confidently sober than if you think you’ve got hours to go and you’re not really sure what time you’re going to get away.

You can pre-decide and pre-arrange something that takes you away at a time of your choosing. Maybe after an hour or two (your choice), you get a text message that means you have to go and pick up a nephew or niece to take them to the cinema to meet their friends because their parents can’t do it for some reason. Maybe your partner turns up in a rush to take you home because they’ve forgotten an urgent appointment and you’re going to have to walk the dog. Maybe you have a migraine coming on. Maybe you let the host or organiser know in advance that you’ll be leaving at a certain time because you have to drive somebody somewhere. Maybe you tell the truth and say that you can only stay a short while as you’re on a health kick and are going alcohol-free this Christmas - it’s a bit of struggle but you’ve decided to come because you’d like to show your face and you’re going to leave early to give yourself the best chance of success. You’d be amazed at how understanding people are and also how much they’ll admire your courage and determination.

Again, it all depends on your situation but decide on a time limit that’s manageable for you, let your imagination come up with an appropriate excuse if you’ve decided not to tell the truth and attend that event with your escape route in place.

Avoid the overwhelm and set yourself up for success by making things manageable with an escape route.

4. Distract yourself

When you’re out and about at events and social gatherings, it’s easy to feel shy, self-conscious, bored, boring and dull when you’re not drinking. This is only because you’re not used to it yet and you’re changing an ingrained habit. It might take some practice before you become confidently sociable and authentically yourself without alcohol to bolster you. After plenty of practice, it gets easier and it will eventually become automatic.

In the meantime, and to get yourself through Christmas festivities, you can set yourself little games to distract you from thinking about yourself and to put your attention outside of you and into other people.

Some examples are:

  • Count the number of people around you who are also not drinking
  • Make up little stories in your head about why each person isn’t drinking alcohol – what might their story be?
  • Notice at what point during the event you start to feel more relaxed and confident without alcohol – how long did it take?
  • Make a mental note of how you’d be behaving differently if you had been drinking at different points during the event

When you distract yourself by putting your focus and energy into these activities, you stop worrying about not drinking and start to relax and enjoy things more quickly.

5. Give yourself a reality check

It might not be specific events, gatherings and festivities that challenge you, it might just be the general Christmas atmosphere of indulgence and merriment.

Maybe the festive advertising, promotions, shop displays, music, bustle, decorations, noise and carols is just something you associate with drinking and getting drunk.

Accepting that the drinks industry is a massive, multi-billion dollar/pound industry that makes its profits from convincing us that alcohol is necessary to our enjoyment, wellbeing and relaxation is an important thing to do. Much like the beauty industry convinces us that there is something broken or wrong with us and they can fix it with a magic moisturiser or razor or foundation that will “correct” us, the drinks industry makes its money by pretending that we can only unwind, socialise or celebrate with a drink in our hand.

The reality is that this isn’t true. Alcohol is in fact a toxic poison. By choosing to stay sober, you’re saying no to the advertising industry’s brainwashing tactics. The rest of society hasn’t yet cottoned on – you’re ahead of the game – but living life sober is becoming more popular as a lifestyle choice and you’re one of the ones leading the way.

The reality is that all of this “atmosphere” is built on a fallacy. You can choose what’s important about Christmas. It doesn’t have to be drunken nights and hungover days. It doesn’t have to be poisoning your body and mind. And, Christmas Day celebrations don’t have to be punctuated with boozy toasts and cheers.

You can create a different Christmas reality for yourself.

What if Christmas became an opportunity to:

  • spend some time learning to be authentically you
  • connect healthily with friends and loved ones
  • exchange love and meaningful gifts
  • take time to reflect and learn from the past year
  • breathe and live
  • celebrate your personal/spiritual belief system
  • celebrate all the good in your life
  • take pleasure in spending time with people you like and love
  • gift yourself with healthy choices
  • gift and support charities helping people, animals, the world around us

Okay, this is starting to sound like a self-help book but the point is that you can attach whatever meaning you want to Christmas. 

The reality-check is that Christmas doesn’t have to mean what the billion dollar industries tell us it means and it doesn’t have to mean what it meant to you before. You can change what Christmas means to you.

6. Focus on the positives

By reminding yourself of everything you’re gaining by staying sober, you stay more motivated.

It helps to record all your little and big wins every day that you stay alcohol-free. Acknowledging and celebrating your successes makes you feel good about yourself and when you’re feeling good about yourself it’s easier to keep going confidently.

Sometimes, people fear what they’re missing out on when they’re not drinking but the truth is that they miss out on more when they are drinking. By putting your focus into everything you’re gaining by staying sober, you’re more likely to feel positive, confident and energised.

It might be that you drank water with your meal last night and you’ve woken up with a clear head and have been able to do your Christmas shopping as planned. If you’d been drinking, you would have stayed in bed and would have had to reorganise your shopping trip which would have eaten into your time. It might be that you’ve gone to a party, stayed sober, driven home at an early hour and gone to bed with clear memories and smiling at your success. If you’d been drinking, you would have had to pay for a taxi home and would have woken up at three in the morning with a hot flush of shame, blank spots in your memory and unable to get back to sleep from your mind whirring and worrying about what you might have said or done. It might be that you walked straight past the wine aisle in the supermarket and left with a trolley full of food and healthy treats. If you’d have been drinking, you would have spent loads more money, you would have felt self-conscious choosing your wine and all the extras that might have come with it, you would have had to pretend you weren’t feeling self-conscious in front of the cashier and you’d have felt bad about yourself.

Whether it’s drinking water with your meal, staying sober at a party or ignoring the wine aisle in the shop, these are achievements to be celebrated and acknowledged and they lead to gains in your life that you would have missed out on if you were drinking.

The details will be different for everyone but the principle is the same: notice what’s good about staying sober and you’ll get more of it, you’ll feel better and you’ll stay motivated to carry on!

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