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Surviving Family Gatherings Without Alcohol

While it can be hard to stay sober around your friends, it can sometimes be even harder to stay sober around family members, especially if they are not sober themselves. Depending on the situation and specific relative, you could ask that they politely abstain in your presence, but especially as the winter holidays and attendant gatherings approach, that may not always be realistic. From weddings to the superbowl to Christmas, there are few occasions that some people won’t view as an excuse to imbibe, but that doesn’t mean you have to let yourself get swept up in the tide. So, here are a few tips that will help you make it through the season without sacrificing your sobriety. 

Have A Plan

To avoid being thrown off guard, plan for any triggers that you think you may face in advance, and make every effort to make the evening as easy as possible for yourself. For instance, it might be a good idea to bring something that you can drink, like a creative virgin cocktail or just your favorite soda, so you don’t feel left out and can fend off inquiries about why you aren’t drinking. 

Which brings up another thing that you may want to be prepared for if you are in early recovery. While your close family members likely already know that you have stopped drinking, if you’re seeing extended family members for the first time in a while, you may find yourself having to explain it to them.

If you do not feel comfortable going into detail about your sobriety, you could also make a temporary excuse (not feeling well, designated driver, on a diet, just not in the mood) for why you are not drinking rather than face any questions. But If you do feel like being more honest about your recovery, then props to you—there’s no shame in being straight up! 

While most people will likely react positively or neutrally, it is possible that you will face some negative pushback. For example, a relative who just wants you to enjoy the occasion might not be able to understand why you can’t have just one. For these instances, a simple but strong refusal should be sufficient—for instance, you could say something like “I just don’t think drinking is good for me.” 

In other cases, a family member who feels insecure about their own drinking might try to question whether you really need to be in recovery, or otherwise react with hostility towards your decision. Just remember that this reaction is about them rather than about you, and you should not allow it to affect your resolve to control your own drinking. You know why you need to be in recovery and how hard you have worked to get there, so you can’t let even familial naysayers bring you down. 

Rely On Your Support System

Another aspect of your plan for the event might involve relying on your support system. For example, you could attend a support group meeting before your gathering to ask others for strategies they used to get through similar occasions, or afterwards to share your triumphs. Attending a meeting could also be a perfect chance to reflect on all the reasons you have for being in recovery, so that they will be fresh in your head and heart if you do encounter any triggering situations at your family gathering. 

You could also motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable by bringing along a supportive sober buddy to the festivities, or talk beforehand with a family member who you trust to keep you out of trouble. Even if you don’t have a sober buddy physically present, you could make plans to check in with them or with a sponsor throughout the evening via text or phone calls just in case you do find yourself feeling overwhelmed.

Stay Busy

To keep your mind off drinking, it may help to assign yourself a concrete task rather than going about the more nebulous matter of “socializing.” You could offer to keep watch over or entertain any young children who may be in attendance, for instance. Or, before a meal, you could volunteer to help prepare food, or you could lend a hand in cleaning up afterwards. 

Later, you could try starting a board or card game that will give some structure and whimsy to the proceedings. Even iPhone games or crossword puzzles could keep your hands busy and attention off alcohol if you ever find yourself with a solitary moment during the evening, or you could always step outside for a walk or a breather if you feel yourself getting stressed or antsy.

Set Boundaries

Though you’ll probably want to work towards being more comfortable at gatherings where alcohol will be served eventually, it’s ok if you just aren’t there yet. Don’t be afraid to skip out early if the stress and pressures are getting to be too much, or to make a decision beforehand that you will leave after a certain point when you think heavy drinking is likely to begin. 

You also shouldn’t feel bad if you choose to just skip an event entirely if you feel like it will be too triggering for your current place in recovery. You can connect one on one with your family members in an alcohol free setting another time instead of attending an event that might prove too much for you. If they truly want the best for you, they should be able to understand why your recovery needs to come first!

If you are having trouble maintaining your sobriety or taking the first steps towards recovery, Reco Intensive is here to help. In our comprehensive, individualized treatment program, you will learn the coping skills you need to be able to avoid alcohol on any occasion, and will be able to develop a strong support system through our lively alumni program. Call (561) 464-6533 to learn more today!

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