For PR expert Odette Barry it has been seven years since she last drank alcohol. And for her, life has never been better. Here are the eight steps that got her there, and that helped her through seven sober Christmases. Because, yes it is possible to be sober during the silly season.
As someone who doesn’t drink (anymore), I know that Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year to navigate.
Through gritted teeth, we prepare meals in a kitchen full of heightened emotions. There’s the onslaught of work parties, barbecues with friends, and then the big day with the family.
Almost every party is anchored around popping corks, you’re catching up with people you only see once a year and, despite our best efforts, every family can have its tense moments.
Somehow, it’s been seven years of sober silly seasons (how’s that for a bit of alliteration!) and survived to tell the tale.
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Ditching the drink always starts with a choice, whether you’re on a health kick, pregnant or you’ve decided to quit for good like I did. And you don’t necessarily need AA’s 12 steps to follow through with it. Having navigated this path myself, I realised that I created eight of my own steps to quit alcohol. And it’s well and truly stuck.
But there’s one thing that’s still hard to navigate in social settings: the conversations and assumptions about why I’m not drinking. The silly season is social by nature, but these eight strategies will help you manage your own feelings (and other people’s) so you can stick to your goal with a smile on your face.
#1. Be open about your discomfort
As my virtual mother hen Brené Brown says, vulnerability is the birth place of change and connection. It’s hard, but telling those around you that you’re nervous or struggling with your choice to kick the booze can start a host of useful conversations. Tell your nearest and dearest that you want their support, not their questions or jokes. Be honest and say that you’re excited but unsure. In my experience, a little vulnerability is more useful than a staunch position to get people on your side.
#2. Aim to be charming
Nothing makes you the life of the party like being the best listener and conversationalist. Come prepared to ask questions – I even make a mental list. If you’re feeling anxious about keeping up with everyone else’s energy, aim to converse with one person and go deep. You’ll be surprised at what you uncover when you give someone your undivided attention. Remember, it’s okay to feel uncomfortable: it is awkward going to events. Just come prepared.
#3. Hide it with 0% drinks
It’s okay to fake it until you make it. If you don’t feel ready to talk about your desire to drink less, keep it out of the conversation with some discreet booze-free tipples. Show up with a bottle of Seedlip and make a round of mixed drinks, or pour yourself some 0% Geissen (tastes like the real deal!) and sidle on over to your pals. Plus there are lots of delicious fermented drinks that taste just as grown-up as a cocktail – and are just as satisfying. Drinking fermented products, like Pyewackets traditional bitters and shrubs, is one of the best ways to reduce cravings for sugar and processed foods.
#4. Pair social engagements with exercise
I love exercising before going to a party or barbecue (and especially before Christmas lunch). It gives me space to clear my head and I arrive oozing with the energy to combat any conflict or tension. If you can’t exercise right before you head out, try to exercise afterwards. It a) gives you a reason to leave, b) helps you to leave sober and c) you end the day on a natural high, with positive feelings attached to the event. Trust me: the serotonin boost will have you on a better high than any amount of alcohol.
#5. Be curious about your patterns
If you feel triggered by a friend or family member over Christmas, try to listen to your thoughts and hear the story that’s playing in your mind. If you can bring curiosity to why you’re feeling this way, it’s a great way to take the heat out of your frustration. Plus, you can catch yourself before you repeat those same thought patterns next time.
#6. Experiment with quitting
Don’t punish yourself if you slip up. Instead, take an experimental view on the process. Try drinking less, adding more soda waters, or moving towards fewer days each week with alcohol. Try doing every second Christmas party sober. Stock up on some of the delicious new 0% ABV drinks that are out there.
I found particularly in the first few months, your thirst for a crisp wine or a G&T can be well and truly quenched with some of the spirits, and there are now some super cool platforms selling booze-free bevvies like Sans Alcohol and Craftzero. Each small change is getting you closer to your goal.
#7. Become grateful
It’s naff I know, but being aware of the excellent things that you’re gaining from not drinking is one of the most powerful ways to stay focused on your goals. Just writing down little things that you’re grateful for each day will tell your brain that you are grateful. Plus studies have shown that this activity improves happiness, so give it a try even if it feels cheesy AF.
#8. Sign up for support
There are lots of forms of structured support out there, apart from AA. Take a look at Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak app or try Annie Grace’s Alcohol Experiment, a 30-day supportive challenge to go without booze. Both are free. If you have a trusted friend, tell them your goals and ask them to help to hold you accountable. There’s always support out there, believe me.
Odette Barry is a public relations specialist based in Byron Bay. She is the founder of PR agency Odette and Co and the creator of the Hack Your Own PR Program. You can follow her on Instagram at @odetteandco.