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Choosing to be alcohol-free during the holidays can be a daunting thought, especially if this is your first time taking that challenge. Festive gatherings often revolve around drinks, with alcohol spirits freely flowing in everyone else’s glass. Being around family can also be triggering for a variety of reasons, and tensions can get high in holiday situations. In the past you may have relied on alcohol to get you through it all (and maybe it was a way to numb it all out?), but suddenly that coping strategy is missing. You now find yourself in the midst of breaking an old habit and while trying to create a new one, which can feel strange in the beginning. Yet, despite the triggers of family, old traditions, and unfamiliar new routines, it’s entirely possible to enjoy an alcohol free and fulfilling holiday season. So, what’s the best strategy for being successful during family holiday gatherings?

The following blueprint has been created to help you navigate your holidays season with optimum success. Whether you are looking for tips for Thanksgiving Day, for the week or weekend, or for the whole winter holidays season (and beyond!), keep these results-oriented strategies in mind. You will see that with proper planning, determination, and support, you can totally make this happen and enjoy yourself along the way.

Holiday Tips For Staying Alcohol-Free:

  1. UNWAVERING COMMITMENT (100%): There is a world of difference between being 99% committed versus 100%. Playing for keeps means staying entirely in the realm of 100% committed. This is a “no matter what” stance (even if your Mean Aunt Helen triggers you by discussing politics, or your brother keeps trying to force wine in your glass) – no matter what means you will not have alcohol under any circumstance. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NIV) reminds us that we are in this race to win: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Unwavering commitment significantly reduces the head games your mind likes to play when you allow yourself to contemplate temptation. Commitment allows you to focus on your plan for staying alcohol free instead.
  2. STAY FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE: Be committed to the future vision of yourself, the one that God has always intended for you, without the substance. One helpful tool is visualization: see yourself walking away from your holiday event successfully. If there is a moment of temptation, walk yourself forward to the next day and how happy you will feel that you stayed strong instead of caving. Think about your “big why” – why did you choose to walk away from alcohol? What does your potential look like? What are you striving to achieve by going alcohol free? Keep the words of Jeramiah 29:11 (NIV) close to your heart: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.
  3. PLAN AHEAD: Plan what you are going to drink before you get to the event. Bring a non-alcoholic option with you (seltzer, zero-alcohol beer, etc.), or make a mocktail mix to bring with you. There are some funky and fun options out there to sample. For example, Liquid Death is simply water, but the outer design of the can makes it look like an adult beverage. Seed Lip is a nonalcoholic infusion you can use to make mocktails or add to seltzer. Sparkling water with lime and cranberry is an easy option, but don’t “hope” your host has something there for you. The best advice is to plan ahead and bring your own reinforcements. Use these events as a fun form of exploration. Also, having a premeditated drink plan will keep you from running into a situation where you won’t know what to say when someone offers you a drink or hands one to you.
  4. CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY: A great way to ensure success is to let your support network know you are going to your event, with the expectation that you will call or post about it after the event is over. This creates accountability since people will be waiting to hear from you and check in on you after the event (this really helps!). You can also share your decision to be alcohol free with trusted friends and family, creating a supportive network that respects and encourages your choice.
  5. DEVELOP YOUR ELEVATOR SPEECH: Peer and family pressure happen at holiday events. In fact, it’s best to assume that this will happen, especially if people have gotten used to you drinking at holiday events. Consider this the start of their “retraining program” as they get used to the “new you.” Planning ahead means thinking about what your response will be when people offer you a drink (or ask why you are not drinking). An elevator speech is short and to the point. Arm yourself with a firm but friendly response to offers of alcohol.  Your tone of voice is everything! Do your best to avoid any type of apologetic tone. A simple “No, thank you, I’m not drinking tonight!” totally works in most cases. Remember, you don’t have to get into any details or share your life story; just a polite and confident decline can be surprisingly effective. Be sure to check out this free collection of elevator speeches and tips for navigating social situations:

More and more people are discovering that the holidays do not need to revolve around alcohol. As you shift your focus from alcohol-centric events, you will begin to discover ways to celebrate, be festive, and create memorable experiences that are meaningful and more authentic. As those experiences begin to shape, navigating the holiday season through commitment, vision, planning, accountability, and retraining (elevator speech) makes this journey much easier and swifter. The best part is that living free of alcohol gives us the opportunity to experience the true meaning of these holidays, and we can savor these events with a vibrant mind and an open heart.