Being open with a few close family members and friends about your sobriety can be incredibly helpful for navigating holiday events. Knowing that people that you care about are present, and that they know about your struggle, can add a layer of accountability and deter from alcohol use. If you tell a loved one that you’d like to stay sober at an event that you are both attending, you’ll likely go out of your way not to disappoint them. Additionally, they may also go out of their way to make it easier for you, by not offering drinks, or changing subjects if party-goers ask about you not drinking. Finally, knowing that you’re not “alone” at the event. – i.e. not holding a secret from everyone at an event – may make you feel more at peace and comfortable.
The decision to disclose information about your recovery is personal. In general, family and friends who share mutual respect, will be supportive. Individuals do not need to tell all family members and friends, and sometimes, discussing with a few select individuals who you know well, and you believe will be more-likely to be understanding is key. You do not need to disclose all details about your drinking history. Some of my patients have disclosed by saying something like – “I want to let you know something personal. I’ve been taking some time off from any alcohol, and I would appreciate it, if you supported me this holiday season” or even “I’m working on my health, and not drinking right now, even over the holidays” can be more than enough. Again, decisions to disclose, what to disclose, and who to disclose to are personal, and may even be a good discussion to have with your mental health professional in planning for a holiday event.
The statement above, is a good example of setting a boundary where you’re letting someone know that you’re abstaining from alcohol, but you’re not going into all details. If they are pushy about wanting more information, simply saying something such as “I’m sorry, but I’d like to talk more about this another time. I appreciate your understanding” may be fine. If someone keeps prying, it’s ok to politely change topics, or even end the conversation. It’s also very important to set boundaries about drinking with people present. If someone offers a drink, and you say no, in an ideal world they would stop asking. Unfortunately however, this isn’t always how it plays out. If someone keeps offering, I suggest considering excusing yourself, talking to another person present, leaving the room to take a breather, or sitting next to someone else. If an individual is in recovery, or struggling at an event, acknowledge it, call a sponsor, speak with a support at the event, or leave. Set boundaries for yourself as well!
Additionally, be honest and have some self-compassion. If you are unsure that you can safely attend an event, or be around certain individuals during the holidays, allow yourself to refrain from those events.
Remember, you do not have to disclose your entire history or tell everyone about your difficulties. Start with opening up to one or two very close friends, family members or supports. Being part of a 12-step program (like AA) and opening up to a sponsor or group of members who share similar difficulties, can make it easier to open up to others as well. Finally, offering resources for family and friends, can help them to do their own education, on your your difficulty. NAMI (nami.org) or National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a large organization focused on providing support to family members and friends of those struggling with mental illness (including substance use). Alcoholics Anonymous (AA.org) is also a wonderful program, which provides support for those struggling, and also provides resources for families and friends.
Finally, establishing a community of other individuals within recovery, can be life-changing. Having sober holiday events, can normalize your experience. Create new traditions and holiday memories, that fit your recovery, and your healthy lifestyle!