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Holiday Triggers: 7 Ways to Stay Sober at Family Gatherings

Steve’s in-laws were an hour late for dinner. His mom was complaining about…well, about everything. His nephew managed to break the TV within ten minutes of his arrival. His uncle was making fun of Steve’s career choice – again.

It was a typical holiday at the Miller household and, four months sober, Steve really wanted a drink.

In a recent survey, nearly half of the respondents said consuming alcohol during family gatherings made their family more tolerable.

‘Tis the Season to Stay Sober

Of course, turning to the bottle isn’t a healthy option, especially for people in recovery. This holiday season, when relatives make a relapse seem appealing, try these tactics instead:

  • Tip #1 Make it a Sitcom

    View your family gathering like a TV show. Detach a bit and look in from the outside. Try to see the humor in the situation. Pretend this is someone else’s family for a bit in order to get a fresh perspective.

  • Tip #2 Say Thank You

    If you receive a barrage of “helpful” criticism or unsolicited advice, respond simply with “You know, you’re right. Thank you so much!” Since they’ll probably repeat themselves, you should too. Keep at it with the same “You’re right; thank you” response until they get exhausted and move on.

  • Tip #3 Take a Breather

    Slip away to another room to take five deep breaths. Take the dog for a quick walk. Take an extra minute or two in the bathroom to text a friend or sponsor. You can’t hide away all day, but these small breathers can help you mentally regroup and handle the next hour better.

  • Tip #4 Check Out for a Second

    If the chaos becomes too much, take a mental break. Sing your favorite song in your head. Say a prayer. Count backwards from 100 by threes. The mental shift will give you a break if you can’t physically get away for a breather.

  • Tip #5 Come Prepared

    To help guide the conversation, think of ten topics ahead of time that you can bring up as needed. These could be a news story, movie release, fun fact, or silly question. (“Hey, did you guys hear about that black hole discovery?” or “If they made a movie about your life, which actor would you want to play you?”) Use these to change the subject if things get too tense, sad, or boring.

  • Tip #6 Find the Silver Lining

    Despite the drama, try to work up some gratitude. Find things to be thankful for. If you’re eating a big meal at home or at a relative’s house, you have food and a roof over your head, people who want to spend time with you, and a host of other blessings. Focus on even the tiniest positives to replace stress, anger, and sadness with gratitude.

  • Tip # 7 Zoom Out

    Keep things in perspective. A few hours from now, this family gathering will be over. A day, a month, then a year from now, it will be a memory byte – but you’ll still be sober. You can look back and be proud you survived and maintained your sobriety. In the grand scheme of things, this is more important than trying to dull the day’s impact with a drink.