So, for whatever reason, you’ve decided not to drink this Christmas season.
And you’ve achieved it so far.
You’ve made it through the work and social Christmas parties, without touching a drop. Even though friends and colleagues may have repeatedly urged you to have a drink. Maybe you’ve been able to fob them off with a few excuses; “I’m driving”, “I’m taking medication”, or “I’ve got to get back to work”.
But now it’s time for the biggest test of all: the family Christmas gathering.
These are the people who know you best. They’ve been watching your drinking habits for years, they know how much you usually put away every time there is a family celebration. They may even regard you as the life of the family party, once you’ve got a few drinks under your belt. If so, you can bet they won’t want you to stay sober!
You might be able to get away with refusing a drink at a casual Christmas party with people you only know through work. After all, they don’t know you well or care whether you drink or not.
But your family is a whole other ball game! If you’ve been a drinker in the past, they probably won’t like you not drinking and may even subconsciously feel their own drinking habits are being attacked. They aren’t going to be fobbed off with a simple “No thanks, I’m driving”. They’ll just tell you there’s a spare sofa where you can crash for the night.
And if they believe you should be sharing a drink with them, they’ll feel far freer than your colleagues do to express that opinion forcefully.
So, when you don’t want to drink, how do you get through the family Christmas?!
Here’s my top 10 ways to avoid drinking at this year’s Christmas celebration. While not every family will accept every method, there should be at least one you can call on to get you through. Pick whichever ones work for you in your situation:
1. Prepare and plan ahead
Take some time in advance to think about the family gathering. Think about how you might respond to different situations. What will be the drinking trigger points? What pressure do you think different people might place on you? Work out a plan about how you will respond. If there’s something you think you will need to say, practise it out loud in advance, so you can confidently deliver it when the moment arrives.
If you are able to determine the timing of the event, one trick is to choose a mid-week occasion, and then tell people you’ve been cutting back on drinking and now only drink on weekends.
2. Don’t make a big deal about not drinking
There’s nothing like setting yourself up to fail by walking into the event and announcing “I won’t be drinking this evening”. You’ve just alerted Uncle Stan, cousin Jim, sister Jane and everyone else that you are fair game to be nagged about it all evening. Some people will see it as a challenge to break you resolve. Instead, be discreet, have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand at all times, and odds are that a significant number of family members won’t even realise you’re not indulging.
3. Health reasons
There is an array of excuses you can call on to avoid a Christmas drink with the rellies. You could be taking medication which doesn’t agree with alcohol; you could have a cold, a headache or be waiting on the results of medical tests. However, you don’t want to overdo it and have your loved ones worrying that you are seriously ill and about to expire!
Other people are more upfront with a health-related reason. They tell their families they are dieting and don’t want to consume the sugar in the alcohol, or that they are giving themselves a ‘detox’ period of a month.
4. Avoid the drinking spots
In some families, drinking happens around the barbecue while the meat cooks or when everyone is lounging around post-lunch. The non-drinker can then choose to avoid these moments by being busy elsewhere, plan to be absent for that segment of the day, or they can already have a glass of something non-alcoholic in hand so they don’t get hassled about not drinking.
5. Alternative drinks
Often it’s not what you are drinking that matters, just that you have a drink or your hand. For some reason, people can feel uncomfortable when you aren’t nursing a glass of something. So, as soon as you arrive, grab a wine or beer glass and fill it with something non-alcoholic. There are many non-alcoholic or de-alcoholised wines and beers you can purchase, or you can use commonly available liquids that look like the real thing. For instance, a wine glass of water can look like a vodka or gin and tonic, while another popular choice is red cordial and soda. Just sip it slowly, or other people might get suspicious about just what you’re drinking , if you’ve already drained four glasses and aren’t even a little bit tipsy!
6. Other commitments
While many of our usual activities halt during the Christmas break, it’s still possible to say that you’d prefer not to drink because you want to be alert and on top of your game for whatever you’re doing the next day. Perhaps you have to work, or are training for an upcoming sports game or half-marathon. Maybe you are using your holiday break to catch up on some study and you can say you need to hit the books or plan to listen to a webinar recording first thing in the morning.
7. Be firm
If you need to give a reason for not drinking, say it with confidence. Don’t stammer or mutter a half-hearted excuse. Look the other person in the eye, and state clearly why you aren’t drinking. If they persist in nagging you about it, become a broken record and just keep restating your reason, without further explanation. It’s your right not to drink and you don’t owe anyone an apology.
8. Get support
While you might not want to make a grand announcement about not drinking, it might be helpful to enlist the support of another family member who will be sympathetic to your cause. Brief them up in advance, so they can tactfully change the subject or call you away if someone is giving you a difficult time.
9. Use humour or sarcasm
If being serious when giving reasons for not drinking isn’t getting you any peace, perhaps it’s time to make a joke of the situation or try a little sarcasm. Not many people will know quite how to respond if you turn to them and say “Last time I had a drink, I felt like getting an axe and murdering someone. That’s not on my bucket list today”, or “I don’t want to fill up on grog and miss all the fun when the hard stuff arrives”.
It might not be the ideal response in some families, but in some settings, a statement along those lines will be a perfect close to the conversation.
10. Have fun
It’s a bit sad that so many people seem to think that alcohol is required to have a good time. A common complaint about non-drinkers is that they are ‘no fun’. Show your family this is not true. Make the occasion fun – get out a board game, play some table tennis, tell old family stories, or do whatever non-drinking activity your family enjoys.
If none of these tips help you, don’t hesitate to leave early and head elsewhere. While being with family is an important part of Christmas for many people, it’s not the only way to spend the festive time. And if your family doesn’t want to accept you as a non-drinker, then perhaps it’s time to examine the family dynamics and think about what other issues might make your family the way it is
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