Celebrating Without Alcohol
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Holiday-season suggestions for Solo Moms
“My entire extended family drinks alcohol during holiday celebrations. What am I going to do now that Ethan is in recovery?”
—Judy, Solo Mom of Ethan, an 18-year-old in recovery from an alcohol-use disorder
“Quite honestly, I can’t imagine the holidays going smoothly now that I’m sober. If nobody drinks in my presence, that will make me feel self-conscious and awkward. But if I’m seeing everyone around me drinking and having fun, I’m afraid it will make me want to drink, too. At three months sober, my recovery feels tenuous—I don’t want to set myself up.”
—Marilyn, Solo Mom of three, in recovery three months following an arrest for driving under the influence
“Alcohol was a major part of how I coped at family gatherings. It was the buffer between me and a whole lot of tension. Without it, I’m not sure I can be around certain family members. Should I skip the family gatherings altogether this year and just focus on my daughter and me for the holidays?”
—Jasmine, Solo Mom of a seven-year-old daughter and 10 months in recovery
[Note: all names have been changed.]
The holiday season, generally a time of celebration and togetherness, can be a significant source of stress for Solo Moms who are recovering or who have family members in recovery. In a society that emphasizes drinking, a family who wants to celebrate without alcohol can feel awkward, guilty, confused, and angry as they try to make plans that include groups of people who drink, even when those people are cherished family members, valued colleagues, or trusted friends.
Should you talk about alcohol ahead of time and try to offset potential problems with advance planning? Should you let things unfold more naturally? What if other people drink to intoxication around you or their drinking makes you uncomfortable? Or what if people not drinking when drinking is customary makes you uncomfortable? How much should you let people know about your or a family member’s recovery?
Having spent the last two decades having alcohol-free holiday celebrations and having known people personally and professionally who have navigated those questions and concerns, I offer these ideas for Solo Moms who are newly grappling with this issue this year.
If you’re going alcohol-free because your child is in recovery
- Decide with your recovering teen or young adult in advance what information will be shared with family about your child’s problems with alcohol and current needs in recovery. This will help you to plan ahead, and it will reduce the risk of your child feeling on the spot at a family gathering.
- If you are celebrating away from home, tell your recovering child to let you know if he or she needs to leave the festivities, and have a plan in place for this to happen. This means that if you are Solo Mom of three and your oldest child needs to leave because he or she is having cravings or feeling uncomfortable, you need a plan of least resistance—one that doesn’t involve forcing the two nonaffected siblings to leave early, but also doesn’t keep the oldest child in a high-risk situation or draw attention to your child’s need to leave.
- If the celebration will be at your home and you are having an alcohol-free gathering but have served alcohol at your parties in the past, let everyone who’s invited know the expectation ahead of time, and do it in a way that doesn’t blame or put unwanted focus on your child. Here’s a good example: “In light of everyone’s different health practices and needs, our gathering will be alcohol-free this year. We will be providing sparkling grape juice, cider, coffee, and tea. Feel free to bring any other nonalcoholic beverage you might like to have.” (Incidentally, I strongly believe that people who live with a recovering young person should have an alcohol-free household year-round, not just during holiday gatherings.)
If you’re in recovery for the holidays
- Safeguarding your recovery by avoiding high-risk situations is the top priority. The details of this will vary depending on how long you’ve been in recovery, whether someone will be present who understands and is supportive of your recovery, and what you know about your own personal triggers and risky situations.
- Discuss your plans in advance with a trusted person who understands addiction and recovery, such as a sponsor, a friend or relative with long-term recovery, or a substance-abuse counselor. Ask for this person’s feedback on how to safeguard your recovery; he or she might have ideas you have not considered.
- Have a way out. Even with the best planning, it is not unusual for recovering people to misjudge the level of risk for starting to drink again. You might find yourself suddenly and seriously tempted to drink despite having navigated such occasions sober for numerous previous holidays. This can happen for any number of reasons. The most common strategy for dealing with this is giving yourself as much autonomy as possible by being a driver rather than a passenger when possible and by driving alone or with a supportive person rather than carpooling.
- Investigate support resources ahead of time. For example, many Alcoholics Anonymous groups host two- or three-day marathon gatherings, sometimes called Alcathons, where volunteers rotate duties to create a safe, supportive place for recovering people to go during the holidays at any time of day or night. Known for their positive atmosphere (and often some great food, as well), they are available to anyone who is trying to stay clean and sober. (See the Alcoholics Anonymous website for meeting listings and contact information for your area.)
- Remember that millions celebrate the holidays without alcohol and that recovery is something to be proud of. Some people in recovery create rituals to celebrate recovery, such as hanging decorations with recovery-affirming themes or images. Activities like that help reinforce the idea that alcohol-free holidays are not about depriving yourself of something; they are about opting for something much better. A person’s recovery is a gift, not only to that person but also to all the people in that person’s life. And that is something to celebrate!
Find and connect with Solo Moms coping with similar challenges in our confidential community of Sisters.
Susan Lemere, ESME’s Addiction Resource Guide, is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
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