MMP: 18 Tips for Not Drinking On Thanksgiving or Holiday Dinners

by Rebecca A. Watson on November 24, 2014

in food, holidays, Recovery

This is a special Monday Morning Pages. Usually I just look back to 2012, but I’ve got a couple of gems for you throughout the years, and they all have to do with the morning after celebrating a big event. From 2012 after Thanksgiving:

I’m actually having a little anxiety. Part of me wants to be alone today and part of me thinks it’s good to spend time with people. I dunno. I feel like my head hurts. Probably from all the wine last night. Yes.

Not being hungover is arguably one of the best and most lasting effects of not drinking. I just passed the 600 day mark (thanks Belle for the reminder!) and even when I wake up sick as a dog, I’m always grateful I’m not hungover. Not upset that’s in my rearview; from New Years Day 2011:

If I were to look back [at New Years Day 2010], I was still passed out from a black-out drunk. I felt terrible and all year spent climbing out of that hole. Not again! I need others help if I’m going to improve my drinking problem. It’s not something I can take care of on my own.

Many of my penpals are worried about the holidays, and I get it. Not only has it been our habit to drink excessively around this time of year, it’s also almost feels encouraged. Lotsa turkey. Lotsa wine. Nap. Do it all over again!

xmas drink1

Yes ugly sweater parties are fun, but the bottle doesn’t NEED to be in the picture.

I’m here to tell you it’s completely possible to have a wonderful holiday dinner without the alcohol. Seriously! Yes, there might be some uncomfortable or anxious moments, but let’s chalk that up to being with family. That’s never gonna change, trust me.

So, here are a few ways I’ve gotten through the holidays myself along with tips I’ve heard from others that have worked pretty well. I’ve been writing this out for my penpals so I thought I would share with you.

1. Come bearing replacement drinks. Be the person who picks up the N/A beverages. Tell the host, “Well I’m picking up some cranberry juice and selzter water since I’m not drinking, so it’s no problem for me to grab some other stuff.”

And be prepared to share. When I brought a bottle of sparkling grape juice to a New Year’s party, it was gone in minutes. Not everyone wants to drink alcohol all the time! What a novel concept 😉

2. Arrive late and leave early. Now this doesn’t help you if you’re hosting I realize. I’ve got a couple tips at the bottom for those of us who can’t show up late to our own party. But if you can, don’t plan on staying for five hours.

Arrive after everyone’s getting their plates filled and if you’re feeling wobbly, make your excuses and leave after pie. It’s OK. You don’t have to be the “perfect guest.”

3. Have an exit plan. Don’t carpool. Normally, I’m a big advocate of being a DD or saving energy, but in this case you need to be sure to have a way out if things are getting sketchy for you. That means if people are getting drunk and you’re feeling tempted, or just annoyed, you can leave when you want.

4. Tell someone so you’re accountable. An easy way to tell someone is the way I suggested at in No. 1. It doesn’t have to be a big pronouncement, just a way for you to have one cheerleader in your corner.

5. Hang out at the kids’ table. This works for me in party situations all the time. Kids don’t drink. Kids don’t really like drunks. And they are always having the most fun. So chill with the little ones.

6. Be uber-helpful. This can aid as a distraction. Idle hands and all. If you’re cooking/cleaning/serving you have less time to focus on alcohol. Make yourself your hostess’ right hand person.

7. Play it forward. If you’re entertaining just “one drink” with dinner, which won’t really count because you’ll have had so much to eat, think about holidays in the past. Would someone refill your glass? Would it be impolite to NOT drink it? Would you suddenly be having a nightcap after all the other guests have gone home? Play the evening forward before the first glass. As they say, it’s the first drink that gets you.

8. Invite everyone to go for a post-dinner digestion stroll. If your group is getting particularly boozy or you’re feeling tempted, get everyone outside and away from the alcohol. Plus it’s a nice way to work off some of that pie and make room for leftovers.

If no one is interested, take a little stroll yourself. Maybe the dog needs a walk? Get away from it all to give you perspective.

9. Email/text/call a sober buddy. This is a great tool. Use it. Email your penpal. Text a friend who is also sober. Call your sponsor. Whatever it takes to hear a voice of reason. Because chances are that you’re not going to be happy you took a drink the next morning.

10. Plan a treat for when you’re done. If you’ve got a new book, divine bath salts and a yummy smelling candle all waiting for you at home, you’ll be much more likely to look forward to the end of your night and feel special, rather than left out.

There’s also a bit of a let down after you’ve gone through a big event like that, and sometimes you might even feel like you deserve a drink for being so good. I know, it sounds ridiculous to those of you out there that don’t have that little addiction voice in your head, but trust me, you deserve clean sheets, a cup of hot cocoa and a great night’s sleep.

11. Plan a fun activity for the morning. You’re much less likely to be tempted to drink if you’ve got yoga on the beach in the morning or a big hike with a friend. Even when I was still drinking I used this as a way to keep me from tying one on. New Years Day motorcycle ride? Yes please!

12. Make your mantra, “Food, not booze.” Because pie calories are so much more satisfying than wine calories. Just sayin’

13. Remember gratitude. It is that time of year. The more you can be thankful for what you have, the less likely you’ll be to want to spoil it all with something that has proven time and again to suck the happiness out of your days. Talk about what you’re thankful for. Ask others what they’re grateful for. Make a game out of it.


14. Have lots of replacement drinks. If it’s too tempting for you, tell your friends to bring their favorite N/A beverage and host a dry Thanksgiving. It’s just one year, and if people care about you, it won’t be that big of a deal.

15. Make a schedule. The less stress the better. Avoid overwhelm by planning a few days before how the timeline will look. NPR has a great run-up to the big day here.

16. Enlist the help of a second host. Who says you have to do it all? Everything is more fun with a friend. Ask someone who also likes to entertain for their help. That’s what I’m doing this year and it’s fun, not stressful.

17. Cook in advance. Just like the schedule thing, this is really key. And coming from years as a waitress, I know that the best cooks prep and par bake most everything before it’s ever ordered.

18. Set a time when everyone has to leave. And enforce it. Since you’ve planned something big in the morning, you want to be fresh for it right? If you anticipate trouble with this, ask a friend to host dessert afterward. It’s a movable feast!

Holidays can be rough for the non-drinker, but they don’t have to be. With a little planning and shoring up support, you can enjoy a holiday even more than you did while you were drinking. Happy Thanksgiving!


Have some more tips? Please leave them in the comments!

Wondering what this Monday Morning Pages thing is all about? Read how it started. Or check out all the archives

Wondering if you should quit drinking? Check out my audio class here. In the 20 minute class, I’ll walk you through my simple test to tell you if you should take the 100 Day Challenge and tips on how to do it.

Photo Credit: Julie

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