Staying Sober: Death & Funerals without Drinking

by Rebecca A. Watson on September 29, 2015

in escapism, friends, life, Recovery, relationships

About a year and a half ago, Sante and I met a great couple here in Freiburg. They quickly became part of our group of friends, and we slowly got to know them better, at BBQs, parties and of course, watching World Cup football matches.

weltmeister 2014

Deutschland ist Weltmeister!

They were really loving and affectionate. When I spent time with them, they inspired me to be more lovey-dovey and sweet toward Sante. I adored their energy and we looked forward to maybe attending the wedding they were planning for the following summer.

Unfortunately, the first formal German event we attended wasn’t a wedding, but a funeral. And this couple that was so in love was ripped apart by a death that still can’t be explained.

Although I’d just gotten to know this friend, I really wanted to be there for her. I’d gone through crises with other friends before, and I’d really not done well with them.

  • I’d stopped calling them, afraid of their feelings.
  • I would try to cheer them up, not wanting to deal with sadness or frustration.
  • I’d just drink myself into a darker oblivion than they were, maybe as a testament to my willingness to help them feel better. Hey! You think you’re in a dark place? At least you’re not this wasted!

This crisis was unfair, horrible and stunning in its surreal-ness, but I was determined to get through it without losing a friendship or ending up at the bottom of a bottle.

And now that it’s been about a year, I feel like I can look back and see what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully you can benefit from my experience.

Understand You Will Want to Run Away

Grief is hardly something that we run toward with open arms. Our natural inclination is to avoid it at all costs. In fact, the first step of grief is denial, so it makes sense.

Know that it’s OK to want to run away from your feelings and from other people who are also having feelings. There is nothing wrong with you if you want to avoid picking up the phone or even opening your email.

It was around this time I uninstalled Facebook Messenger on my phone. I just couldn’t handle all the connections and all the feelings that came with them.

You don’t have to drown yourself in all of these feelings, particularly if you’re trying not to drink. That’s an easy way for you to reach out for some beer as a life preserver. Instead, just acknowledge that you want to run and take some time to feel your feelings and listen to others.

Try to stay in the middle of all of this. Continuing with the water metaphor (since water represents emotions in pagan and wiccan rituals), try to envision yourself as a swimmer.


Sometimes you want to go out into the deep water, but you can’t stay there indefinitely. You need a break from those intense emotions.

Waist-high water is usually safe, but even so, sometimes we just need to lay on the beach and leave the swimming to someone else. Try to keep your approach to your and other folks’ emotions balanced.

Find Other Ways to Escape

Since you will want to run away and booze may seem the logical choice, choose other stuff. Choose different. TV shows can help you get lost and turn off your brain. A good book can transport you to another time, heck another planet. I watched a lot of silly comedies on Netflix.

If you’re in the mood to consume something, stay away from alcohol (skip the bar) and stick to some comfort food. There are all sorts of yummy things you can consume that will make you feel better.

What did you like to eat when you were little? When I had a tough day, my parents would take me to Dairy Queen for ice cream. I ate plenty of sorbet during this time. I also drank a ton of coffee.

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.

When crisis strikes, you’re not going to be able to keep up your normal life in all its forms. Your natural instinct is going to tell you that you might as well drink since you haven’t done the laundry in weeks anyway.

Finding other, less destructive ways to escape is very important. These can provide you comfort without the tradeoff of losing yourself in addiction.

Practice Some Self Care

While you are seeking out comfort and ways to escape, there are other things you can do that help you, but they’re less about escaping and more about reminding yourself that you are still alive and you still need to be taken care of.

Folks who have problems with alcohol are often the kind of people that like to take care of others to the point that they forget about themselves. This is a big issue I struggle with.

Then when we finally realize they do need to take care of themselves, the logical choice is booze because we have no energy to choose differently.

It is amazing how much energy it seems to take to relax.

It is amazing how much strength it seems to take to relax.

In order to avoid this, practice making one “positive” choice in the day to remind yourself that you care about you.

  • Work out
  • Eat vegetables
  • Drink lots of water
  • Go to the spa
  • Take a nap
  • Get a foot massage or pedicure
  • Do some yoga
  • Take your vitamins
  • Turn off your phone
  • Take a walk
  • Take a bath

It doesn’t need to be anything monumental. You just need to remember to take care of you, and that conscious moment of once a day doing something nice for yourself sets the stage for you subconsciously looking out for you as well.

This is a key step. Don’t skip it, no matter how tempting it seems.

Avoid Alcohol

OK, this might seem like a no-brainer right? But honestly, it has to be said, because alcohol is so prevalent at events like this. It’s not that you need to skip the wake or anything. It’s just better to avoid other people when they are drinking, so maybe you leave early, before the real drinking starts.

This might seem difficult, because a lot of people escape their feelings with booze, but most people aren’t drinking all the time. Excuse yourself from events when they food stops being served and the main event is drinking.

After the funeral last year, there was another event held at a favorite pub. I ended up skipping that because I just felt too shaky to spend time watching other people get drunk.

Try organizing breakfasts, coffee shop visits, walks in the park, and other types of get-togethers for people that don’t necessarily equal drinking in their minds.


Because most people think “coffee” when you say “cake.”

Even if it’s just a few people who come, these are helpful ways to distract yourself AND give you all the opportunity to process feelings, whether just in the silence of a walk or through breakfast at your loved one’s favorite café.

Find Ways to Help

Offering to help people who are struggling will keep your mind off you and your need to escape. Of course, remember self-care comes first, but once you’ve taken your quiet time, maybe getting out of your head by making dinner and bringing it by your loved one’s home can give you some peace.

Cooking and traveling to someone’s home is not really something you want to do after a bottle of wine, so choosing to help others can often times translate to keeping you sober.

I would often bring over food or stop by to help clean and my friend knew I didn’t drink. The last thing I wanted was for her to worry about me boozing while she’s dealing with unthinkable pain.

There are so many things you can do to help, but it’s important to do only what you are comfortable doing and also what you’re capable of doing. At one point I needed to see my therapist at a time when I was asked to help. It was important for me to say no and keep my appointment with my therapist, even if it meant standing back.

We all have to put our oxygen masks on first before we assist others. This is an important thing to keep in mind when you offer your help.

Talk to Your Allies

No matter how many of your friends and family know you don’t drink, unless they also have struggled with booze, they probably won’t understand what you’re feeling during this time.

Alcohol is a seductive little beast, and if you keep it all in your own head, it could end up manipulating your thinking. It’s probably done it before, in one of your ill-fated attempts at quitting so many moons ago.


Tap into your community of non-drinkers. If you’re in AA, talk to your sponsor and hit up some extra meetings. If you’re not, look online and read sober blogs. Email a sober friend.

We can give you a window into sanity, because living with the harpy of alcohol in your brain all on your lonesome during a very trying time like a death is pretty tortuous and crazy-making. As a friend of mine once said, “You can’t fight crazy.”

I emailed Belle when my cravings started (almost immediately after finding out about the death), and we had an eye-opening talk about how maybe I was seeing my friend’s sadness, her lowness, and trying to commiserate in some way. And hell, what sadder and lower way do I know than drinking like a fish? Makes sense doesn’t it?

So get in touch with someone. Talk to them about your feelings.

You can deal with this stuff. Death is a natural part of life, even if it’s disarming and terrible for the living left behind. There’s no need to make life even more miserable by waking up hungover and wondering what you did the night before.

I hope this helped you. Please leave me a comment below if you have any other suggestions for not drinking during a funeral or staying sober during the death of a loved one.

If you like this post and are interested in reading more, I suggest starting with my 100 day post, or just check out all my posts about not drinking and recovery. Thinking about quitting alcohol? Check out my classes here.

Photo Credits: Theophilos Papadopoulos, Thomas Hawk, Romi, Ricardo Cuppini

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Cannon September 29, 2015 at 3:24 am

Thanks for this. I often think about death. My parents are getting older, hell everybody around me is getting older, including me!

I worry that an unexpected death will lead me back to drinking someday, so this is very helpful. They say misery loves company, and I can foresee myself wallowing in it for sure!


Rebecca A. Watson October 6, 2015 at 9:45 am

Hey Rebecca. I’m glad my post resonated with you. I know what you mean, worrying about things that might lead you back to drinking. I guess we need to learn to trust ourselves a bit more, even if it’s not a natural feeling. That and definitely keep seeking out support. Thanks for the comment!


Maggie September 29, 2015 at 4:49 am

This is incredibly helpful, thank you! I hit Day 45 tomorrow (!!!), and it’s been OK so far, but nothing super stressful has happened lately. It’s good to have tools available for the inevitable!

I’ve always had problems dealing with death, so the acknowledgement and support in this article are much appreciated!


Rebecca A. Watson October 6, 2015 at 9:47 am

Hi Maggie 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words. You’re definitely right. It’s good to have tools for when things get tough. Knowing we have support there when we need it helps. I too have struggled with death and other crises but I think being lucid has made it easier.


Joanne rozee September 29, 2015 at 10:44 am

Thank you. Just came across your blogs. How amazing you are putting things across.thank you jo x


Rebecca A. Watson October 6, 2015 at 9:47 am

Thanks for your kind words Joanne. Hope you’re having a good day <3


Lynsey February 7, 2016 at 9:14 am

Mum passed away in 2011 of breast cancer. I was the only one of my siblings that didn’t get drunk at the funeral and left early. I wanted to feel raw. I wanted to feel the pain and I didn’t want to become a terrible drunk mess in front of everyone. I didn’t want to have the shame of the next day after I had messed up at her funeral. I left early enough to get a good nights rest. The very next day I got up and I went and took my driving test and passed with 1 minor.
I felt that by not being able to have the ability to drive my mother to her appointments at the other hospitals I had let her down when she needed me.

fast forward a year later, my partner who is now my husband lost his father to a heart attack. I didn’t drink at his funeral. Again I wanted to be in control and I wanted to be able to support him and drive him home at the end of the evening. And also not to show myself up in front of his family by being a drunken mess.

It’s never been hard for me not to drink at a funeral, but I think those two events really did help me make up my mind that if I could be that strong in the face of such pain, I could always be that strong.

I love the fact that now I’m a non drinker that it’s not even a choice I have to make or a discussion I have to have with myself or have the “who’s going to drive” situation arose.

Grief and death are such a hard thing to deal with but such a natural part of life. Dealing with death helps you to put in to perspective other areas of your life or things that may be so insignificant.

my heart still feels empty at the loss of a parent or anyone I have lost but I know that by being the best version of myself by not drinking is the best gift I can give to anyone who has parted this life.

So sorry for your loss, I hope your friend is ok and healing a day at a time, I couldn’t imagine life without my hubby in it xxxxx


Rebecca A. Watson February 7, 2016 at 2:11 pm

It’s amazing what we can handle and how strong we are. Honestly, I think a lot of us don’t give ourselves enough credit. And how self-aware were you, even in the midst of your drinking? To not drink during those times had to take a lot of willpower. I think it’s easier once you’ve stopped to not drink during a funeral, but still never actually easy.

My friend is actually doing really well — a model of healing and asking for help and belief in the rising of the Phoenix. It’s beautiful.


may February 28, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Thankyou for this dealing with death of a recent ex I didn’t get the chance to say gd bye it hurts so much as I went all no contact as thought it wld be better for us both in long run. I will go to funeral & wake but know people will keep offering me drinks, I am recovering alcoholic. He helped me stop drinking so it wld be real tribute to him to stay sober lol xxxxxxx


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