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4 Ways to Stay Safe and Sober on New Year’s Eve

The new year 2022 written in snow to celebrate quitting alcoholImage via Galyna_Andrushko/Envato Elements

New Year’s Eve can be a difficult time for anyone who is trying to quit drinking or stay sober. I’m sure many of us are familiar with the pressure that comes with having the best New Year’s Eve ever! And, for a lot of people, this common statement translates to getting shit-faced and inevitably doing at least one regrettable thing that will make you vow to never party again.

Despite the expectations never quite matching up to the reality, New Year’s Eve is one of those events on the social calendar that makes us feel like we can only have the most fun if we’re absolutely hammered. But, believe it or not, drinking does not have to be the central theme of your night. It is, in fact, a lie that the best nights are the ones you can’t remember. The best nights are actually the ones that don’t have you spending your morning in CSI mode trying to find out how you got home.

At one point, I too failed to understand why anyone would consciously choose to be sober for a big occasion like NYE. It just didn’t make sense to me. I held the belief that no fun could be had unless my trusted companions, alcohol and drugs, were in the mix. After two years of sobriety, I now know that it is entirely possible to strip it all back and have an equally divine time, sans booze.

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But it took a while to get here.

If for any reason you think you can’t enjoy yourself sober, I’m here to tell you that you can. It’s completely normal to feel a little lost, lonely, and even terrified at the thought of entering the New Year dry as a bone—but it really isn’t all doom and gloom. You can even have fun with this! You just need to be prepared for it.

The biggest mistake I made many times was to assume that I could just go sober without a plan. Here are some tips I’ve come up with other the years to have fun on New Year’s Eve and not wake up with a crushing hangover.

1. Redefine your idea of fun.

What is fun to you?

Really think about this. Let go of what you’ve been made to believe is the definition of fun, and tune into yourself from an honest place. Does blacking out currently jibe with your definition? Losing your phone and purse? Lining up for an overpriced nightclub in the freezing cold? Is it waking up naked next to a random stranger in a part of town you’ve never even heard of? This is just a shortlist of how my Big Nights Out used to go. But getting sober allowed me to see that none of those things were ever as enjoyable as I told myself.

Maybe having a nice dinner with a couple of good friends could be equally fun. Or could hosting a small, booze-free game night or sleepover be just as awesome? I certainly think so. Keeping the numbers small can mean less chance of the gathering turning into a wild soiree. You could even take yourself out to a fireworks display, enjoy the festivities, then call it a night with a clear head.

Really take the time to assess all of your options, ones that don’t involve you waking up riddled with shame and regret. Once we give ourselves permission to expand our idea of something, it gets easier to see just how much is on offer.

2. Strengthen your belief in yourself.

Stop expecting yourself to fail before you even try. A lot of us don’t see our commitments through because we hold on to the belief that we aren’t capable of change. You might have already convinced yourself that you’re boring without some kind of buzz, so you’ll use this reasoning to justify giving in to the pressure. I know exactly what it’s like—to begin a positive transition while a major part of you is just waiting for you to fuck it up.

If your gut instinct is really telling you that you can’t do New Year’s alone, tell someone close to you and hold yourself accountable. It’s important to also know that just because you’re not drinking, it doesn’t mean that everything has to change. You can still dance, you can still laugh, you can still flirt, you can do all the things that bring you joy. Stay connected to your why and know that Future You is going to be so thankful you stuck to your commitment.  

3. Practice your “no”s.

This is a common tip for a good reason. Exercising our right to say “no” can be the most empowering thing, but it can take a little while to get fully comfortable.

On a night like New Year’s Eve, you’ll probably need to pull this one out of the bag quite often. You’re likely to be getting offered drinks and other party favors at every turn, but hold onto why you’re staying sober all night. Be clear on why you’re saying no. I’d even suggest playing out possible scenarios before leaving your house.

Turning down alcohol can sound easy in theory, but putting it into practice usually proves difficult for many of us. Know that it’s totally okay to make an excuse if your “no” doesn’t seem to be registering with whoever is on the other end. You aren’t obligated to tell everyone the full details of why you’re not drinking. Get as creative as you want!

With that in mind, it’s always good to have a few phrases ready to dish out, because there are people that won’t take a simple “no” for an answer. A few that I’ve used in the past include:

“Thank you, but I’m driving”
“I’m on heavy medication”
“I’ve got to get up early tomorrow”
“I’m pregnant”

“No thank you, I don’t drink” (that’s my favorite)

Sharpen up the ones that work for you, but, bottom line: Come prepared and be ready to just walk away if someone isn’t taking no for an answer.

4. Come ready with your exit strategy.

If you’ve decided to go out, done your best to have sober fun, and it’s just not happening anymore…it’s okay to leave. More than okay.

If you know that the people you’ll be spending the evening with are the hard-to-drag-out-of-the-party type, then prepare yourself in advance for a solo exit. Pre-book yourself a taxi and don’t feel bad for sneaking out to your warm bed. Say your goodbyes swiftly (or don’t at all—no guilt necessary here), and don’t allow yourself to get roped into staying longer than necessary.

Staying past the point of enjoyment can add even more pressure if you really don’t want to end up drinking. I know this part can be hard, but it all comes under putting yourself first, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing that.

Above all, give yourself enough time before the event to really map out these tips so that you have a strong action plan that can serve as a guide. Remember that these are just guidelines, so rework them so that they can fit best to help you stay sober.

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You don’t have to go through your recovery alone—and you shouldn’t! Your best nights do not always have to end in a blackout. You deserve to remember every detail of your evening, and it all starts by giving it a good go. Many have done it, and so can you.

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