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17 Tips for Not Drinking During Thanksgiving

A family gathered around a Thanksgiving table and not drinking alcoholImage via @shanehjohnson/Twenty20

The holiday season has arrived, and just like every other year, this one likely brings with it a mix of emotions for all of us. 

This can be especially true if you’ve decided not to drink this season. Even though seeing family and friends is great, the sheer amount of events and family dynamics can make the holidays a source of anxiety, and if you’ve decided not to drink, you might be wondering how you’ll make it through dinner.

I made it through my first holiday season sober last year, and while I can say that not drinking made for quite a different experience, I can also tell you it was so much better than the previous seasons I had spent in a wine-filled haze. Spoiler alert: There were far fewer tears! 

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Here are some tips to bookmark for managing your upcoming holiday soirees, Thanksgiving included, while not drinking: 

1. Don’t show up too early if you can avoid it.

A lot of the drinking tends to happen before the meal during idle time, so if you’re an invited guest, bring a dish or dessert you’ve prepared (or bought) to the event rather than making it there. If you want to help the host, you can always offer to help with the clean-up after the meal, which will also keep you busy. 

2. Have alcohol free friends queued up and on speed dial. 

Chances are you’re not the only one that will be choosing an alcohol-free Thanksgiving (I know I will be!), so let those friends know you might be reaching out and when. They’ll probably need the support, too. Letting others know you’ll be forgoing booze adds a layer of accountability, which will be helpful if you feel tempted to have a drink. 

3. Bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverage. 

Never assume, even if the host knows you’re not drinking, that there will be something other than water for you at the event. This is not to say your host is inconsiderate, but a lot of drinkers just aren’t aware of the delicious non-alcoholic beverage options for adults available today, so it’s better to come prepared with your own. 

4. Have a drink in your hand. 

Number three brings me to my next point, which is to have a drink in your hand. This will be especially helpful if you’re not comfortable with telling others you’re not drinking. If you already have a drink in hand, it’s less likely that someone will ask about it or offer you something. It will also make you feel more comfortable to be sipping on something while others are drinking. My personal favorite is seltzer with a splash of pineapple juice because it looks like a mixed drink, is low-cal, and not too sweet.

5. Have an escape plan. 

One of the many perks of not drinking is that you have the ability to ensure you get home safely and can leave when you’re ready to go. Whether it’s driving yourself to and from the event or calling an Uber, make sure you have what you need (download a rideshare app, have a CC already stored, make sure you know where your keys are at the event, etc.). Do not rely on a friend or family member—especially if you know they will be drinking—be your ride home. If I know I can leave whenever I want, my anxiety is lower and I feel more comfortable going to events, because I know I can always dip out if it becomes triggering. 

6. Take care of yourself first. 

Don’t worry about how turning down a drink or leaving a party early will affect others. Seriously. If you’ve decided not to drink this Thanksgiving, that decision comes first. 

7. Play the tape forward. 

We’ve all heard this one, but there’s a reason we continue to hear it—the tactic truly works. If that glass of boozy eggnog looks oh-so-tempting, reflect on past seasons when you imbibed too much and remember how those nights ended, or how you felt the next morning. Still tempted? Probably not. 

8. Let the people you’re with know in advance you won’t be drinking. 

You are likely spending time with people you don’t see often. Be honest with them upfront so that there’s no extra pressure at the event. Sometimes, it might even provide you with an extra layer of support. If a friend or family member knows in advance that you won’t be drinking, they could come to your aid if you’re offered a drink or just support you in your decision throughout the holiday.  

9. Bring a friend with you who also won’t be drinking. 

Strength in numbers, y’all. If it’s cool with whoever is hosting to invite a friend, bring someone else who isn’t drinking along for the ride. I have gotten through countless booze-heavy events with my boyfriend, who also doesn’t drink, by my side. Though I’ve also made it through plenty on my own, I cannot tell you how comforting it is to have someone else there who isn’t drinking either. 

10. Avoid triggers. 

Triggers can be anything—a person, place, food, smell, etc. While you don’t always know what will trigger you, especially if this is your first Thanksgiving without drinking, being prepared will help you from feeling caught off-guard. Start with what you do know to be a problem. Do you always want an after-dinner cocktail with your sweet potato pie? Consider choosing a different dessert or skipping it altogether.  

11. Accept that the holidays may look different now. 

Fall and the holiday seasons always make me feel nostalgic, and sometimes that nostalgia ushers in good memories of drinking. Conveniently, it also leaves the bad ones behind. However, I’ve made peace with the fact that my holiday season looks different now than it did when I drank, and I don’t let those fuzzy memories lure me in, because I know they’re not the whole truth. Different, especially, in this case, is good. Different is growth. 

12. Remember what this day is about. 

Make a gratitude list. I seriously love a good gratitude list and do one almost daily, but they are especially handy when I find myself as the guest of honor at my own pity party. If this is you, ask yourself: What is in your life today that wasn’t when you were drinking? Give thanks for what you have gained in giving up alcohol. Give thanks for your own strength. At the very least, give thanks for the pie. 

13. Start new traditions. 

Visit a pumpkin patch, host a Friendsgiving without alcohol, go apple-picking, or eat tacos instead of the traditional Thanksgiving fare. New traditions give you the space to write your own story without alcohol. It is never too late to start an entirely new tradition.

14. Give yourself something to look forward to. 

Plan a reward for yourself to celebrate making it through Thanksgiving without a drink. This is a great form of self-care.  Book a workout class, a massage, a day of absolutely nothing, or whatever it is that makes you feel good. Whatever treat you pick, make it something you know you wouldn’t have been able to enjoy if you drank through the holiday. This will reaffirm what you’ve gained by choosing not to drink. 

15. Bring your literal “toolbox.”

If you’re not familiar, a toolbox is a collection of soothing items we can reach for in anxiety-inducing situations. It’s something Tempest believes is an invaluable tool for when you’re not drinking and something that is encouraged through membership. Mine consists of a makeup bag filled with lavender oil, teas, hand lotion, and a notebook filled with my favorite mantras. Having a small toolbox on-hand can make 

16. Give yourself a breather. 

If you start feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk and breathe in some crisp fall air or step outside and call a friend. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the situation. Without alcohol, you might need new ways to cope with situations that are overwhelming, and that’s completely normal. Taking a deep breath, going for a walk, or even a good car scream are all options. Again, take care of yourself first. 

17. Don’t go. 

I cannot say this enough. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just stopped drinking or have been alcohol-free for a long time, if your instinct is telling you this event won’t be good for you, remember, you absolutely do not have to go. If your family and friends want what’s best for you, they will absolutely understand, and even if they don’t, your ability to feel safe and stay alcohol-free is what’s most important. 

If you remember none of these tips, then remember one thing: You are not alone. 

* * *

There are so many of us deciding not to drink this holiday season, and that’s precisely what this is: a choice and an act of self-love. It may not feel that way while you’re watching your friends and family spending the night toasting with champagne, but because you’ve chosen not to drink, you are free from all the potential pain that comes with the clinking of those glasses. You can do hard things—including this.

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