Survival Strategies for Holidays and Vacations

The coming week will be a true test of my sobriety

The coming week will be a true test of my resolve

The coming week will be a true test of my character

The coming week will be a true test of my SPIRIT.

My husband and I have been invited to a destination wedding at an all-inclusive beach resort. As I type this, the November wind is howling outside my window with small blasts of snow ticking the glass. What sane Canuck wouldn’t be thrilled to escape for a week of sunshine?

In fact, a quiet week on the beach sounds completely heavenly but the days ahead will be anything but quiet. There are 50-some guests attending this event, all of us departing on the same flight from Calgary. Many in this group, my husband included, attend Grey Cup together each year in full “party-mode”.

Get the picture? Yah, that noisy section on the plane that all the other passengers are tired of by the end of the flight, praying they are headed to a different resort.

This is a group who is used to having a blast together and I’m not sure where I fit. I don’t want to be the wet rag. I don’t want to give recovery a bad name by being a fun-sucker. And I don’t want to miss out on fun by having an outsider mindset before we even leave home.

SO…. I am giving my head a good “Etch-a-Sketch” style shake and clearing out the negativity. Expectations (good or bad) result in resentment. Resentment feeds the addictive mindset. Let it go…..Breathe…..

There has been a noticeable spike in traffic on UnPickled lately and I wonder if it has anything to do with the upcoming holiday season. (Am I right? New readers, are you searching for answers as you dread another round of family gatherings with too much togetherness, drama, resentments, turkey, and BOOZE. Or perhaps, as New Year looms on the horizon, you are mustering the courage to make THIS the year you stick to your resolution and quit drinking? Am I right? I love being right! If that’s you please comment in the affirmative and make my day.)

Vacations, holidays, hosting 34 relatives for Christmas dinner, sleeping on your mother’s pull-out – whatever it is you dread in the weeks to come. These things can be daunting for anyone in recovery.

Here are my tried-and-true strategies for getting through such times:

  1. BYOD – Bring Your Own Drinks – Always always always show up with your non-alcoholic beverage of choice in one hand and a little something for the host(ess) in the other (flowers, chocolate, a bottle of wine if that’s something you feel safe handling).  Before you know it, your friends will start to keep your favourites on-hand. I am not kidding – this will happen and you might be surprised to see which friends do this for you and which don’t. Take note of those who do – they have your back.
  2. Plan Your Escape – Bring your own vehicle, if possible, and let anyone who comes with you know that they may have to cab it home if you need to leave early. If someone else does the driving, advise them that you should need to leave early, you’ll call a taxi. Do not put yourself into situations where you can’t control your exit. This is always made easier if you do the next step, too:
  3. Enlist a Buddy – At first it is tempting to keep your sobriety to yourself but it is sooo much easier with the encouragement of a trusted friend. If you’re involved in a program, you may have a sponsor as close as your phone. Even so, you may often find yourself among friends or family feeling unnecessarily alone in your efforts. I will never forget the actions of my confidant very early in my sobriety. I was having dinner with a group of girls and the when the waiter came to fill their wine glasses, he also poured into the empty glass in front of me. I almost fainted. Without missing a beat in the story she was telling, my dear friend Cheryl reached across the table, lifted my glass and poured the contents into her own as she carried on with her narrative. She did it so naturally that no one even seemed to notice (or care) – expect for me, of course! I was limp with relief.
  4. Expect to Have Fun – Browse a few headlines, Google some knock-knock jokes, or scan your friends’ Tweets for a few reminders of their interests and connections. Be ready to join into conversation and if all else fails ask everyone questions about themselves. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and LOVES the person who listens with interest.  Learn about the location you are visiting – whether it is a party in a private home, at gala at the local museum, or a vacation in another country. Bone up and be ready to explore and learn. You’ll be sailing smooth before you know it.
  5. Look Your Best – Put some extra effort into your appearance – over-dress even just to be safe. You may have been under a blanket all week sweating through your first week of detox, reading People Magazines and eating chocolate chips from the bag but no one needs to know that when you step out in public. Head high. Brows waxed, chin plucked. White-strips used and removed. You’re going to rock this, dammit. Even if you only stay for 90 minutes.
  6. Nab Little Breaks – It’s perfectly fine to step into the coat closet and text your sponsor or search #xa tweets for inspiration. Go into the bathroom and give yourself the soul-stare in the mirror. Use the seasonal  candy-cane lotion from Bath and BodyWorks  in there while you’re at it – the hosts will be grateful you  helped work through their annual supply.
  7. Practice Some Lines – This sounds super corny but it is helpful: write out some ways to say “no thanks, I’m not drinking” and practice them before the event. Generally, as long as you have a glass in your hand no one will care what is in it. Still, there’s always someone who just insists on getting you something in which case you can say, “Ohhhh, I’ll have some of that delicious-looking San Pelligrino that someone [YOU] brought. Yum! Thank you!!”.  If you are really pressed, just accept the drink offered and quietly set it aside and calmy WALK THE EFF AWAY. If this leaves you overly shaky, refer to items 6, 3, or 2.

So those are some maneuvers that have gotten me through countless events these past 2 ½ years, and I intent to adapt them for the resort week ahead.  What have I missed? What can you add? Let’s get through this holiday season together!


About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on November 16, 2013, in Getting Sober and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 63 Comments.

  1. Great post along with great tools!! Thank you and happy holidays!


  2. Just found this post – thank you! My fiance and I received a generous gift from my future in-laws: an extravagant all-inclusive honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. I’m reading up on others’ experiences to be sure we can stay as serene as possible. 🙂


  3. I’m glad I found this blog. Thanks for sharing- I’m quitting drinking and reading your posts will hopefully make it easier. Definitely putting this site in my favorites!


  4. Seems like we need to put in more effort into trying to keep away from peer pressure. Can we just say “thanks, but I don’t drink anymore”? Disappointing to whom who offered but that’s the reality. However, I have to admit, sometimes it is very hard to stay away and not to give way to peer pressure.


  5. I really enjoyed this list, and think your tips really could help EVERYONE get through the holidays!


  6. This article is so good, I like this blog, Thank you very much for sharing


  7. Interesting. Seems like we need to put in a lot of effort into trying to avoid peer pressure to drink. Can we just say “no, I don’t drink”? Whom are we going to disappoint? However, I have to admit, sometimes it is very hard to stay away and not to succumb to peer pressure.


    • Truly, the pressure mainly comes from within ourselves. The effort is to overcome the internal processes that make us feel too powerless to simply say, “No, I don’t drink” – which, btw, is an EXCELLENT response!


  8. Hi Jean, just to let you know, I’ve read and appreciated your blog for more than a year or so. Came back to read it this week for the first time in about six months because I’ve decided it’s time to get unpickled. Have known its been a problem for a while. Day 4. This time of year I tend to make resolutions/goals etc (you were right!)


    • Fabulous! What a great gift to yourself and you deserve it. Remember to see sobriety as self care and do some work to examine what drives the urge to comfort with alcohol. Be ready to face the things you may be trying to escape. It’s worth the effort!


  9. Just knowing there are others dealing with the somewhat dreaded family holiday trips is helpful for me. Thanksgiving was rough, lots of family drama and since I’ve been home I’ve been sick. I got run down from the stress and I’m paying for it. Here’s hoping Christmas goes much better! Thanks for your post.


  10. If you really can’t stand your relatives over the holiday season, DON’T make yourself miserable by faking it. The holiday season is not supposed to be miserable.


    • Haha, well that is true. An important part of self-care is saying ‘no thanks” when necessary. But if the only thing holding someone back is an uncertainty of how to behave socially as a person in recovery, then it is important to share some tools that help. Truly, having a plan can help a person move past misery and discomfort, and find the good things worth enjoying.


      • Thank you for this list! I am 1 month sober and usually very social. Having a hard time knowing how to handle all my social commitments with out my glass of wine in hand.


        • I survived attending a fancy event alone last night. I found my table, filled my wine glass with water and worked the room. I’m learning that no one cares what’s in my glass but me. And if I keep it topped up with waterhen no one offers me a drink. It took me well over a year to be so confident tho – it feels strange at first so be patient with your self and pay attention to what works for you so you can build a game plan for next time. Xo


  11. Awesome post 🙂


  12. “sobriety” such a hard hard hard thing to stay on when the fun begins


  13. First time reader. Looking forward to hearing more as I myself consider sobriety.


  14. I so enjoyed this post. I love that you told folks to look their best. Interestingly enough, I felt a little overdressed for Thanksgiving last week. So many dinner attendees had on sweats. You’re right…dammit I feel like I rocked it! Hah! Thanks!


  15. Ahhh…the holidays and family can certainly amp up the drinking.


  16. Great post and congrats on the Pressing!
    On a side note: I’m from Calgary currently living in Vancouver. Every time I switch on the news I hear about the blizzard conditions in cow town. Shiverrrr! I hope you’re basking away in the vitamin D at the beach =D


  17. Awesome survival techniques for any social situation! Thanks for the laughs and reminder of what’s to come in the silly season.


  18. I will surely follow the tips particularly to expect to have fun. But as to the location, I would prefer to be in a private place where I can relax and think only about myself.


  19. In addition to #7, have an extra set of lines for the adult peer pressure which will rain down on you b/c adults don’t like to drink alone or even see one person not imbibing. Be careful of the “oh come on, don’t be a grinch” tactic.


  20. onomatopoeicbliss

    Cool stuff! And since Ima insensitive bass turd, I’ll not say anything that might screw up your path.

    But 50 Canucks out in public?! Must have been some hellacious fights 😉

    Rock on!


  21. Good luck at the gathering. 🙂


  22. Very good advice at a perfect time of year. Hugs, Barbara


  23. Hope you have fun and look forward to hearing how the trip went!


  24. All good advice. Some I’ve tried with success, some new and will try. Good luck to you.


  25. Excellent advice. I browsed through the “fresh pressed” section of WordPress and liked your post title. I write about middle age weight loss. So much has to do with triggers for over eating and how to handle stress. Your advice could dovetail right into mine. Well done!


  26. I love your steps! I’m not ready to tell people about sobriety but I still have to be social!


  27. Yep, I’m new to your blog. And to everything. Like day one new. Thanks for your list!


  28. I’m on day 35…..25 meetings in three weeks at AA….feeling blessed that I have made it this far and very happy with everything I have gained in AA in a very short time. I know AA is not for everyone but for me it’s working and I’m going to keep doing it. Regarding the many posts on surviving the holidays….I am going to be blunt….who gives a S$!T what people think about your decision to not drink….don’t play games….put it out there for gods sake. Would you hide a sickness like cancer? I wouldn’t. WE HAVE A DISEASE! It is not a choice that we can’t drink normally it is a disease. Just my two cents!


  29. The holiday may come with challenges but i take much comfort in knowing i have an online family that i can turm to for strength support and encouragement this christmas we can all celebrate the birth of the real us stay strong everyone!!! X


  30. I wish I could laminate these hot tips. I would carry them around with me! Stay safe everybody during the Holidays, Oh yeah…stay strong!


  31. I’ve just discovered your blog and have been reading the last two hours. After three “green days” (no wine) in a row two weeks ago and two green days last week… I am realizing that I cannot be a normal wine drinker. I hide it well. I am a morning person and love getting up thirsty for a diet DP, going to the gym which is a big deal to my social life, and waiting for 5:00 happy to unwind with my husband and enjoy wine all evening long on our beautiful back deck. We both are struggling. Is there a new friend here that can be my buddy one day at a time? I must have the strength to start now. I’m mourning the wine friend’s loss already and I haven’t even started. Plus I dread not getting any sleep. We both are clammy and can’t sleep on “green” days. You can see why it’s just not working for us. I would love a private encourager.


  32. Yes! The bringing your own drinks is KEY. I love flavored polar seltzers (holiday themed ones!) – and I always make sure to eat a full healthy meal before. If i am full, I am so much less likely to tune in to my own itty bitty shitty committee 🙂


  33. Hi Belle – you have certainly thought hard on how not only to survive but to thrive on your holiday. I remember your ‘sober convention’ post where you came away not only having survived but massively boosted – hope you find more of the same on this trip. Think this is the first time I’ve commented on your blog – it was the first sobriety blog I found when I started looking a fortnight ago, and I so appreciate your posts. I am now on Day 15 of Belle’s 100 Day Challenge. Can’t believe I’m here. Thank you thank you thank you.


  34. bigtreelittleleaf

    Thanks for the tips. I replied last week with 6 days sober I think. Today is 16 days and I should be feeling good but I’m not. I’m overwhelmed with anxiety that I have already done permanent damage to my body and depression that I won’t be around for my 3 kids. I can’t eat or sleep very much. I am consumed with worry. I am nauseus and tired all day. Has anyone experienced this? Will this get better? I don’t want to drink I just want to disappear.


    • I’m just about to leave on vacation but not before I answer you! Hang in there. The first several weeks can be rough and you will grieve the loss of what has seemed to become your closest friend. It’s hard. Your doctor can help you look at your anxiety or maybe a behavioural therapist to work through some of these concerns. Read up on alcohol detox and see if your symptoms fit that pattern. If they do, that’s good news because it’s temporary. Don’t forget how important it is to NOT DRINK – whatever you are feeling it won’t be helped by returning to old habits. Hands down you are in a better place for having quit. Xoxo


  35. day 8 of sobriety and im feeling so much better than i was a week ago on day 1. I love this site real people with real advice and tips thanks unpickled


  36. Great advice for the holidays. Thanks and have a wonderful time.


  37. Hi Unpickled

    I am still here. I am now over ten months sober and going strong. I read your blog daily. I used to be able to click a button on the side for a “comment” feed. It seems to have disappeared and there is not that same interaction with the readers. I hope KK and others are all still going strong or if not we can all help each other to get there.


  38. Thanks so much for the holiday strategies, I am very concerned. It is day 19 for me and I feel really great and hope to keep it that way. I am going to try to have a less is more holiday season, do less and have more time for myself (say no to parties when I can )Buy less and have more money in January ( alleviate post holiday stress). Not drink and have have more peace and rest.
    Thanks always for your posts, I have been trying to stop drinking for awhile. I first tried cutting down and making drinking “rules” but was never quite able to stick with them. Without drinking, I don’t have to play the game of should I have just one glass of wine tonight…..So I am hoping to be able to stick to not drinking through the holidays and hopefully beyond.
    By the way, I have been using strategy 7, plans some lines, when I go out to eat with friends or colleagues. Having a rehearsed reason for not drinking works really well.


  39. LynneR@Lynne_Suzanne1

    These tips are so helpful going into my first non-drinking holiday. Today is my day 10 and while I have the full support of my husband, I have lived in the safe cocoon of our house. Thanksgiving day will be day 21 for me and I will be in VT w his whole family. We are married 28yrs and I have never been there and didn’t drink. that said, I drink the most of all of them, keeping my own wine in the garage and sneaking out for sips. I have never admitted that before, so this is progress but even thinking about this makes me cringe. How could I have let it come to this? I feel so good about my choice to stop, but I am not fooled into thinking it will be easy. Your blog and daily doses of the bubble hour make me think it is possible. thank you.


  40. This could not have come at a better time. So far, I’ve managed to avoid situations with alcohol. However, short of becoming a cloistered nun (doubt they would allow my husband and four kids…) this is not going to be realistic forever.
    I’m not sure I consciously decided to quit this time of year or if my last drunk was my breaking point, either way, I am here for Day 11. But, the people pleaser in me says you are spot on! lol.

    Thank you for this blog; it has helped me in more ways than I can count. I appreciate you.


  41. You are right about the traffic I’m sure! I know I have a gala coming up on November 30th and it’s a place where most will drink. I have buddied up with someone who knows my intentions to stay sober. While she may not, I know she’ll be supportive of my decision. We have a room we’ll be staying in so I’ll bring my own AF drinks. I have talked to the catering manager ahead of time as I am the event coordinate and asked him what AF options there will be. I know it might not be easy as this will be my first social event since deciding to be sober and I’m early in the game with MAJOR cravings still hitting me (almost lost to the voice yesterday but on day 20 AF today).

    Your points are great! I was thinking of those all inclusive resorts and about my next planned trip as it’s what I’d like to do. I’m sure there are plenty of activities to do outside of just drinking (while I know many have the mindset – it’s free so we may as well make it worthwhile). I think I’d rather be 100% feeling good and no hangovers to enjoy that week in the sun and recall every single detail of each beautiful scene, moment and experience!

    Being a fellow canuck – I sure wish I could be heading somewhere warm too! Enjoy!!


  42. When I attended functions in the beginning of my sobriety, I would get a bottle of beer, pour it out in the bathroom and keep refilling it with water to drink for the rest of the night. Worked great and kept those pesky drink pushers out of my face.


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