One of my biggest fears when I went alcohol-free, was that if I couldn’t drink, I would never again enjoy hosting parties. I love to entertain and so do my friends. The only time that I had ever attended parties sober, or thought to offer alcohol-free options when I entertained, was when I or one of my friends was pregnant. So while maneuvering through my first sober year or two, I found that it helped to remember the parties I’d hosted and attended while pregnant, and it also helped me to learn a bit about the effect that alcohol has on the brain.
When I was pregnant my body was producing oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, to keep me calm and relaxed, which made it easy to forgo the booze. I did not drink alcohol at all while pregnant, but it was relatively easy for me to stay sober even when I was at a party or hosting drinking friends. Aside from the oxytocin keeping me rather zen, it was also the behavior of my friends when I was pregnant, which helped me enjoy parties sober. They all knew that I couldn’t drink and everyone was supportive and attentive. If I was a guest at someone’s house they made sure that I had an interesting alcohol-free drink in my glass so I wouldn’t feel left out. I also often took my own AF drink with me because I was comfortable not being questioned about why I wasn’t drinking. And if I got a bit tired or bored as the late-night discussion got slurrier, I was never questioned when I turned in or went home early.
When I was pregnant, everyone felt good about supporting my health and well-being as a non-drinking person, even at parties. There was no question that I shouldn’t drink, and no concern that my not drinking was a judgment of my friend’s behavior. But I have found that now that I’m sober by choice, my friends are not always as supportive. The idea of one of the group NEEDING to stop drinking can trouble people. My sobriety can feel like an uncomfortable reflection on their drinking. So it has been up to me to enthusiastically, lovingly, and creatively support my health and well-being as a sober person, with the same enthusiasm that I protected the health and well-being of my unborn baby when I was pregnant.
This is why one of the things that kept me alcohol-free in my first year of sobriety was to remember what it felt like to be pregnant. The other thing that helped me was understanding the chemistry behind why I sometimes crave alcohol, even at 5 years happily sober, when I’m entertaining or at a party. It’s not just the cuddle effect of oxytocin that I was missing but also the combined stimulant and sedative effect caused by alcohol.
Alcohol is the perfect party drug.
Alcohol works as a stimulant and a sedative. It is the only drug that will wind you up and then calm you down. The perfect party fuel!
Alcohol produces both stimulant and sedating effects in humans. These two seemingly opposite effects are central to the understanding of much of the literature on alcohol use and misuse….. individuals at high risk for alcohol use disorders have a reduced sedative response to alcohol compared to individuals not at high risk… alcoholism risk is also associated with a larger stimulatory response to alcohol.
Most of us have been encouraged to drink at parties since we came out the other side of adolescence so relearning to party alcohol-free is difficult, especially when everyone else in the room IS drinking. I found that surviving my first holiday season sober, that time between the end of November and the New Year, was the perfect training for enjoying parties and events alcohol-free the rest of the year. Even if you’ve been happily sober for months, the holiday season can be a minefield of triggers.
During the holiday season, we’re expected to go to parties and throw parties and be happy and generous and warm and loving at ALL TIMES, which is exhausting. I found in my first sober holiday seasons, that the seasonal exhaustion made me vulnerable, and made me crave a drink like I hadn’t in months.
Think about that for a minute…
Why does being exhausted but expected to be social nonetheless, make you want to drink?
Here is an excerpt from scientific research that explains :
Endorphins: Alcohol affects the endorphin system in a manner similar to opiates, acting as a pain-killer and giving an endorphin “high”
Norepinephrine: Also known as noradrenaline. Alcohol causes a release of norepinephrine in the brain which is one reason why alcohol acts as a stimulant and not just as a depressant.
Adrenaline: Alcohol causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline–this is another reason why alcohol has stimulant properties. The adrenaline is carried to the brain via the bloodstream.
If you had never introduced alcohol into your social scene, then you would not miss that kick that you’ve gotten used to from the first drink, the automatic sociability switch that is flipped by the stimulant effect of the alcohol. But once you get used to that as part of your social identity, you’ll find that in the most stressful and tiring social situations, it’s that little energy zap of confidence that you’re missing.
I remember the first time I read about that stimulant/sedative effect. It made so much sense because alcohol always gave me a sort of razor-sharp focus though I didn’t understand why. It gave me that little extra bit of edge and then softened me out. However, in the last years that I drank the softening became dark and dangerous and the razor-sharp edge became abusive. It was time for me to stop drinking, and luckily I did.
The first sober holiday season, family vacation, or big social event is hard for anybody when they stop drinking. Holidays, vacations, and parties are triggers to drink that can jump out and catch you up, even after you’ve tackled the day-to-day sober routine for weeks or months and are coasting along nicely.
If you take the possibility of drinking out of the picture, you will find alternatives. Sometimes they’ll surprise you and sometimes you’ll plan them, but you WILL find alternatives because you don’t drink.
How do You Stay Alcohol-Free at Parties when Everyone Else is Drinking? :
Go into it with a “sense of adventure”, a chance to get out of your comfort zone. Adventures are exciting, they’re eye-opening… they can have a bit of associated peril and fear of the unknown – at least the good ones do! I find if I pay attention there’s a buzz with getting out of my comfort zone. Pay attention and notice it, it can be fun. But the key is to 100% decide no drinks…then let it all play out in front of you. A 100% decision and acceptance takes away the nervousness and concern. You can do this!
Shift your focus. Focus on sensual you. Find a lovely silk or velvet shirt to wear. Do your hair and nails and makeup. Focus on the elegant art of conversation. And when you tire of the festivities make a gracious, elegant exit. In your sober bad ass shoes!
What’s your plan for an Alcohol Free beverage? It really helps to figure that out in advance, and take it along. Keep a glass in your hand to minimize unwanted questions about what you’re drinking/not drinking. And have a little something to eat before you go, even if you know there’s going to be food. A healthy snack with some protein in it can help ward off possible cravings. Also, have an escape plan! When it stops being fun, leave!
We host the Thanksgiving feast for our friends each year and this past year I was three years solidly sober. I thought that by now it would be a breeze. BUT when I became exhausted at the end of prepping for our party, I began thinking about the wine that was coming with my friends. I knew I wouldn’t drink it, but I WANTED it. I wanted the good feeling that I still remember. The sensual pleasure, the release of tension. And I wanted that energy kick. The jolt that gets you going and the sedative effect that follows.
So I brewed a pot of coffee and I put on a lovely, soft, velvet jacket I found hidden in the back of my closet. And there it was: that pleasurable, indulgent, party-happy sense of peace.
Let the Festivities Begin!
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Tales from the front – Alcohol-Free Parties Done and Dusted :
A little success story:
Last night I had to face a could-be triggering situation (hosting and bartending a drinks party for 70 people I don’t really know at my daughter’s school) and I didn’t drink. I wasn’t worried that I would, am not wobbling but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. I watched it all like a nature documentary. Small glasses filled with a bit of wine, most people sipping slowly (which somehow infuriates me and makes me want to shout ‘Drink it dammit, you aren’t going to get a buzz!’) a rare few with red cheeks frequenting the bar a lot.
IT WAS FINE. I got home by 11 pm and realized it was probably the first time since having kids that I came home after a party and spoke to our babysitter, sober!!
I went to a party tonight with old drinking mates, had a great time, great friends, everyone was pretty into the booze, some weren’t, I left early’ish, hubby is still there (I think he will have a sore head tomorrow!). I am so, so happy to be home, warm, rested, confident that I have got what I need in life. I remember that not very long ago that party would have been so different for me, even if I had of made it through the party and back home, late, drunk, I would have kept on drinking, likely just me, alone, maybe hubby, I would have eventually been super smashed, everything gone to shit – and tomorrow morning, no hangover, no shame, no guilt and unease, no gnawing terror that this monkey on my back can’t be dislodged, no sadness and pain.
How do you stay alcohol-free while hosting your parents 50th anniversary party on day 27 sober?
Have a Plan – Avoid Overwhelm!!
My parents anniversary party was an example of complete overwhelm, from planning it with my sister in law, to the party itself. And there was no way to avoid it.
Going into it I had to decide what I was able to handle in regards to the party. Did I need to refuse and only create an “out to dinner” for family or could I jump all the way into a big party? I wanted to do this for them. That made the decision easier.
Sometimes we can’t or don’t want to avoid the overwhelm, but even then we can find ways to not let it overwhelm us in the process. As far as my family knew I was doing a 30 day alcohol detox as part of a general cleanse.
I just told myself that I could go outside for one minute any time I needed to. I knew I had sparkling cider and I just kept my feet moving. Standing around makes me anxious and itchy in social situations.
I had a plan to talk to each guest for at least a few minutes and gave myself the mindset that I was an employee of the party, just like everyone else. My job was to make the guests comfortable and my parents happy, and to make the party go. I was the party planner not an attendee. This all helped. It was avoiding overwhelm, within the overwhelm. Have I lost everyone with this rambling?
I have seen so many people get overwhelmed and slip in early sobriety, that is why avoid overwhelm is so important. So the best idea is to just avoid it whenever possible (at least in the beginning when you first go alcohol-free). An example would be getting takeout rather than feeling like you have to sook for your family, or staying home from a night at the bar with friends. But, also, avoid overwhelm when you can’t stay home. It is important to learn. How can you not be overwhelmed in overwhelming situations, as they are actually part of life, and the point is to live life fully!
So one way to avoid the overwhelm is to decide if the overwhelm is “worth it”. With less than a month sober a night out with friends or a vacation or that sort of a thing is not worth it. Your parents 50th only comes along once so it was worth it. Avoid overwhelm doesn’t mean stay shut up in your house forever, it means learning new ways to be and deal with the uncomfortable parts of not drinking.
I am supposed to be at a big Christmas party tonight. I bailed. Instead I’ve lit the fire and am having my fave drink, tonic with bitters and lime. Happy.
Sometimes you’ve just got to say no. JOMO.( Joy of Missing Out 🙂 )
And at 847 days sober?
Never let your guard down or put those rose coloured glasses back on, drinking is never what it promises 💕☺️✌️
I’m reflecting on this as I attended a 40th birthday party on the weekend. Leading up to it I won’t lie I had thoughts about drinking and how the nights out used to go but I had no intention of actually bringing that vile liquid anywhere near my lips. My husband’s friends all drink to excess when they get together I used to be there with bells on but now I’m left on the sideline. This was a real booze up and watching at the party I saw how people changed after alcohol, how they would be quiet at the start of the night then come speak to me souring their words with vacant looks in their eyes and smart ass comments that they wouldn’t normally say.
I used to be that person, the one that tried to keep up with everyone else, that wanted to keep partying, wanted attention and mostly wanted everyone else to be as wasted as me so I didn’t feel so bad. I hated it. I never want to be that person again.
People who drink too much are not fun they are obnoxious and un feeling in their behaviour and I no longer want to waste my time around it. It’s just shite I hate alcohol and what it does to people. It isn’t fun.
I’m happy that I made it through another occasion sober and that my rose coloured glasses are off . Now I’ll step down from my high horse and come back down to earth and be forever thankful that I am 847 days sober and counting.
I went clubbing sober!! We didn’t stay long (home by 11.30 yay) but given we are on a party island our friends really wanted to check it out. I danced and had so much fun – I think I even enjoyed it more because I was sober.
I went to a small birthday dinner last night for a friend. I was a bit dreading it – I’m exhausted from a tough week and I had no idea who else was going to be there. In the end, I knew everyone already – I live in a small close-knit community – but I hadn’t really seen any of these particular people since going alcohol-free. Eventually, the two guys across from me were talking about their fave poisons and asked me what mine is. And I said ‘I don’t drink.’
I think it was the first time I said it like that and not ‘oh I’m not drinking at the moment’ They were fascinated, wanted to know when it got easier (for me it was about 2.5 months) and then we played games after supper – and I laughed so hard I almost cried, it was funny, and no one drank very much….
Before I knew it everyone was on water like me.
Anyway I’m sharing this because amongst a really tough week for me, the birthday dinner – that involved party games (and I’d normally want to drink for those) was a total hit – the party itself provided the tonic I needed, the uplifting factor. The people, the food, the laughs.
We really don’t need booze.
Had an absolutely wonderful holiday party today, lots of love and laughter and great conversation and the vast majority of it done over tea 🙂 27 people – 8 hours – and only two bottles of wine consumed by the lot… alcohol is not the fuel that feeds friendship – it’s love and laughter and generosity that do the trick
More reading for your alcohol-free party season:
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Don’t let the shame of the stigma keep you from saying
“I think I have a problem with drinking”
If you can’t beat ’em join ’em
Isn’t that the old saying
Don’t be such a bore
Why aren’t you playing?
When you want to give in
And want so badly to trade
Your hard-earned sobriety
You’re trading it for what really?
A few memories that will fade
Then a party for one
When the rest have all gone
I mean it’s bound to carry on
Or will you stop at a bottle?
Hah good one!
My alternative party invitation:
Hey, you there
Come let your hair down
Throw off your cares
Don’t forget to badly overshare
Criticise the food
Like the host’s not there
Top your wine up
And up, up again
Drink from a cup
Try not to feel shame
Slur your words to someone
You can’t remember their name
You can dance away
Then stumble in pain
When you want to go home
The party atmosphere’s warned
You’ve upset someone too
But you don’t know who
It couldn’t have been you
Causing her to cry in the loo
There’s no longer very much to be gained
The wine’s all been drained
There was some but it went in the cooking
What a waste you think
You’d have had a quick drink
When no-one was looking
Is it really a chance to mingle with people like you
To reconnect, reminisce and hear their views
About small talk do you enthuse?
Is it really just a wine search and rescue?