How to Reduce Your Drinking Around the Holidays (if That’s Something You Want to Do)

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T’is the season for holiday parties and get-togethers and these social commitments can challenge our social fitness and personal comfort levels. It’s easy to see alcohol as the real MVP, lubricating some of those bumpier social situations for us.

Maybe you’ve been finding, however, that nights and evenings spent drinking this year have left you a little more worse for the wear? I must have tried every possible way I can think of to include even a little booze in my life from time to time, but finally reached the conclusion that this substance just does not jive with my system or my goals (ugh, old). This holiday season will mark a year since I’ve had a drink, and over this time, I’ve road-tested some strategies to smoothing over that conversation with loved ones, and other curiously concerned drunk people.

Offer to be the Designated Driver: Simple. Elegant. Remind any folks who are concerned about you “not having enough fun” that you are able to drive them home! Or to their next location! Fun!

Cite your budget, or your health: Drinking is an expensive pastime – a truth universally acknowledged. We are all living hand-to-mouth here (we are? I am.) and so, it’s entirely probable that there just isn’t any extra bill in the budget this month to throw at the bartender. As well, many folks are exploring food sensitivities and fitness goals where temporary abstinence from alcohol is required. You could easily be one of those people!

Taking the month off “for the cause”: There are always plenty of social media driven events supporting doing activities – ice buckets, moustaches, running– for some notable cause. If anyone asks where your beer is, tell them you’re doing No-Drink December to support Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or another great foundation. Taking a month off the drink is no less peculiar than growing a moustache for a month. NO LESS PECULIAR.

Set a limit, and play within it: If you want to have just three beers, only drink three beers. Setting a personal limit is also a good test to see if some other emotion (other than wanting to have a jolly good time) is motivating you to reach for the next beer, and the next level of intoxication. Ask yourself: Are you currently uncomfortable and need a “dose” of the dancing juice? Do you just want to keep the current level of intoxication and are reaching for extra unnecessarily? Do you feel pressured to take shots (and other quick-dosing) from peer pressure or obligation, or politeness? Would you have bought the shot for yourself? Peer pressure doesn’t die in high school like it should have, and you are under no obligation to say yes to that gift. It’s your body, night, and next morning.

Mix in a water – creatively: My friend introduced me to this little trick of refilling her husband’s empty beer bottle with water (with his explicit consent, of course). If he noticed at all (sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn’t) he remained holding the beer without levelling up his intoxication. Having a drink in your hand is a social buffer in itself– any lull in conversation or between topics is smoothed over by taking a sip, or offering to freshen someone’s drink. Social interactions, particularly acquaintance-heavy ones, sometimes require ways to fill silences and drinking can serve this purpose. Find ways to make this social tool work with your goal of reducing your intake. My personal favourite was “club soda, short glass” because I could run with the vodka soda crowd, no problem.

If none of this works? Lie: One of the many, MANY beautiful things about drunk people progressively getting drunker is that they forget things, have limited access to their senses like vision, and generally have different priorities for their night than making sure you’re good and liquored up. Someone catches you without a beer in hand? You’re just heading to get another – catch you later.

Or…tell the truth: If you can, be honest with your loved ones about the kind of nights and next mornings you are having when you over-indulge, and how drinking has not been serving you lately. Unless you have bullies for friends, this answer should be enough.

We forget that folks are incredibly self-absorbed with short attention spans. Your abstinence from alcohol may not even register with most people. For the ones who seem particularly concerned for you, it might be that your reasons for dialing it back may hit too close to home for them. People may behave as though you are judging them for drinking, regardless of your actual reasons, and you can’t control if they project that attitude unto you. Ultimately, you don’t need to drink to make someone else feel better about their own drinking. If they are self-conscious about their habits, that’s a them-thing, not a you-thing.

At the same time, you are not a martyr for choosing not to drink. If you’re miserable to be around sober at a party, that’s something that may require some internal exploration as to what’s keeping you from having fun in these social settings. If you think you “just hate being around drunk people”, again, maybe explore where the distaste is coming from: are people not able to enjoy drinking just because you’re not included? These aren’t easy things to face the mirror about, but try not to judge yourself too harshly – we are all just figuring it out.

With plenty of good reasons for cutting down on the drink, from budget to health, it’s still not always easy to actually go without when it’s so commonplace in social situations. Remind yourself that you don’t owe anyone an explanation if it’s something you are doing for yourself. Let me know how it goes this season!

18 Things I Could Do at 18, That I Can’t Do at 28 because, (Mental) Health

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18. Not wear sunscreen: As much as I resist the culturally ageist perception of ideal beauty as exclusively young and wrinkle-free, I’m hyper-aware of sun damage in my late 20s and lather up accordingly. As a tanning bed reformist for 10 years, it gives me more peace of mind to be pasty and safe(r) than bronzed and worried about my increasing resemblance to an old leather boot.

17. Skip the stretch: A mistake I learned the hard way when I launched myself into a women’s soccer league one summer and limped away after one game with two pulled hamstrings and lower back pain. This 28-year old requires a proper warm-up and stretch before the recommended 30 minutes of mild-moderate exercise per day.

16. Drink with abandon: Gone are the days of vodka-Diet Cokes, wine by the litre, and double-header party weekends. As the kids say, I simply cannot. With every passing year, my hangovers become more and more wicked and with the current medication that I am on, going over my limit means spending the next several days trolling around in my own misery.

15. Hang out with toxic people just because they are fun: And make no mistake, they were very fun. But on a lazy Sunday, I want to clean up the party with someone who wants what is best for me and makes me feel understood. I’ve become more adept at evaluating character over the years and find myself being more discerning over who I become close with and allow to influence me. When it comes to fun and quality, I say, get friends who can do both.

14. Diet, restrict, and punish my body: Making my body feel deprived and empty used to empower me. Now I just feel empty and deprived when I try to restrict or calculate my food intake or punish my body at the gym when I’ve been “bad”. I try to listen to my body and understand what it is trying to tell me, because I’m learning that it responds better to tenderness than hate.

13. Eat shit: While I’ve moved away from restrictive eating, I do have to be careful of what I put in my mouth because my body does not bounce back from McDonalds & friends like it used to. While no foods are off limits for me (still have a weird aversion to bagels though) I have to consider whether I am prepared for the physical consequences once certain foods have had their way with me.

12. Sleep (without background noise): I used to be such a good sleeper! I could read for a few minutes and drift right into dreamland. My sleep hygiene is a work in progress, but I always try to fall asleep in silence for a few minutes before I inevitably cave and throw on mindless background noise to drown out racing thoughts.

11. Remember… anything: Remember getting somewhere without a GPS device? Knowing phone numbers? Birthdays? I used to. Now I need aids. I think my brain is lazier now.

10. Not own an agenda: how did I even know which way was up?

9. Wait for “next week’s episode”: When someone offers me a television series recommendation and informs me that I CAN’T watch all the episodes in one afternoon, I feel overwhelmed- thanks, but no thanks. I have lost the virtue of patience when it comes to my entertainment.

8. Be a road warrior: While I make the best of the driving I have to do by filling up the time with podcasts, audiobooks, and steering wheel karaoke, I am not the driver I used to be. Long drives take a toll on me, mentally and physically, and I know when I need to avoid them and recover from them.

7. Make everyone like me: I remember being shocked when I was informed that I couldn’t expect to be liked by everyone. That it was possible to not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea. “If I could only tap into what they liked…”, I used to tell my dear naive self. Let’s chalk this one up to being too exhausted for constant performance art, but I think I’m really more interested in being a person I can be proud of, since I’m the one who has to live with me full-time.

6. Care too much about clothes: My closet was a graveyard for all the dead fashion trends of the past –polo shirts in every colour, dozens of pairs of cheap flats, hip-hugger jeans. I shudder. These days, I wear what I feel comfortable in, what I think looks good, repeat outfits frequently and DARE SOMEONE TO SAY SOMETHING.

5. Unpack and settle: I used to love my room at home, and spent hours putting magazine clippings on the walls, listening to my 6-disc CD player, and losing myself in a novel. Perhaps from all the moving I did in university, I really struggle to settle into a new space. I avoid unpacking and putting things on walls and getting everything I need for the place to feel comfortable. I don’t know why I feel like I need to be ready to pack up leave at a moment’s notice.

4. Deny my mistakes: I went to any length to avoid admitting that I had done something wrong and rarely let me myself believe that something was my fault. Maybe I was holding on to the residual childhood fears of “getting in trouble” and “being bad”. Now I’m not afforded the luxury of denying my responsibility, because I cannot physically sit with the feeling that I may have hurt someone or avoided accountability. It’s uncomfortable and I feel compelled to make it right somehow.

3. Take my parents for granted: At some point in the last decade, my parents decided to become more human instead of the immortal beings that I believed they always would be. The nerve. While they both feel and look good (Hi, Mom), I’ve become acutely aware of their human vulnerabilities and changing pace of life. I get on their case about their health. And I worry about them more.

2. Avoid counselling: As if I was stronger because I didn’t ask for help. Silly girl.

1. Pretend I’m okay when I’m not: I always tell my parents they should have put me in drama and gotten me an agent, for the amount of time I spent in my late teens/early 20s acting as if I was okay when I wasn’t. Was I ever good at faking it. Not only does it seem counterproductive to bury and dismiss my feelings now, but I feel like I couldn’t do it if I tried. Hence, this blog, I guess.