For those of you heading to the holiday parties sober this year, and for those of you who can't imagine ever going to holiday parties sober

For anyone heading to their first sober holiday party, or anyone who thinks that they cannot possibly get through a holiday season without drinking, this one's for you.

First of all, lots of the holiday parties, especially the work holiday parties, were going to suck anyway. Overly romanticizing how fun they were when you were drinking doesn’t help anything. I know that you are having feelings of being left out of the fun when everyone partakes and you don’t, but let’s be serious here, you were probably going to feel left out anyway. That’s not the sobriety, it’s the social anxiety.

Getting sober while working in the industry is no easy feat. Things change, you change, and the scene around you doesn’t. That causes you to have to make some choices. It is entirely possible to quit drinking and continue to go out every night with the crew and drink soda water and shoot the shit until day break. You can do that. But chances are, you aren’t going to want to for long. From inside of a drinking problem, it’s easy to think that you don’t want anything else to change. You know that the booze is bad for you, you have made it to the end of your drinking career, and that is such a big change that you want everything else to stay the same. Same job, same friends, same schedule, same social activities. What you don’t realize is how much you are going to change.

Underneath the scared, anxious person drinking to socialize with the crowd is a person with interests and values and feelings and preferences. I am sure that you already know what some of those things are. I am also sure that in your heart of hearts, what you really want to be doing is not laughing at people’s dumb jokes, trying to tell your story over other people, or agreeing with the cool kids even when you know better. That is what social anxiety hiding behind booze tells you that you want. Probably what you really want is to go home and read a book or go to bed or paint or bake or watch a movie. Am I right? When you look at it that way, it’s the people still participating in the game who need the pity. They are still spending their nights sitting around trying to one up each other to get noticed, wasting their money, time, and health on late nights at the bar. Every one of them has something that they would rather be doing, but the social pressure keeps them there. Once you break free, it’s a different world.

Once you live in this new world, and you are a different person, it’s not realistic to think that things are going to stay the same. You will not want them to stay the same. Tonight, at my own work holiday party, I was sitting by the fire, alone with my sober partner, thinking about what a conundrum getting sober in the industry is. How do I explain to people that it’s still better to not drink? How do I tell people that even though they will be removing themselves from the social structure that they are used to, and cutting out the drug that makes the social anxiety disappear for the moment, that it’s still worth it? Looking out over the crowd of co workers, all merrily pouring champagne and laughing, it is hard not to feel like an outsider, like I don’t belong. Like I work with all of these people and they don’t know me at all. But the truth is, I always felt that way. I have felt that way for my entire life, especially when I was drinking. Drinking just gave me something in common with them, it prevented me from having to relate on any human level. As long as you are all drinking together, that’s enough to be friends. The truth was that none of those people knew me then, just like these people don’t know me now. The only thing that has changed is how I feel about it.

Getting rid of drinking allows you to get rid of all of the shit that you don’t want. You get to know yourself and what you want and how to make a better life for yourself, one that really suits you. These days for me, activities need to have value, people need to have depth and real connection. It’s all quality over quantity here. I don’t have a social hole inside of me that needs to be filled by going out to the bar every night. I don’t have this need for constant visibility, for others to know how much fun I am having. Has this changed the way I live? Absolutely. It changed me, and I changed my life.

And yes, if you are wondering, I did change my job. The places I worked in my drinking days I would not want to work now because I wouldn’t enjoy the lifestyle or have much in common with the people I worked with. I don’t work late nights anymore. I choose positions very differently. You will, too. This will happen. If you are truly meant to be in this industry, and make food as art, and feed people, and create amazing experiences for guests- you will find a way to continue doing that without booze. No problem. Even if you can’t see those opportunities now, trust me when I say that they are out there. Go find them. The industry is full of people who do not have drugs or alcohol as the center of their universe. They are often very successful people. Go work for them.

On the other hand, if you quit drinking and find the entire desire for this crazy industry fall away from you, then it’s possible you weren’t meant for it at all. It is common for people who are on the path of substance abuse to find a great hiding place in the kitchen. It is possible to do this job and do drugs in a way that would not be possible anywhere else. If you find that the party lifestyle was the only thing keeping you working in kitchens, there is no shame in heading down a new path. You have the opportunity now to find what it is that will give your life value, find your life’s work.

Tips for making it through the holiday parties!

  1. For those of you who just quit for the first time or for the 10th time, you do not need to announce your sobriety at a party. Most likely no one will ask about your drink or drinking, but if they do, have a line ready. A great go to is to tell folks that you are doing a cleanse or quitting for a month to lose weight. This immediately diverts the conversation to health or weight loss, and away from the alcohol. From there, you can exit the conversation asap. There is no shame in bending the truth to get out of having a conversation with a drunk person about why you quit drinking. You can save the world with your epic sobriety story later- for now, just divert.

  2. Always have a drink in your hand. There are a million things that you can drink, get one and drink it. 99% of the time, no one asks me what I am drinking. How often do you ask people what they are drinking? Never? There you go! I had a big concern at first that I would have to explain my N/A beverage to everyone but really, no one asked.

  3. If you are at a bar, sitting at a table with a bunch of people who you don’t want to talk to about not drinking, order at the bar before you sit down. When the waitress asks you if you want another, tell her you want the bartender to make you one just like the last. Works every time.  

  4. Eat. Eat all of the good things! One of the great prizes of sobriety is that you get little treats now. This was a revelation to me, after years of trying to diet my way out of hating myself, to sit down at a table with friends who all order cocktails and beers, and I order an americano and a piece of cherry pie. Am I feeling left out or deprived? No way! I’m stoked! I can see the faces of the people around me rethinking their orders. Everyone is jealous when my coffee and pie arrive. At the holiday parties, hors d’oeuvres it up.

  5. Coffee. Dude, coffee helps. I am only now starting to wean myself off of an afternoon coffee habit that started in early sobriety, but it was totally worth it. You know that feeling, yes you do, of just wanting something? Anything? Well, coffee was that thing for me. Coffee is a drug, it is a stimulant, it alters the way that you feel. When you go from altering the way that you feel everyday to altering the way that you feel never, it is a harsh transition. Coffee is a way to help soften that. There is a reason that you see coffee at every meeting you go to, no matter what program- we are used to a feeling, and getting to have a little bit of that feeling sometimes without having to partake in real mind altering is nice. It’s comforting. If the caffeine is too much for you, order a decaf. It still works.

  6. Arrive on time and leave early. At the beginning of the party, the snacks are plentiful and no one is wasted. Once you have had enough of the delicious food, ghost.

This is a hard time of the year for everyone. It’s a booze fueled, anxiety driven, money spending free for all. If you need extra support, or help in finding support in your area, feel free to reach out. I will be happy to help you find the resources that you need, or answer questions or give advice. There is so much joy out there waiting to be had, now is your chance to grab some! Love to you!


Laura McwilliamsComment