The holidays are coming! How to tell your family that you quit drinking

By: Laura McWilliams, Industry Health

Why is this so hard?! I spend all day talking my head off to strangers and work acquaintances about everything and anything- myself, my work, my school, politics, my health, their health, my relationship, their relationships, everything. But get me home for family dinner, and it’s like god damn pulling teeth. I am aware that I am struggling to put two words together, and I am trying- really I am. But there’s just a blockage.

Recently, I participated in a live storytelling event, my first time speaking on stage, at a local theater, in front of a crowd of about 70. I was super nervous, but I liked my story and I had practiced a lot and it went really well. I had my core group of humans in the front row, about 8 of them, rallied there to support me. I didn’t tell a single member of my family that I was even participating in it. I wondered and worried about this as I was doing it, but I didn’t change my behavior. 60 strangers- no problem. 1 of my parents- no go.

This is an interesting and kind of unfortunate way of dealing with those closest to us. They are the ones who have known us the longest, the ones who are theoretically going to be there through thick and thin, who love you no matter what, but they are the ones whose opinions hurt the most.

The hardest part about telling your family, or anyone, that you have quit drinking is that you are admitting that you  had a problem with drinking in the first place. For some people, this problem will have been wildly obvious, and your family will have been worrying about you for years and hoping to get this news ( not worried enough to ever bring it up or offer to help, probably, but super worried on the inside). But for most of us, myself included, drinking is a very private act. Around family, for the most part, I was driving, or there was only one bottle of wine, or it was the afternoon, or whatever. It wasn’t party central up in there. The vast majority of the behavior that scared me happened when I was putzing around my apartment by myself, doing my dishes and watching tv. No one ever saw it. I never complained about how hungover I was or talked about the night before to anyone. Ever.

I had a conversation one time with my dad and step mom- my dad was in aa and step mom was in aa for partners. We were talking about my brother and how working in the restaurant industry was super enabling to partying and addictive behavior. My step mom said at one point that we should probably all be in aa and my dad said- Oh, not Laura, Laura doesn’t need to be in aa. Like, he said that exactly. I remember thinking at the time, Why do you think that? I was definitely glad that we were talking about my brother and that I wasn’t being included in the “people to worry about” and that I had successfully hidden my entire life from the people who love and care for me the most. It has stayed with me, that conversation. There is something comforting about the thought that everyone knows and someone is going to come and save me. I spent all of my time and energy at that point trying to make sure the opposite happened, but I can see the comfort in it, knowing that people are going to help you, that you are not alone.

I downplayed it a lot when I did finally tell them. My tag line is “I just like my life better without alcohol.” And that’s kind of it. I wanted a life that drinking couldn’t offer me, so I quit. It’s surface level, for the most part, like almost all of the things that I share with my family. If, and when, they read this blog, they are going to know a lot more than maybe they want to know about the situation. I have come to terms with that, it’s part of my journey to share my story in a big way, to help others and to help myself. But it’s taken a long time to get here. I did not start here, I don’t recommend that you start here. Start small.

There are lots of really valid, believable, health related reasons to stop drinking. Fitness, straight up wellness, weight loss ( this is real people- if you drink a lot and struggle with your weight, quitting will make it so much easier! You will lose weight, I promise). Start with a small amount of time, tell them that you have quit for 30 days or 6 weeks, or three months in order to accomplish a health goal. They will be different levels of surprised by this news depending on how openly you have been drinking, but they will be supportive! This method allows the conversation to be about future health goals, rather than past drinking problems. At the end of the set period of time, make the announcement that you feel so much better since you stopped drinking, that your life has improved so much that you are going to continue on as a non drinker.

Seriously, if you have a family that gives you anxiety- don’t engage with them about this! Your supportive, sober community that will understand and help you get through this is elsewhere. You need to find these people and lean on them. A baby sobriety is not something to be flung around and defended- it is something to be nurtured until it is stable enough to stand up for itself.

Your family will still be there when you have grown enough to be able to share a bit. But even then, you don’t have to share everything. I wrote myself a tag line, “I just like my life better without alcohol”. And a nice little story, “I did a whole 30, which is a diet where you have to give up almost everything, including drinking, and I was amazed by how much my life improved almost immediately. Everything was easier, cheaper, and I lost so much weight and felt amazing. At the end, I decided to stay off the booze for another month, then another. I just feel like my life is so much better without it, I have quit drinking for real.” I used this story at work, with family, with friends of my parents, out and about, anytime I needed it. I would say about 70% of the time, no one asked me about my drinking or my drink, but the rest of the time, I had my trusty lines prepared. That kept me safe and sober up until now. I am reaching the point in my life where my real journey is becoming very important to my work and to my community and I am starting to be more vocal about it. But is took me a long time to get here. No need to rush. You are in this for the long run, baby, you have got time.


Stop to think:


What is the most stressful part about telling your family that you aren’t drinking? Are you worried that they will make fun of you? Are you worried that they will tell you that they always knew you had a problem? Get these things out in the open- write them all down and design some great answers for yourself- surface level, polite, concise answers that will get you out of the conversation pronto, or steer the conversation back to safe territory.


Do you think that having a story like mine would help you feel safer in social situations? You can take advantage of the fact that everyone is trying to lose weight and be healthier and design your story to be relatable in these areas. Don’t worry about telling a story that isn’t entirely true right now- early sobriety is not the time to be defending yourself or making yourself more vulnerable than you already are, which is really vulnerable! Remember- just because a person asks you a question does not entitle them to an answer. Period.


Ps- after linking my blog to my personal social media- terrifying!- I got this text from my mom: “ I just read everything on your blog and facebook! You are amazing. I want to “love” everything but I promise to control myself, lol. I love you!”


It gets easier, it gets better. Just keep going!

Laura Mcwilliams