The end of this November will mark 11 months of me not drinking (I don’t like the word ‘sober’ so always say ‘not drinking’ or if I’m describing myself, ‘non-drinker’). And while I’ve had 11 months to get used to not drinking while being others who are, I’m still concerned about getting through this silly season holding fast to my clean lifestyle.
My calendar’s already quickly filling up with holiday gatherings, occasions that would usually see me nursing a glass of wine, bubbly or cocktail so I have something to hold and thanks to the alcohol, feel less anxious. It’s not the easiest thing to admit, but it’s true.
In saying that, I’m also excited for this silly season. I’m excited to find the strength within myself to keep to my decision and get through situations that would’ve otherwise made me feel awkward and exposed — without a drink. And, of course, I’m excited to wake up fresh the morning after, not ashamed of anything I did or said. Ready to do something fun the morning after too, rather than just waste the day away.
To help me prepare to tackle the silly season ahead without a drink in hand, I reached out to a psychologist to answer some of my questions and share some of her tips.
Probably the most important question I wanted answered — something I’ve thought about often while I haven’t been drinking — is why some people tend to drink too much at social events.
Psychologist Nancy Sokarno from online mental health platform Lysn said the reasons are complex and depend on the individual. Broadly speaking, though, she says that for many, it’s a coping mechanism that allows for ‘liquid courage’ in a situation where they might feel shy or anxious. Of course, we know that alcohol can quickly boost confidence.
We might also think that drinking is expected or the social norm, Sokarno says. It’s often perceived to lead to enhanced social experiences or simply elevating a good time. Sokarno says understanding why you might overdrink will allow you to take the first step toward making a chance.
“This self-awareness is crucial for breaking the cycle of unhealthy habits,” she says. “By being able to recognise the triggers that lead to overdrinking, we are able to implement strategies to interrupt these negative patterns. Understanding the root cause can provide a foundation for positive change, emotional regulation and the development of healthier coping mechanisms.”
I asked Sokarno whether she had any tips for curbing drinking during an event. Sure, most of us know about drinking a glass of water in between drinks, ensuring we’ve eaten beforehand and counting how many drinks we’ve had, but what does she think is the most important tip to successfully managing social drinking.
“Excessive drinking is really nuanced so I don’t think I could narrow it down to one piece of advice,” she says. “For most people, it will need to be a combination of things, but a truly great starting place is self-awareness. Understand what’s happening in your life that’s causing you to drink heavily.”
Are you running away from a problem? Is it specific situations or people who are causing you to want to get obliterated? Is there a history of stress or past trauma that’s influencing your behaviours? These are questions Sokarno suggests you ask yourself, noting that as everyone’s circumstances vary, there’s no one-size-fits-all quick fix.
If you do happen to drink too much and wake up feeling ashamed or embarrassed about what you did, the first step is to have some self-compassion, says Sokarno.
“Know that everyone makes mistakes and it’s okay to feel regretful,” she says. “Resist the urge to emotionally ‘beat yourself up’ by avoiding negative self-talk and instead try to pinpoint exactly what is causing you to feel ashamed.”
Also, don’t suffer from those feelings alone, she says. Call a trusted friend or family member and share your feelings, as they may be able to offer a different perspective. If you know your actions have affected others, consider taking responsibility and apologising to those involved.
“Ultimately, you can use this situation for personal growth — process those feelings, talk about it with your friend, write the feelings down in a journal, apologise if necessary and process all the emotions that come with it,” Sokarno says.