Published in The News-Press
Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The holiday season is a time of celebration and for many of us, a time of stress. Family gatherings, friends, gifts, traveling and just the general business of the season are just some of the many factors that play into it. This time of the year can be particularly stressful for someone suffering from substance abuse disorder and/or mental health issues. How will they handle these increased stressors, not to mention the numerous functions where alcohol is served?

Many holiday parties are centered around drinking. For many of us, the thought of not enjoying a cocktail at our holiday events may seem taboo. Even if you’re not an alcoholic, there’s something oddly comforting about walking around a crowded event with a drink in your hand. For someone who is struggling to stay sober, or maybe someone who just wants a night without drinking, fear will take over “how am I supposed to fit in at this event without a drink?” After years of practice, I can offer a few words of advice for all of my readers.

My first tip is to always have a drink in your hand at a party, just make it one without alcohol. A club soda, water or regular soft drink will suffice – feel free to add a lime or lemon to give it a little umph. If someone asks you if you need a drink, it’s most likely because you aren’t holding one. You never need to explain yourself, simply say, “No thanks, I’m good” and carry on. If you’re not ab-

staining from drinking, think twice before pressuring someone to have a drink. It’s natural to say, “What? You’re not drinking? It’s a party!” But you never know what that person may be going through, so ask once and move on.

Another word to the wise is to always set up a time to leave the event before the drinking gets carried away. This ensures you’re not stuck interacting with a lot of intoxicated people, which can be uncomfortable for anyone, especially if you’re newly sober. Trust me, you won’t be missing out on much and you will feel much better the morning after. There’s nothing rude about excusing yourself from a party early, just be polite and slip out – most likely nobody will notice.

While for many of us alcohol and the holidays go hand in hand and there’s nothing wrong with that, there is no reason why these events can’t be enjoyed without being under the influence. It’s important to understand that being comfortable at parties and gatherings without alcohol can take time, and not to beat yourself up if you feel a little awkward your first go round.

Having a support community to bounce ideas off of and to call on when you have a rough night can be the difference between life and death. While you love your family and your friends, they might not fully understand why you are “getting sober” or the struggle it takes to do so. Sometimes these social gatherings can bring up unresolved issues or past painful experiences. Having a community of like-minded individuals who have been through these experiences can really help you make it through the holidays.

If you are choosing not to abstain from alcohol, being aware that someone in the room might be making that uphill battle could save them from feeling like an outcast. Most importantly, it critical to keep an attitude of gratitude. This is a time of year to celebrate our lives, our families and communities. By being prepared for these events and going into them with the right mindset, we can all enjoy the holiday season – sober or not.

Wilbur Smith IV is the co-founder and CEO of Calusa Recovery, a treatment and sober housing community in Fort Myers for young men ages 18 to 35. For more information, call 844-2549664 or visit

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