Holiday parties and alcohol can be a problem for 1o percent of the adult population. Did you know that 10 percent of Americans are in recovery from an alcohol or substance problem? That's a lot of people we need to start thinking about. There are several points of view on drinking when family members are in recovery, not only during holidays, but also at family dinners every night. I am the mom of adult children in recovery, and I have chosen not to serve alcohol, and not to drink myself. Here’s why. First, there is the issue of isolation. People in early recovery are badly missing what they loved the most (whether it's drinking, drugging, gambling or whatever).
Holidays isolate those who can’t join the fun. When people in early recovery are surrounded by family celebrating with alcohol, they feel left out, less than, ashamed, tempted, maybe even angry. Wouldn’t you?
Here’s an example of how it feels to be someone who can’t drink among heavy drinking family members. This is a true story that may resonate with you. Betty (not her real name) hosted a birthday party reunion for me after I had been sober for about a year. It didn't occur to her that the champagne and wines that were the centerpiece of the birthday party were beverages I couldn’t drink. Another important note is that women get drunk faster and stay drunk longer than men, and that alcohol biology fact isn't widely understood. I watched as the family got loud talking about wines and wineries I would never see or taste, and I felt sadder and sadder, totally left out. My reaction was hurt not to have my needs recognized by people I didn't see very often. And I haven't been back, which should come as no surprise.
A Thoughtful Response To Sober Friends
I invited new neighbors to dinner, and they brought a bottle of wine not knowing we wouldn't drink it. When they invited us over soon after, they served sparkling cider and birch beer. The second party was more fun for everyone. The fact that Sarah and Bill cared about our needs was so thoughtful and inclusive. The conversation was lively, and we bonded.
Think Of Substance Use Disorder As Having An Allergy
For those with other physical diseases, we naturally adapt to their needs because we don’t want to make them sick. No shrimp, nuts, or gluten to allergy sufferers. No salt laden dishes for those with heart disease. No sugar laden meals and tempting desserts to diabetics. No meat to vegetarians. It’s very simple. As families we adjust lovingly to people’s needs because we don’t want to make those we care about worse. It should be no different with alcohol. Do we really need alcohol to bond and have fun?
Alcohol Free Dinners Bring A New Culture Of Fun
I don’t serve alcohol in the family, and I don't drink myself. I didn't intend to join the sobriety movement. My sea change began with not drinking in front of loved ones in recovery. That worked a little, but there was still a distance between us. Loved ones lived in a kind of alcohol-free jail, and I could get out of it any time I wanted by not seeing them. One day I wanted to have my martini more than I wanted to be with a "boring" loved one in recovery. It turned out that my culture of fun was the martini, after all, just like the relatives I don’t see anymore. Did I have to drink to have fun? No, I didn't. I stopped drinking with that realization. Without alcohol, our family was suddenly less loud, less dramatic, more fun and frankly happier. Our parties are now about the food, the sports events on TV, movies, each other. Sometimes we shoot pool.
I'm Not Against Alcohol
Our family oriented recovery lifestyle is a choice I made to support my loved ones. It isn't fun at first to feel left out of society's biggest addiction. For families who don't have Alcohol Use Disorder, holiday drinking may well be an important part of the fun. And that's great for them. Our culture, after all, is all about the drink. We’re an alcoholic country, always have been. That isn't going to change any time soon, but acknowledging the needs, caring for, and respecting people who don't drink should also be part of our culture. We should never think of people who don't drink as boring. People in long term recovery like me and my family know that we may have to skip the cocktail hour and arrive just at dinnertime. We may have to leave early when the party gets too loud. Or we may decide not to go to places where alcohol is the only entertainment. For me, making the choice to respect the sobriety of others helped their long term recovery succeed. Being sober myself made me a better person because I get it. I know how hard it is to be a non drinking person in a drinking world.
For our family, celebrating with zero proof brings holidays, and every day, all the peace and joy we prayed for. Cheers.