Staying sober — and sane — during the holidays

So, you want to enjoy the holidays sober? Just thinking about being sober this time of year is enough to drive some of us to drink. And no wonder, with all of the stress. It's certainly easy to drink — often free of charge — with all the holiday parties at your workplace (or better yet, at a friend's workplace). And maybe there is spiked eggnog sitting in your grandparents' refrigerator? Plus, all those friends home from elsewhere are exhorting you to hit the town, managing to misspell "where are you?" in dozens of exciting ways.

We are here with some good news for you! Well, the good news is: It is possible to be sober, and even happy, during the holiday times. Heck, just the other day no less an authority on partying than Andrew "Party Hard" W.K. wrote in a Facebook update, "PARTY TIP: You can be straight edge and still party hard." We're not suggesting that you be straight edge, of course. That's a personal decision between you and your Crucial Youth seven-inches.

We're not going to lie — it's not so easy, at first. The first thing you will want to do is hide, especially when confronted with large gatherings of extended duration — either the drawn-out work party that throws competing teams together, or the holiday meal with your family. But at some point, you'll have to leave the broom closet and come out and interact. You could go ahead and indulge yourself in the next thing you'll want to do, which is simply to eat all of the cookies, ever, right now. By all means, indulge — just try to save some for the next girl or guy.

Next you might want to sit in the corner and text — you are a very important person, after all; I mean look at how much you are texting. Be careful here because you might even feel tempted to text your ex, especially if they were with you at the last big holiday party. But unlike a few cookies, there are no number of texts you should send to your ex. If you have a support group in any sense, this might be a good time to check in with them. Put the phone away, please, and thank you. And do you really think you could have done that while drunk?

At some point, why not stand up and announce that you need to go for a jog? If you leave the house to go for a jog early in the morning before people have opened presents, there are countless passive aggressive comments from your weird cousin that you will never have to hear. Even if you never jog, for real, and you just go outside and run the whole way to the corner until you're out of view and then smoke some cigarettes that you hid carefully? Or if you go to the corner store that's still open and drink some sugary thirst quencher, like real athletes do in the commercials? Just so long as you're authentically sweating when you return, this will show that your own health is important and you are not someone to be messed with.

You're sitting on the couch and explaining once again what you're really doing with your life to a distant relative. And you've actually calmed down a bit. You may be even enjoying yourself, when time comes to gather around the large table for the big holiday meal. This is when you find a way to sit at the kids' table. Here, of course, I'm assuming you don't have children of your own — but perhaps you have nephews and nieces, or younger cousins. If this is a work thing and not a family event, that's when you just go sit with the I.T. people (ba-doom-bum). The whole idea is to not get roped in or annoyed, if possible. Whether it's Uncle Darryl regurgitating the latest Koch brothers' talking points about the Ebola-laden immigrants who came here to steal your job and vote for gay marriage or his equally awesome daughter who just read some paragraphs out of a Howard Zinn book and wants to misquote it at length, wouldn't you rather talk about Dora the Explorer with a 6-year-old? If you cannot escape the grown-ups and are still having a hard time, perhaps pretend that you are a great ethnographer person, here amongst this strange tribe of belligerent people. And your job is not to judge, but simply take notes.

You will need to escape, no matter how things are going. There is always the option to volunteer to go to the store. You're sober, so you can drive! Of course, others on the road might not be, so give wide berth to everyone, please. Once you're back from the store, you might remember that there are these things called movies, lots of them. This is the reason movies were created in the first place, in fact — so families can pretend they're doing something together, when they really aren't. When your brother complains that he doesn't want to watch Elf again — which is so just like your brother — ask politely what movies he might want to see, and then lie and say that you're sorry but none of those are on Netflix any longer.

You might consider volunteer work, and not just because it can get you out of the house around the holidays. Many nonprofits have extra needs this time of year. If possible, make arrangements beforehand to make sure the organization is best for you both. Even the most basic soup kitchens will need to train you, and that might not be possible during the holidays. And if you used to do graphic design work, they might rather you help with a quarterly newsletter than pass out scarves. Take a few minutes and visit the Volunteer Match website (, if you can.

Finally, when you do find yourself back amongst your friends and family, these loved ones of yours, why not do what our ancient ancestors did in such situations — break out a board game, and get lost in it for a couple hours? It might be more fun if you avoid the brutal, winner-take-all, late capitalist games like Monopoly, Stratego, or Candyland. Try the word-based card game Apples To Apples, as it's based as much as anything on how well you know the other players. When they play the word "Dainty," it helps to know their personality (is it your sarcastic brother-in-law or his literal-minded wife) when you can choose between "Mr. T" and "Butterflies" in your own hand.

One thing that's a lot less likely to happen is instantly regretting everything you did the moment you awake. It's nice to not have to apologize to your grandmother for puking in her stocking! You also might realize your family and friends are not so bad after all, and do not need to be viewed through a haze of alcohol-based cheer in order to enjoy your time together.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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