~ Follow along and read all of Annie’s columns on Elephant here.
Holiday spirit—it conjures up memories of Christmas carols, twinkling lights, Santa Claus, and for many of us, spirits of another kind.
For so many of us, the holiday season holds fuzzy memories at best, because—let’s be honest—we spend much of it feeling the effects of our Christmas cocktails, spiked cider, or mulled wine. The holiday season has become so booze soaked, many of us find ourselves needing the entire month of January to dry out from it.
Learning to embrace the holiday spirit without the spirits isn’t only possible, it can actually be quite enjoyable! It’s not about just learning not to drink, but also not being miserable as a result of it. No one feels much cheer at all when they are feeling deprived of doing something they consider enjoyable. Embracing a zero proof holiday is about enjoying yourself regardless of what is or isn’t in your glass.
Today, I’m sharing my top tips on surviving the holidays without drinking alcohol.
The biggest thing you can do is come with a humongous dose of curiosity. Think of it as a mystery gift under the tree. Remember picking it up, shaking it, considering its weight and size, and just being really curious about what might be inside. That’s what the holidays without spirits are—a mystery gift. You get to explore it, anticipate it, and revel in the excitement of how rewarding all the surprises the gift brings are.
So as you experience and unwrap this gift, tune into what you’re feeling and experiencing. Does your food taste better? Are you uncovering flavors you never knew you enjoyed? Studies confirm that alcohol actually numbs our taste buds, so maybe trying that peppermint bark ice cream is just like a flavor explosion for you. Revel in that. Maybe the music sounds better or you’re uncovering your love of crafting and decorating. Exploring the possibilities is the name of the game.
Our mindset is so powerful that how we think going into an experience can heavily influence how we will feel and act during the event. If we tell ourselves that Christmas or New Year’s will just be miserable without alcohol, we’re creating a neural toxicity inside our brain. It will actively seek out things to confirm what a miserable time it will be. So rather than trying to set the stage—negative or positive—try going into this month without expectations. Unwrap the mystery gift and experience it free of reservations or judgments.
Now for a practical tip to combat the cravings or urges that are bound to come up. Let’s say you’re decorating the Christmas tree and you have always had a glass of wine while doing it. Suddenly, an intense urge comes over you and you want to reach for the bottle. Stop and get curious in that moment. Don’t fight the urge, but ride it and examine it. Ask yourself: how does this feel in my body? Why am I feeling this? And most importantly, what do I think the alcohol will add to this?
Urges in our brain make us feel like something is a life-or-death situation. Our brain has decided that the thing that we want or need in that moment, whether it’s sugar, a glass of wine, or whatever you’re craving, is what we need in that moment. The urges feel so strong because our brain has decided it’s a survival issue.
Urge surfing—riding through the craving and talking yourself and your brain through the feelings and emotions around it—breaks that survival connection. So you can go through and say: “This doesn’t feel comfortable, but I’m not dying. Let’s give it 10 minutes and see how I feel after that.” By getting through that urgency and allowing yourself to feel and experience everything around the craving without giving into it, you build the muscle to achieve true peace in drinking however much you want or don’t want to be drinking.
One of my other favorite ways to embrace the holiday spirit without the spirits is actually all about the drinks. I always have a drink in my hand. Sure, sometimes it’s water, but I’m also prepared no matter what the occasion or activity is. I still look forward to activities because of what I’ll be drinking—my beverage of choice has just changed. Tree decorating calls for peppermint hot chocolate. Sitting around the fireplace requires hot apple cider. A grown-up dinner isn’t complete without sparkling water mixed with cranberry juice and fresh lime. What has changed drastically is how much I enjoy every activity now and how much better I feel the next day!
Our brains have a habit of needing something in our hands all the time. Keep that, just replace what’s in the glass. Having something in your hand diminishes your urges while still feeling like you’re part of everything. There’s also the added benefit of people not asking if you’d like a drink because you’ve already got a drink in your hand!
Finally, go ahead and treat yourself. Get the decadent dessert. Go for the whipped cream on your coffee. You still need to trigger those reward sensors, so allow yourself whatever feels like a treat. For me, that can change depending on the day, but I know that overall, I’m making healthier choices all the way around, so if there’s something I want to treat myself to—I do it.
All the things I’ve always enjoyed about the holidays are now just amplified because I’m no longer experiencing it through the haze and fog that drinking always left me in. I’m now present and aware to not only take in all of the sights, sounds, and smells of the season, but to file them away as cherished memories to hold onto for years to come. Embracing the holiday spirit for me begins with doing the things that allow me to check in and experience every moment fully. That can’t be bottled, shaken, or stirred!
If you’re looking to embrace a zero proof holiday season, but could use some support along the way, join us in The Alcohol Experiment. It’s completely free to join, along with being free of rules, free of judgment, and free of shame. You will receive encouraging and mindset shifting daily videos and emails. Join the community of 180,000+ people also experimenting with their alcohol intake and how to drink less.