With Christmas just around the corner, many of our Daybreak members are discussing what the best approach to Christmas festivities is. In years gone by, it was not uncommon for people to complain loudly about the season of excess – all that food, all that alcohol – it is almost a foregone conclusion that we will be piling on weight and dragging ourselves around for those weeks between December and January.
Sometimes it might even feel that we have lost touch a bit with the pleasurable aspect of eating and drinking during this time – that these delicious treats and social occasions, all lumped together and feeling compulsory (work Christmas party, end-of-year parties, neighbourhood events, etc.), lose some of their sparkle and enjoyment.
Some members, when challenged about whether they need to participate fully in all these traditions or events, have the valid argument that this is part of what we do – it is a tradition to celebrate this way, that this is how we reconnect and spend quality time together, with lots of alcohol and excesses of food. Just like with the recent Melbourne Cup, it feels somehow un-Australian to consider doing things differently, even if it means we have to resign ourselves to an uncomfortable couple of weeks.
This can be really challenging for members who are working to improve their health, whether through alcohol reduction or diet and exercise. Do I abstain completely, or just go all in and start from scratch on Jan 1st? Will I enjoy Christmas as much if I am focusing on my health and wellbeing, rather than getting into the holiday spirit? How do I even manage these end-of-year events if I’m not drinking?
The question might be, then – how can we still hold on to what we love about Christmas, the celebration, the quality time, the joy of time spent together in a relaxed setting – while moving away from the parts that are no longer working for us? Here are some ideas that might be helpful:
Get Creative with New Rituals
When we think of those rituals we have during the holidays – whether it is champagne at breakfast, beers on the lawn or a big night out on Christmas eve – it is likely that we have fallen into them over time. Someone thought it would be a nice idea, and now it is just what we do.
Consider what kinds of rituals you might want to establish for yourself and your loved ones these holidays – whether it is a sunrise walk along the beach on Christmas morning, or an afternoon volunteering at the local Old Person’s home. Doing things differently to how we have always done them isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and can result in us really considering how we want to spend our time and energy during the holidays.
We don’t get much spare time, and even less of it with family – how might we want to make it as valuable as possible? For some people this might mean drinking less so they have more energy to interact with their kids, or doing something active every day to keep up their fitness and health and compensate for tasty Christmas lunches. For others it might mean making a range of AF drinks available when they are hosting events, so that their guests have the option to alternate between alcoholic drinks, or be totally alcohol free.
One of the most common issues our members describe is that fear of turning up to a BBQ or party, being offered a drink and having to say ‘no’, thus leaving themselves open to all kinds of questions from their hosts as to why they aren’t drinking, as well as judgement and pressure. Nobody wants to feel rude, and even if a response like that says more about the host than the guest, it is still something that can be unpleasant and can create a sense of apprehension in a person. This means that, often, an individual is more likely to say ‘yes’ to a drink rather than have that conversation.
We know that Australia’s drinking culture is quite pervasive, and it might take a bit longer to change. In the meantime, the best way to manage this is to set expectations early,whether it is by texting the person holding the event to let them know you’re not drinking and asking if it is ok for you to bring some AF drinks, or casually mentioning it before the event.
Some members have even found it useful to practise what they might say if they were offered a drink – the responses ‘I’m not drinking for a while’, or ‘I’ve found alcohol doesn’t agree with me’, or ‘I’m focusing on my health, and alcohol sets me back too much’ are some direct and polite responses. Often, once we’ve used these responses a couple of times, we will find that that fear of saying ‘no’ to a drink, subsides – after all, it is an individual choice and one you have clearly thought through.
Lead by Example
If you are a bit concerned about how to manage drinking situations with family members who are likely to drink a lot, remember, one of the most powerful things you can do is to demonstrate what a ‘good’ relationship with alcohol looks like. Many people who have made that decision to change their drinking will say that it was when they saw a friend or family member make changes that it ‘clicked’ for them. We do need to see the benefits of a change to really believe it is worth the cost, and someone who can speak honestly about the changes they have made, and the consequences of this, can be really compelling.
What might this look like? Whether it is showing up to a BBQ with some alcohol-free drinks (e.g. AF beer or soda), or declining a second glass of wine at Christmas lunch – it shows those around you that, while you might respect Christmas traditions, you’re not necessarily going to participate in all of them. Remember, your relationship with alcohol is a very individual one, and is different to others’. Being really clear about the reasons for not drinking, or drinking in moderation (e.g. I find it doesn’t agree with me, I’m focusing on my health at the moment, I’m not drinking at the moment), as well as the outcomes (I find that my anxiety has improved a lot, I feel better, I’m spending much less money, my sleep is much better), can be really powerful.
As we can see, each occasion gives us the opportunity to consider how we might want to use the holidays we have in front of us. You can make use of your new clarity over this time to consider how you’d like to spend your time as well – without hangovers or tiredness, how might you now want to take advantage of your holidays? How might you want to go into the new year? Creating new rituals that help you connect with your loved ones, as well as stay on track with your physical and mental health, are likely to put you in a good place for the year ahead. Feeling comfortable with doing things a bit differently – not necessarily better, just differently – can give rise to some powerful behaviour change and even better experiences over this time. More of those sunrise walks on the beach and cricket games, and fewer of the hangovers and family arguments. More quality time being connected and present with loved ones, and less time spent zoning-out with alcohol and technology.
From all of us at Hello Sunday Morning, we wish you a happy and relaxing Christmas and hope that, whatever rituals you choose to create, they help you to get closer to where you want to be next year.