updated September 7, 2020
Ready to tackle the holiday party season sober?
‘Tis the season to start thinking about all those holiday get-togethers! Particularly the infamously embarrassing work holiday party.
Depending on your job, this can mean a variety of things. (And let’s also admit that with COVID-19 still raging, it may look very different this year, if it happens at all!)
Let’s say that your party is still on and you’re planning to attend.
Maybe the holiday work party is an annual nightmare and you have traditionally relied on the open bar to get yourself through it. Or maybe you love your coworkers and have had epically riotous holiday parties in the past. Again, the open bar was your absolute, best friend.
Maybe it’s somewhere in between.
Either way, this year is going to be different, because this year you are sober.
No more hanging your head over the toilet the next day, wishing you could inject Pedialyte directly into your veins. On Monday morning, you won’t be awkwardly walking into work avoiding eye contact with the manager with whom you shamelessly flirted in front of his husband.
No, no. This year is going to be different. If you can only manage to survive it with your sobriety intact.
How to Survive Your Holiday Work Party Sober
Although I do not have a magic-bullet solution that will make this event perfectly painless, there are some things you can proactively do to make it as easy as possible. As with all things on this site, take what is useful, and leave what isn’t.
Before I get into the tips, I should note that mindset is incredibly important.
You have to want to succeed at this. If you approach this list or your party or anything else, really, with the attitude that nothing will work and you’ll probably end up drinking, then I have some bad news for you.
With that caveat aside, let’s get into it!
1. Get there early.
Arriving on time to the holiday party increases the chance that you aren’t going to be surrounded by a bunch of wasted people.
Unless your office has a serious pre-gaming culture, people should be relatively normal at the start of the night. Generally speaking, you are obligated to show your face for at least an hour and a half, maybe even two hours. Start that clock early.
Besides, the early bird gets the worm! In this case, the worm is first dibs on all the delicious finger foods being served and claim over the best table.
2. Plant the seed.
Is there a buzz in the office about the open bar this year? Lots of reminiscing of drunken antics at holiday parties of yore? The walk down this particular Memory Lane is always a bit thorny. Take, for instance, Jan from Accounting sitting by your desk and rambling on about last year’s festivities.
Jan from Accounting: Remember last year when we did six shots at the holiday party with that cute bartender? Then you threw up like ten times in the bathroom, but that didn’t stop you from totally making out with him!
You are NOT doing that again this year.
Let Jan and whomever else know. Chalk it up to a health kick if you like, but start dropping hints that you won’t be partaking of the shenanigans. It’s not your scene. Also, stay away from Jan.
She knows too much and probably has video evidence hidden away.
3. Cozy up to the bartender.
Hopefully, it’s not the same guy from last year.
When you get to the party before it’s busy and people are still trickling in, let the bartender know that you don’t drink alcohol. Ask him or her what their best mocktail is and request to keep ’em coming if they see you at the bar.
For the newly sober in particular, it can help to have a drink in hand at social functions to mitigate any awkward, out of place feelings you may experience as the sober gal or guy at the boozy work function.
While your colleagues drunkenly stumble to the bar to order another round of Jager bombs, you and Mister or Madame Bartender will have a special bond that only the sober at an open bar function have. (Unless of course your bartender is also doing Jager bombs.)
4. Find your tribe.
Who else at this shindig is NOT getting trashed? Seek them out. You guys are officially pals. Grab a cocktail weenie and a seat so you can have a pleasantly coherent chat.
Perhaps you’ll make a new friend!
Too introverted for that or can’t find anyone (wow, no one?!?!?)? Make the best of it.
You’ve got a front-row seat to a proper shit show.
Every time you feel like you’re missing out on something or are tempted to ask your bartender friend to put a little vodka in your next drink, take a look around at the antics unfolding.
BE THANKFUL THIS IS NOT YOU.
And even if it’s not this extreme, take solace in knowing you aren’t going to waste your entire Sunday trying to recover. I guarantee you that nothing about this evening will be so fun that it’s worth dying a little for the next day.
While your coworkers are downing liters of water and scarfing fried foods, you’ll be doing whatever you please because you won’t be hungover.
5. Call for back up.
If possible, bring a friend or date.
Make sure this person is someone who supports and respects your sobriety. It’s much easier to stand up to temptation if you have someone you trust telling you to ignore the little devil on your shoulder begging you to drink.
In recovery, there is a strategy referred to as HALT.
HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Whenever you feel yourself wanting to grab a drink, ask yourself if you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.
This is a way of slowing down in a given moment and processing what’s really going on in your body in order to help you handle it more constructively.
Bringing someone to the party is going to help guard against any loneliness you might feel by not partaking in the drinking.
Besides, it’s a lot more fun to be the sober one out if you have a close friend or partner there who can talk smack about all your drunk coworkers with you.
If you don’t have a wingman(woman) and you are worried that this year’s work party is going to be a triggering nightmare for you, go to a meeting beforehand. If you need to, find a meeting afterward, even if it’s online.
Don’t do meetings? Have somebody you can call to talk through your feelings if you think you might be heading for a relapse. Make sure that person knows you may be reaching out to them later that night.
Know what you might need and set yourself up for success.
6. Utilize the French Exit.
If you’re not familiar with this term, a French exit is when you leave without telling anybody. Other names for this tactic include the Irish Goodbye and “ghosting.” Ghosting is not cool to do to someone you’re dating. It is, however, perfectly acceptable party behavior.
Once you have dedicated an adequate amount of time showing your face, eating free food, and chatting up the boss, you are free to go. You do not need to say goodbye to anyone.
Just head for the door.
Saying goodbye means you will not leave for another twenty or thirty minutes, minimum. It also means drunk people are going to try to get you to stay, even if they didn’t realize you were there until now. They will use alcohol as a ploy. I know, because I have done this to countless people.
You don’t need that temptation. You already made it a cool two hours sipping virgin piña coladas and eating those little sandwich things over on Table 4. You’re good. You’ve succeeded. Take your things and go on home.
Don’t overthink it…
Whatever your situation, you CAN survive the holiday party season.
Be wary of the little voice in your head that will try to negotiate with you. It’s the holidays! Put your sobriety on pause and enjoy the festivities. It’s such a magical time of year! You don’t want to miss out.
Nonsense. All of it.
The holidays can be incredibly difficult. I remember feeling like I barely survived my first sober Christmas. But I did, and you will too.
I promise that you will feel nothing but horror and regret if you give in to the “one last hurrah before the new year” itch tormenting your brain.
Have a plan. Let yourself indulge in a few extra slices of cake if it helps. Get your support system in place and get through it.