Staying sober during the holidays is like waging battle. Bring on the real war against Christmas

Male hand rejecting glass with alcoholic beverage Getty Images/Sergiy Katrych
Male hand rejecting glass with alcoholic beverage Getty Images/Sergiy Katrych

It’s my first holiday season without booze since I was 13 and I already want to fight God and hunt my family for sport. Hi. I’m Rae and I’m an alcoholic.

(“Hi, Rae.”)

It’s not the seasonal depression or Christmas blues that get to me. It’s the holiday parties full of people you can barely tolerate, even when lit. It’s getting hockey-checked by frenzied consumers in packed shopping outlets while trying to log into your banking app. It’s the migraine-inducing cheery jingles ringing from on high while you cram more work into fewer shifts, just so you can race out the door and drive for hours toward your miserable little hometown, all to be with the collection of personality disorders that’s been posing as your family for 40 years.

The holidays are a relapse gauntlet for someone who struggles with alcohol, even for us California sober types. And lately that’s especially the case for women. Compounding the problem, the recently sober run this bottled-in-bond obstacle course while facing increased isolation as support networks and therapists head out of town themselves. Like every dry drunk, I’ve been told the key to getting through the minefield with your chip intact is to have a plan and stick to it. Plenty of mental health and addiction experts have offered their tip sheets.

Mine includes everyone getting out of my face while I pound sugar like I live in a timeline where size-zero clothes and diabetes never existed. Then I’m leaving town for the closest weed-legal state, with the singular goal of chiefing so hard the local budtender nicknames me “ISS” — because nerds with a death-wish have been trying to get inside and fix me since 1998, but I’m so complicated and high it’ll take two alphabets and a billion-dollar international consortium to make me come down safely.

Not all of us are abandoning ship, though. And there are still a few parties to attend before I bounce. Mind you, I’m not an expert in anything except getting paid and being 100% that b****, so this list isn’t reflective of advice from the broader recovery community. Nonetheless, here’s a few helpful hints from Hell-oise on making your holiday party more recovery friendly for the Cali-sober people you love.

Why am I even here?

Is this a party or just a really slow and uncomfortable drinking game? Give me something to do. Where are your dice? Why don’t you have poker chips? Is this a bong? Hey, did you know the counterweight on your record player’s tonearm was set to four freaking grams? I don’t know where you found a cartridge that heavy but you’re gonna shred your wax that way, man. Yeah, no worries, I zeroed it out for you but the anti-skate knob is loose. Where do you keep your screwdrivers?

The Irish exit

Your freshly dried-out friend actually showed up? Like… not by accident, but intentionally left the house to come here?? Holy hell. Congrats. Even 30 seconds of attendance hits the social-acceptability quota, and a lot of us will probably dip that fast. Don’t make a big deal about it, especially if the food sucks and boozing is the only thing to do. We’ve got a fine-tuned radar for when things are about to get too fun, and you’ve got other guests to worry about — like Ted. He just hasn’t been the same since Annette took his carpet-cleaning business in the divorce, and now he seems to be mistaking your monstera for a urinal.

Mocktails and non-alcoholic booze

If the coffee game is on point, we will love you in ways your parents never did. It’s marvelous of you to have NA-booze options around. Don’t be offended if some of us steer clear; depending on the person and the moment, near-beer can either be a perfect delight or trigger blood-lust level cravings for the real deal. Friend hack: If you keep a bottle of club soda with bar fruit and mixers nearby, we can keep our hands busy making PlaySkool mocktails (what a stupid word) instead of taking apart your spouse’s expensive turntable.

Mind your business

I’m looking forward to people asking why I’m not drinking so I can see how uncomfortable I can make them. My biggest hope is that they’ll ask if I’m pregnant, and I’ll get to teach them a lesson about asking women That Question. I’ve been practicing my sadly wistful smile in the mirror, along with a softly spoken “not anymore” and just the exact right heel-turn. Werk.

Stop making it weird

So you’re doing Dry January and this is your last hoorah. Or you’re cutting back these days. Or your uncle just got sober. Or you quit smoking and just want me to know you understand how hard addiction is. Good for you — I wish I could launch myself out of this conversation and straight into the sun. Stop trying to relate when you don’t. Stop soliciting validation kudos for your pet false equivalencies. Stop veiling your own discomfort with self-deprecating remarks that tacitly seek permission to drink in front of me. I’m not here to collect sympathy, convert you to the church of AA, nor frown disapprovingly over proceedings from some moral high ground. Stop making it weird already and help me find the damn screwdrivers.

Solo rolling sucks

Always assume I’m bringing a plus one-ish. Is it going to be a romantic interest? A sponsor? Two be-sequined nuns named Sister Petty Davis and and Sister Velveeta VonTease, who ziplined into your kitchen from our helicopter Uber while lip-syncing “Twerk Your Turkey”? Who knows. But if you’ve got another sober friend or three, invite them. Misery loves company and, if things go well, maybe one of them will start a badass girl gang with me. Maybe she’ll be cold and say she likes my leather jacket. Maybe she’ll tell me she always hated Parcheesi, and that the carpet-cleaning business is boring but it’s good money if you don’t mind the blood stains, and then ask if that’s my chopper and if I want to meet her cats — after all, I’m OK to drive.

An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Salon's Lab Notes, a weekly newsletter from our Science & Health team.