5 Ways to Navigate Gatherings

Family cheering around Easter lunch table

5 Ways to Navigate Family Gatherings While Trying to Cut Down or Stop Drinking

Family cheering around Easter lunch table

Family gatherings and social celebrations are common grounds for heavy alcohol consumption, and it can be challenging to navigate these settings successfully when we have decided to cut back on drinking. If alcohol is a habitual go-to in our social gatherings, we might feel uncomfortable and uncertain if we’ve made a decision to drink less. From peer-pressure to lack of clarity about our personal needs, there are a variety of reasons why saying “no” to a first or second glass of wine can seem nearly impossible, especially when we are in social situations that we have been known to drink in. However, with a bit of preparation and tools in hand, it is entirely possible to navigate these gatherings in an effective way and to come out the other side feeling empowered and clear-minded. From before you arrive to the time the celebration ends, these are a few tools to help you successfully navigate your next family gathering while consuming less alcohol.

1. Revisit the reasons that led to your decision to cut back on drinking.

If it isn’t entirely clear why you decided to cut back on drinking it will be incredibly challenging to uphold your position when the wine bottle is passed around. Consider all the reasons why you have made the decision to reduce your alcohol consumption, mindfully reflecting on these beliefs and values, and even jotting them down in a journal. Your reasons will be unique to your own circumstances but will undoubtedly be a product of the desire for greater self-care. Note all the ways that consuming less nourishes your physical, emotional, and spiritual self. Keep this in mind when you arrive at the gathering, having a few reasons on hand to help explain your new lifestyle choices to those around you.

2. Be versed in the concept of peer-pressure.

Peer-pressure is not a term reserved for elementary school; it is also a pervasive force in adult settings. There are many reasons that friends or family members might put pressure on you to drink, but the truth is that whatever their reasons, it is not your responsibility to fulfill anyone else’s wishes or perceived needs. Be aware that some people may challenge your new behaviour while remembering that you are not responsible for their reaction to your pursuit of wellness.

3. Set your boundaries in advance.

Another part of the mental prep is to get clear on your boundaries. Boundaries are physical or emotional limits that individuals set for themselves to protect their overall wellbeing. The boundaries you set might include:

  • How much (if any) you are open to drinking, i.e. is a glass of sparkling wine within your limits or not? What about two?
  • How much pressure you are willing to understand and forgive, i.e. what level of understanding do you expect from your family and friends, and how might you confidently and compassionately manage communication if someone pushes too much?
  • What situations are you willing to be in, i.e. is there a certain point (in terms of time or festivities) that you would like to leave the gathering? If the energy becomes belligerent, is that your cue to say thank you and goodnight?

Boundaries can be challenging to set, especially in the beginning, but having a baseline understanding of how important they are to protect your needs and wellbeing will empower you to navigate any tricky situations that might arise.

4. Bring a non-alcoholic beverage, such as kombucha, sparkling water, or herbal iced tea.

Don’t show up empty handed. If the norm of the celebration is that the adults indulge in “grown-up beverages,” bring an alternative drink for yourself and for others. Kombucha goes great in a wine glass and herbal iced tea with sliced fruit or berries is a nice addition to a spring celebration. In any case, make sure you’ll have a delicious alternate option to sip on from the start, in between drinks, or once you’ve reached your limit.

5. Open yourself up to discomfort.

Without assuming things will be unbearably uncomfortable, simply be aware of the fact that choosing to drink less at alcohol-heavy events (especially if you have traditionally done so in the past) is a courageous leap into a new way of being. Accepting that it might be challenging to enact a new behaviour won’t make it harder. In fact, acknowledging this bold move will help bring about self-appreciation, self-respect, and a greater sense of control and ease.

Cutting back on drinking at family gatherings is a huge step towards a more sustainable and consistent practice of self-care. By becoming clear about your personal needs and values, by setting boundaries, and by understanding that others may challenge your new behavior, you set the stage for a more successful party – regardless of the sort of drink you hold in your hand.

[Editor’s Note: The author of this post is a content contributor to Alavida, and this contributor was paid for their writing. The opinions, views, results and experiences are theirs alone.]

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Gillian Sanger is a yoga and meditation teacher, holistic nutritionist, and creative non-fiction writer. Committed to self-inquiry and to meditation in its many forms, she practices living life in alignment with the natural world, both inside and out. She seeks guidance and direction from her heart and from her highest self, strengthening her knowledge and intuition through her personal spiritual practice and through the written word.