Happy Alcohol-Free Holidays

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The holidays are upon us. I know this because I’ve seen lots of social media posts that say THE HOLIDAYS ARE UPON US. Also, because Christmas threw up in the dollar section of Target about two months ago. It felt a little late this year.

I can’t say that I’ve ever really loved this season as an adult. It’s stressful, it’s expensive, and — if you live in a place with affordable property taxes — it’s cold. But in the past, there were a few things that made this time of year palatable. Enjoyable, even. They included paid time off, family gatherings, and seeing your kid’s face light up when he opens the Amazon gift card he’s been begging you for.

Oh, right. And also, they included: craft beer, red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, more beer, and the first two sips of rum-spiked eggnog (anyone who can drink more than two sips is a gastrointestinal hero). During the holidays, every gathering and every weekend was an excuse to imbibe, to loosen up, to celebrate, to toast to the memories of a year that would soon be folded neatly into a box and packed away on a shelf.

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This year, things will be different. For the world — and for me. For the first time in my entire adult life, unless you count the year that I was pregnant, I will be spending the entire season without alcohol. I had my last drink on December 28, 2019. Yes, you read that right: I quit three days before New Year’s Eve, which I spent quietly watching the the movie “License to Drive” with my family and falling asleep on the couch at 10:15.

I thought about writing a simple guide — for my own benefit, mostly — about how to survive the holiday season without drinking. Last year, that would’ve been easy. Leave the party early, or don’t go at all! Bring your own festive non-alcoholic beverages to the work event! Enjoy quality time with your friends and loved ones without worrying about ending up on a ventilator! Steer clear of political discussions at the gift exchange! In 2020, though, none of those things are realistic.

But for those of you who are also heading into your first — or tenth — holiday season without alcohol, take heart. True, there is no simple guide to surviving any aspect of a year like 2020. But with a little pre-planning, we’ll make it just fine.

Here’s what I’m doing to prepare. In November, I’m stocking up on library books and and sweatpants and repeatedly googling “is Boston Market open on Thanksgiving?” because while I may have given up bourbon-barrel stout, pecan-crusted sweet potato casserole is a non-negotiable.

In December, I’m going to read and eat a lot of sugar and not worry about my clothes not fitting because, hello, sweatpants. I’m going to listen to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” on repeat, loudly, with zero shame. And when I really need a break, I’ll drive to a local running trail and go for an easy jog, feeling my keys jangle in the pocket of my Eddie Bauer down vest while breathing in the lung-piercing winter aromas of wood-burning fireplaces and Dodge Challenger exhaust.

Because there may be no simple guide for getting through the holidays — but there is always a simple guide for making the decision not to drink. Before you ruin years or months or days of progress by popping the cap of an IPA, stop and ask yourself one question.

How do I want to feel tomorrow?

Me, I want to wake up with that tired-but-rested feeling, the kind where I know I’m going to look at my Fitbit history and see a “good” sleep rating, and where I can savor that first sip of coffee without worrying that my life is an endless cycle of depressants and caffeine. I want to be sharp and alert and free of low-grade headaches that throb right behind the temples.

I want to go about my day — whether the day includes grocery shopping with an N95 mask, attending back-to-back Zoom meetings, or eating Boston Market leftovers in bed — knowing I’m at my best. And If I’m not at my best, which I’m usually not, I want to know that at least I tried my best.

When you look at it that way, it really is simple. Celebrating an alcohol-free holiday season is no different than celebrating a sober Fourth of July or a big promotion or a milestone birthday. The rules are the always the same: remember how great you’ll feel the next morning. Don’t drink. And whatever you do, never ever bring up politics.

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