The holidays can be a challenging time for everyone, but especially people who have quit alcohol, Lotta Dann of Living Sober says.
"The marketing budget for the liquor companies is huge this time of year. It's everywhere and it's associated with having a good time and bonding and relaxing."
Dann shares tips for people going without alcohol at summer gatherings – and their hosts.
Alcohol is still deeply embedded in New Zealand's festive rituals, Dann says, but there is less social pressure to drink it than when she quit 11 years ago.
There are also much better non-alcoholic options.
"I would go to events and there would usually only be water or orange juice available, like thick cloying orange juice. Who wants to drink that at a party, honestly."
While zero-alcohol drinks work well for some people who want to quit or cut down on their drinking, Dann finds them "weirdly triggering".
"It's just too reminiscent of the bad old days for me with booze."
Since she stopped "boozing", Dann says she feels a lot more connected to herself and other people.
"I have much better conversations with people now that I'm sober at parties."
Without alcohol, she's settled into what feels like a more genuine version of herself.
"You just slowly figure out who you really are, what you really want, what really relaxes you and how you want to move in the world. I mean, gosh, who doesn't want that? Life is hard and being sober isn't the golden ticket to just having a fabulous life, but it does pave the way for you just living way more … it's such a cliche and I'm sorry, but way more authentically … I just heartily recommend it."
When people ask Dann how long it is before they'll feel comfortable at a party not drinking, her answer is a few months, at least.
"It's been your go-to, to help you socially and to make you feel comfortable in your own skin …. Parties are nerve-racking, right, if [alcohol] has been your go-to protection."
It takes practice to arrive at a party without the "flurry" of consuming an arrival drink in an attempt to counter awkwardness, she says.
"You've got to practice doing that [without alcohol] a few times before it starts getting comfortable."
When you're at a gathering, not drinking and struggling to have fun, Dann's advice is to "go gently" and be really kind to yourself.
"You need to slip away and go home, do it."
If you're a host who discovers someone is not drinking, it's best not to "make a fuss" over that choice, she says.
"If they want to talk about it, great. If they don't just provide them with something lovely to drink."
A non-drinker who seems to be feeling awkward because they're not "rah, rah, rah with the rest of them" might appreciate being engaged in a casual one-to-one conversation, Dann says.
Hosts also do well to keep an eye on people drinking up a storm, Dann says.
"There's so much pain and hurt that's being masked by that. My heart goes out to people who are still struggling … Christmas is hard."
To anyone curious about quitting or cutting down on alcohol, Dann recommends connecting with other people doing the same thing, such as members of the Living Sober community.
"We get it and there's this amazing tribe of people who are going through this process of getting sober or are sober and we just all we want to do is help people along the way."