Annmarie: Jo, we wanted to have a chat about the festive season and dealing with work Christmas parties when you’re sober or trying to cut down or stop.
I think for many people this time of year is a tricky one. What’s it like for you as a sober lawyer?
Jo: If I’m completely honest, I have to resist the temptation not to go to parties! But I do have to attend some things or risk people forgetting about me or worse thinking I’m dead 😦 When I first stopped drinking I would pre-plan things to say to avoid embarrassment for example ‘I’m up early in the morning’ or ‘I’m not drinking tonight’. People would often try and urge me to drink.
Do you think this has changed more recently – the encouragement for others to drink?
Annmarie: Oh I remember that feeling well – of trying to decide whether to pretend I was on antibiotics or to make up some other excuse. Sometimes I’d say I was allergic to alcohol – which no one ever believed!
I do think things have changed – the impression I get is that for those in their 20s now it is considered more ’normal’ to be sober and that fewer questions are asked of those who don’t drink. I also think the younger generation are better at not asking such intrusive personal questions – there’s much less of all that “are you planning to have kids?”, “why don’t you drink?’ etc etc.
Are there any Christmas parties that you reckon are still fun sober?
Jo: I agree – I now say I’m very on trend because young people don’t drink these days because of the scrutiny of social media.
Although, I think it’s natural to feel a bit shy or want to stay at home in the warm it is important to try and go. There are events I like to go to – where I genuinely want to catch up with people I know will be there. Once other people have had a few drinks I find that I feel just as merry as they do….and I have a great time. I find I don’t stay to the bitter end these days. How about you?
Annmarie: I agree. While I do love staying in and watching Masterchef, I think sometimes if you can give yourself a little push to go out then you can often end up enjoying it. Or you can choose to leave the party after half an hour!
When I first stopped drinking I thought I had to stay to the end of parties and be the ‘life and soul’ cos I wanted to prove that sober people are still ‘fun’. It was exhausting. These days one of the pleasures of being sober is knowing when to leave the party (usually before people start repeating themselves over and over)…
What tips do we have for people navigating office parties this year that they might be feeling a bit uncomfortable about?
Jo: I worry that there won’t be anything nice (and not too sugary) to drink. So, I might let the organisers know that I am not drinking. If they have trouble thinking about what to buy in you could point them in the direction of www.joinclubsoda.co.uk. If you feel too uncomfortable to do this the think about bringing your own non- alcoholic tipple.
I might also feel a bit self-conscious – maybe set yourself up as the party photographer. Be the person posting on social media – it’s great for networking and people will appreciate it. Any other ideas?
Annmarie: I like these. A great antidote to feeling awkward in social situations is to make yourself useful in some way! Find a person who looks like they feel even more uncomfortable than you do and have a chat with them…that tends to work a treat. And I also increasingly warn organisers in advance that I don’t drink too – otherwise you run the risk of ending up with boring water instead of something a bit more interesting.
There tend to be loads of BD events in law and I think you can find yourself overrun with invites to such things. So I find what works for me is to be discerning about what I say yes to – I feel much more comfortable at events where there is a focus that is about something other than drinking – so something with an interesting speaker (often from outside law) always appeals to me or an activity or event held in an interesting venue.
So how about the dreaded dancing at work Christmas parties, Jo. Do you do this as a sober lawyer?
Jo: Well back in the day I was a good dancer (no really 😊). Now I feel a bit fat and awkward. But the truth is no one really cares about other people’s dancing. Unless they are really drunk, they are more worried about the standard of their own dancing! Everyone enjoys seeing someone else’s dancing, no matter how ‘bad’ it is. In Brighton there are parties where it’s drug and alcohol free – with quiet zones and food. I quite fancy going to this kind of thing. What’s your dancing like?
Annmarie: That sounds fab. I’ll never forget my first time dancing sober in a nightclub. I think I drank 5 cans of Red Bull, was really wired and felt so awkward! Luckily it gets easier. I don’t mind dancing sober now and I’ve been to loads more concerts and music festivals sober than I did when I was drinking. They’re a great way to let go and release tension. I find weddings fine these days too. But work Christmas parties can still be a bit more awkward. Nowadays I just go with how I feel – if I feel like dancing and the music’s good then that’s great. But I don’t force it if I’m just not in the mood. I’m well happy going home early-ish and having some Horlicks in front of the telly!
I hope that with this blog we’ve helped others who might feel a bit out of place or awkward at parties this festive season feel a bit less alone. Don’t forget that everyone has their vulnerabilities and it’s actually often those funny traits and quirks that people like most about us.
So if you find yourself at a party this Christmas and someone’s drawing attention to you for not drinking alcohol, remember that it says more about them and their attitude toward booze than it does about you.
Any parting shots, Jo?
Jo: I think just try to enjoy all the moments that go to making up the Christmas season.
Annmarie: …and if you don’t enjoy something then don’t worry – you’re not the only one!