The festive period can be a particularly challenging one for those who struggle with their relationship with alcohol, are trying to give it up or are in recovery. For many, the run-up to Christmas is littered with work gatherings, often in the pub or a party venue, all involving alcohol, coupled with a general attitude of embracing over-indulgence in all its forms.
Then, during the Christmas break, many of us suddenly find ourselves in a room with relatives we might not often see, except at this time of year. It could be enough to drive even the most patient and calm amongst us to reach for a drink in the hope it might settle our nerves somewhat because – as the spiritual leader Ram Dass famously said – “if you think you are enlightened, spend a week with your family”.
However, most of us know, too, that adding copious amounts of alcohol to work or leisure rarely leads to inner peace. With that in mind, and particularly the difficulty faced by colleagues trying to overcome addictive patterns, we’ve consulted a few experts to give us some tips, both for professional and personal situations.
The office party may be over but the struggle is not…
By now, most offices will have had their parties but there may still be colleagues who want to continue in the festive spirit (or, rather, drinking the spirits) and there may be a pull to the pub. Experts in this situation advise you to be mindful of the struggle that some colleagues face and consider suggesting activities that don’t involve drinking, or, even better, that are actually good for employee wellbeing, such as a spa visit.
How to talk to colleagues about alcohol
Source: Michaela Weaver, The Alcohol Coach, who coaches female executives to quit alcohol for good having herself witnessed the stresses the boardroom can bring as a former management consultant
If the topic of alcohol comes up, and a colleague says that they are not drinking, then…
- challenge them
- judge them
- expect them to rationalise their choice
- make them a centre of attention
- be defensive about your own drinking, be honest
- joke about their choice (they may be finding it tough enough)
- respect their choices
- offer support and encouragement
- say little and move the discussion on
- think about your own relationship with alcohol
What it’s like for colleagues who struggle with their relationship with alcohol
Source: Anna Charles, founder of 90 Days Later, which helps high achievers quit alcohol, a former vice president at a Fortune 500 company
People who struggle with alcohol tend to feel huge shame. “Everyone else is drinking – why do I always overdo it? What is wrong with me?” is something I hear a lot.
My clients are very fearful of being quizzed endlessly as to “why aren’t you drinking? It’s Christmas!” so drop that narrative. You wouldn’t ask someone why they’re not smoking or taking heroin, so do the same with Prosecco. Just drop this as a topic of conversation.
One tactic I advise my clients is to show up at parties but then to have an exit strategy. So if you spot someone leaving early, don’t make a big deal of it.
If an employee says “no thank you” to a top up, listen to them. One of my clients told me her boss overrode her “no thank you”, telling the waiter “don’t listen to her, pour the wine.” It made her feel incredibly uncomfortable.
The following comments are not helpful: “I didn’t know you had a problem with alcohol?” or “But you don’t drink anymore than me?” These are sneaky as they could be said from a genuine position of concern, but it only puts the person on the spot by labelling that they have ‘a problem’ and having to defend themselves. If they want to confide in you, they will.
How to approach family gatherings with alcohol
Source: Sarah Williamson, coach, podcaster and founder of Drink Less Live Better
My best advice is that you shouldn’t be surprised if people act in December how they always act. Don’t expect Christmas to bring out anyone’s ‘best behaviour.’
If Uncle Frank always comments on your weight, if Aunty Maureen always says something judgemental, if your Grandma always insists “one won’t hurt…” don’t be more surprised or upset just because it’s Christmas.
I would caution against addressing any underlying resentments at this time of year. Let it go for now.
Come back to it in January, or later next year, when emotions don’t run so high. Maybe next time you see that Uncle you could say “Hey Uncle Frank, good to see you, thanks for noticing my nice dress today. I remember you said something about what I was wearing at Christmas too. I’d prefer it if you didn’t comment again now or in the future.”
People think having a few drinks gives them the right to speak ‘their truth’ and this isn’t always helpful or loving – we can help them to see that.
I like to make sure I don’t arrive at Christmas feeling overwhelmed or frazzled by being very careful about what I commit to throughout the month. I keep Sundays free in December so I can choose what I want to do without feeling guilty about cancelling anything last minute and knowing I have time to rest.
I choose not to drink at Christmas and I recognise I’m only in control of my own thoughts, feelings and behaviours – no one else’s – and this helps me to respond with compassion and kindness when I can see others are struggling with their emotions.
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