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Dancing through the New Year in recovery

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

'I'm never gonna dance again, sang George Michael to me back in the '80s. 'Me neither,' I whispered back, abut five years ago. At least, not now I'd stopped drinking. How could I fathom being a boogie queen again now that I was sober? I need a skinful to get the nerve to set foot on the dance floor, let alone shake loose once I was there. Sober was great, I thought, but boring. I was better off to crank up the stereo at home and dance like no one was watching while NO ONE WAS.

Almost five years after my last drink, dancing (in public) still really isn't my thing but I do have a few more clues and way more confidence about maneuvering my way though the demands of the silly season. Here are a few of my tried and true tips that have seen me stay sober and occasionally, have a lot of fun.

1. Say no to functions that you know are going to be all about the booze, and not much else. There is no point in putting yourself in a crazy-difficult situation if you don't have to. Bow out politely and if you can't make an acceptable excuse, plan to attend for a short time and have a convenient excuse to leave early.

2. Get involved in the planning if possible. If it's a work function, an extra hand might be welcome and could mean you could organise non-alcoholic beverages that go beyond orange juice and put the spotlight on good food.

3. Have your 'I'm-not-drinking' message ready to go. Whether you're revealing your recovery or just advising people that you aren't drinking 'today', be prepared for the odd person to question you. If you don't want to share your reasons for being sober, you could always give a generic excuse such as 'I'm not drinking for health reasons' or 'I'm driving'.

4. Put alcohol in its place – focus on people and ignore the fact that they may be drinking and you are not. Early in recovery, we don't have skills in socialising – alcohol used to do that for us. Now, it's time to build the skills of connecting authentically with other human beings. Being polite and interested go a long way. If in doubt, listen.

5. Redefine what fun means. When we're sober, the lights are on and the filters are off. What used to be 'fun' – think easy laughter, jovial comradery and inhibitions leaving the room – doesn't happen easily. In fact, those kinds of emotions, unless artificially (and temporarily) provided by alcohol are often only organically generated from deep, longstanding relationships with established friendships and family. These types of relationships take time to develop, as do the feelings that come along with them. A social situation with work colleagues or people you don't know well is going to be different when you're sober. Take this time as an opportunity to mature and develop your socialisation skills beyond awkward small talk.

6. Reinvent your identity: when I drank I thought I was the life of the party and the aforementioned 'Boogie Queen'. (This was in fact disputed by those close to me who thought I was just boring, repetitive and sloppy). These days I am far more interested in lively conversation and the occasional debate. I can still crack a few jokes but know when to fold 'em. Thanks sobriety.

7. Be grateful: the sober choices you make are going to take care of you in the future, eg, when you wake the next morning with a clear head and self-esteem intact.

8. Catch a ride on the false courage wave: If you're gonna try dancing, remember that most people will have had a few drinks to provide their own Dutch courage. They won't notice that you might have two left feet or are incredibly aware of every little detail in the room – they just want someone to keep them company through Come on Eileen or Mony Mony. Do it: it's a public service and you might enjoy it.

Phone Elaine on 027 573 7744 for a confidential chat.

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