Don’t let celebrations push you off the wagon

In this Dec. 31, 2010, file photo, confetti is seen falling over revelers in New York’s Times...
Associated Press file photo
Story by Leanne Italie
(The Associated Press)
Mon, Dec 24, 2012
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NEW YORK — Jennifer Perry isn’t much of a drinker. Never has been, yet she’s ready every New Year’s Eve for the inevitable attention when she’s out trying to have a good time.

“I don’t care if everyone at the table orders a drink but me. That’s fine,” said Perry, 46, a singer in Atlanta. “What I do resent is being pressured, and then being asked is it a ‘religious thing’ or if I have a ‘problem.’  ”

Sometimes, she relies on: “Oh, thank you, but I’m still on methadone.” While not true, a quick apology usually ensues and the pesky prober moves along.

Whether in recovery or not interested for other reasons, the holidays often mean an excess of booze and drugs. Occasional drinkers fail to moderate and addiction programs around the country note upticks in patient loads soon after the new year, high season for relapsers and those seeking treatment for the first time.

“Alcohol is often center stage at holiday parties,” said Amara Durham, a spokeswoman for Caron Texas, a treatment facility in Princeton, Texas. “Many people think they need alcohol to enjoy social occasions such as holiday celebrations.”

Chapman Sledge, chief medical officer at Cumberland Heights, a center in the Nashville, Tenn., area, said loved ones hosting holiday dinners and parties should be sensitive to the difficulties of recovering guests.

“Stray comments like, ‘Just a sip of wine at dinner won’t hurt,’ or ‘It’s a party, have a little fun,’ even if they’re unintentional, can slow or destroy an addict’s recovery,” he said.

Gina Bestenlehner, who is 12 years sober and program director for the Pur Detox center in Dana Point, Calif., suggests bringing along a sobriety buddy to help stay focused. She also recommends volunteering as a designated driver, which “gives a person new purpose and a reason to be there sober. It also saves lives.”

Cathy Griffin, 54, of Los Angeles, has been sober for five years. “I’m a free woman now and go about my business and personal life wherever there is alcohol and barely give it any thought,” she said, “but in the early days of my recovery, it was hell!”

Instead of salivating while watching the wine meet the lips of the guy across the room, offer to help cut fruit and veggies or rinse some glasses, “anything to get your mind off the fact that you can’t drink,” she said.

“Look for people who are not drinking to start up a conversation. Believe it or not, there are more people who are not sloshed than you might think,” Griffin added. “Make a game or a challenge out of finding the folks who are not drinking.”

And perhaps most important of all, she said, “Prepare before the battle.” Think about what you’re going to drink before you get there. Stay away from caffeine-laden energy drinks and go straight to the bar and ask for a non-alcoholic beverage with a smile.

“I found for me, I didn’t have to stay all night,” Griffin said. “If I felt uncomfortable, even if it wasn’t already midnight, I gave myself permission to leave or go outside and call a sober buddy, and most importantly, breathe — the moment will pass.”

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