There are a ton of valid reasons people don’t drink: their mental or physical health; they lost a bet; they’re pregnant. Whatever the reason, there are dates and occasions that are going to be more difficult than others.
New Year’s Eve is, for many, one of those days.
It’s arguably the booziest day of the year worldwide, and when you fail to accessorize with a cocktail in hand, it usually goes more noticed. So how do alcohol-free revelers do it?
I talked to five happily sober humans on how they ring in the new year without a flute of champagne, or champagne of beers, in hand.
Britni de la Cretaz, Writer, 34 — Sober Since 2011
I got sober in 2011 and I was actually in rehab for New Year’s Eve that year. I was in rehab for four months, November to February, so I was in rehab for a lot of holidays.
For me, one of the things I had always told myself about who I was as a drinker was a lie I told myself so I could keep avoiding that I’m an alcoholic: I was a party girl and I liked to have fun.
So New Year’s Eve, even though I largely considered it to be amateur hour, was still really important as far as being the fun, go-out-and-party girl. I went out every New Year’s Eve and got drunk and had champagne and the whole thing.
So when I was in rehab that year, I actually was fine until New Year’s Eve. It was on New Year’s Eve that I realized how glad I was to be in treatment because I was fully aware of the fact that if I had been at home I would be drinking. And it surprised me how strongly I felt I was supposed to be having champagne because it was New Year’s Eve.
So the next year, I was back at home and I was working on a domestic violence hotline. I had remembered the feeling from the year before of really strongly feeling like I wanted to drink on New Year’s, and I really wanted to make sure I was in a good, safe place. No one wanted to work the overnight on New Year’s Eve. It was, like, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. So it was perfect for me, plus I got double pay for New Year’s Day.
I did it three years in a row, and then I moved to working at a homeless shelter. They always needed staff for the overnight shift for New Year’s, so I made sure I worked those, too.
It just became my default: This is what I do on New Year’s Eve.
I don’t work in that field anymore, so I don’t have the opportunity, but I also have kids now, so my husband and I have started playing board games.
But working overnight shifts was a really important tradition for me because it gave me a place to be where there was no booze. I just didn’t even have to think about it. It also made me feel that I was doing something good, not just because of the nature of that sort of work in general, but [because] I was taking a shift that nobody else wanted. It made the decision really easy.
When people are calling those hotlines at 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, some of them are still trying to get out of an abusive situation; they need someone there to pick up the phone.
It felt good to be there.
I’d bring apple cider and pop it at midnight, and bring enough for the girls. It’s still a celebration, you know?
I wasn’t missing anything. I had a purpose and a reason.
Now … we have a toddler’s New Year’s Eve where we count down to midnight at like 6 or 6:30. We have snacks and a dance party and everyone’s in bed by 10.
Matthew Jennings, Chef, Founder of Full Heart Hospitality, 42 — Sober Since 2016
New Year’s Eve has never really been a thing for me because I’m a chef by trade, so I’ve always been working. I have also always seen it as amateur’s night, as far as a celebration goes. It’s not exactly my thing.
But typically, New Year’s Eves have been very celebratory. If anything, [working] late night would be some beers and bottles with the crew.
I never had crazy addiction issues. I certainly depended on alcohol more than I should have, but I can be around it. That doesn’t bother me. I stopped drinking because it was not a good thing for me. I take solace in the ability to not consume and still live my life.
This is the first year in 18 years that neither my wife nor I have been involved with or owned our own retail or restaurant, so it’s uncharted territory. We’re just gonna lie low. We’ve got a gathering that we’re helping throw at my wife’s sister’s house. She does it every year and we’ve never been able to go together because at least one of us has been working.
I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t really know what it’s all about. What do people do for New Year’s Eve? I feel like Mork from Mork and Mindy.
Nate Homan, Writer, Boxer, 30 — Just Over Two years With the Plug in the Jug
Personally, New Year’s lost its thrill for me after Y2K fumbled. I was prolly in fifth grade, and the hype built this nervous energy, like, “Shit, man, we might be on our own for a bit here.” After that, the hype seemed forced, and I would go to bed early so I wouldn’t start the year hungover and depressed.
Kasey Kuppenbender, PA, 30 — Sober for Three Years and Five Months
I was stripping for my first few years sober, so I was at work that first year. I got sober working in the clubs, and that was just what I did: I worked New Year’s Eve.
The following two years, I went to a sober girlfriend’s get-together with a bunch of sober people and we put shots of Martinelli cider in the cups and played board games and sang karaoke and just ate good food.
We did sparkling cider for fun. The toast is important, you know? It’s symbolic.
The holidays can be a tough time to be sober. Any of the holidays can be drinking-centered, but they’re all fairly emotionally charged. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve — that’s, like, three in a row. For anyone, it’s hard.
You might not have the best relationship with your family. Maybe you’re single and rather wouldn’t be. For sober people, it’s a tough time, and it’s really important to lean on each other and stay connected. For me, I make sure I’m around good friends.
I think for me the best thing has been to have sober parties with my sober friends. We still have a great time, but it’s more fun to be around people who are also sober — who, you know, get it.
Diego Lopez, Comedian, MMA Instructor and Podcast Host, 31 — Sober Since Age 21
I’m lucky that I have a lot of friends who are also sober, if not straight edge. I live in Brooklyn, ya know? I have a lot of artistic friends.
I have a really good support system, so it’s not usually something we do anyway. I can kind of join in on not drinking. Last couple years I’ve mostly been at a house party. We keep it low-key, we play a lot of games. Card games, board games, things like that are always fun because it keeps you busy, it’s social, it passes the time in a festive manner.
I would never want to go to a bar on New Year’s Eve. Even when I drank, that still felt like a nightmare, socially. I would do it, but now it’s so easy not to.
I will say, though, that not drinking forced me to develop my social skills. I feel like a lot of people rely on alcohol for that liquid courage or armor, and I’m proof that you don’t have to go out and be hopelessly awkward without a drink in your hand. It might be tough at first, but it is possible, and I’m actually better with people for it.