Taking action on your Christmas drinking triggers

Last week we wrote about identifying your Christmas drinking triggers, in this post we talk about taking action on Christmas drinking triggers.

As regular readers, will know it’s all  about the  planning.

Why is planning so important?

In our alcohol obsessed culture where drink is everywhere it’s very easy to drink too much. So it takes effort and advance planning to make sure we’re don’t get sucked down into the glug glug of boozy Christmas drinking.

Everybody’s different so what works for one person may not work for another. So thinking about what will work for you is really important.  Once you know what’s going to be  your Christmas drinking triggers you can take action. You might find these tips helpful.


Create an advent calendar

Creating an advent calendar covering those days which are most stressful for you can be useful. Lidl sell a range for just €4.99  were  you fill each day yourself. You can  use this to write little notes or reminders to yourself for different days. Or maybe even put in little gifts to help you stay focused.

To get you started, here‘s a calendar we came across that many people liked. It focuses on happiness.

christmas drinking triggers


Office Christmas parties

These can be a real killer as a Christmas drinking trigger. Everybody out to have fun, relax and in many workplaces there’s a free bar.  Not drinking means you can be seen as a real killjoy.

One way to avoid this pressure is to ring the venue in advance and see will they be serving no or low alcohol drinks. These can often look like the real thing. So you  look like you’re drinking when you’re not actually drinking.  Sneaky huh! For suggestions on low alcohol drinks see this post.

For even more tips on office parties click  here.


Family events can be real Christmas drinking triggers

If you’re part of a family where socialising consists  entirely of sitting around drinking, this can be very tough. It’s easier to take part then sit watching as the conversation gets more and more boring as people start slurring their words.

Also there’s usually one toxic family member present. I’ve heard one woman say we’re all encouraged to cut toxic people out of our lives, so why do we all feel the need to meet up with toxic family members at Christmas? It’s strange all right. So very important to keep our expectations of enjoying toxic family events low!

Here’s a few tips for family events we’ve heard you might find useful.


Arriving late

Not really good manners, but when the event is going to be a long drinking session, arriving late means you cut the amount of drinking time you spend there. And managing your drinking is much more important.


Bring any kids in the event for a short walk in the fresh air

I know we’ve been minding kids all year, so going for a walk in the cold, does not sound appealing. But I’ve found even a little break from the event does wonders.  It freshens me up, the kids can be really funny and I always go back in better humour. The other adults always appreciate you more as well.

(Did anyone see the wonderful Toy Show, I’d love a walk and  chat with so many of those lovely kids in particular Scott and Grace)


Make a bingo card

In Club Soda, one lady suggested making a bingo card. The bingo card has a range of different tasks on it. Like count the number of people at an event, or talk to someone who is not drinking. Or count the number of times someone mentions a particular word or phrase. Crossing off the bingo card when no one was watching made the event much more interesting.


Line up a friend

So  you know an event is really going to be full of   Christmas drinking triggers. For example, you’re going to feel really lonely in that crowded room because you’re the only one not drinking. Your sister in law will be making snide comments about your kids, while the brother boasts on and on about his new car.  So plan ahead and line up a friend that you can text or WhatsApp when you go to the bathroom. That way you can get a bit of moral support to help with  those lonely feelings.


Christmas is not perfect

So make your plans, but remember despite all the pressure around us to have the picture perfect Christmas it really is just another few days and we don’t have to be perfect or even to actually enjoy it!

What are your triggers for the Christmas drinking season?

Yep, that time of the year again, the Christmas drinking season is on us. When you’re trying to reduce your drinking or even not drink at all, it can be a very tough time.


Christmas is not a happy time for everyone

Memories of past Christmases can make life difficult. Loved ones that are now gone. For me, Christmas means the day services are closed. So I’ll be spending more time looking after my Mother who has Alzheimer’s and needs 24 hour care. I love her dearly but after eight years of care it takes a toll. For the first time ever, my daughter won’t be home from England, so can’t even enjoy her company. So I’m definitely not looking forward to Christmas and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.


What does Christmas mean to you?

I find not pretending Christmas is a happy time really helps. The times when I do meet up with friends, or go out with my other daughter are more enjoyable because they know how I feel and we don’t pretend. So it’s useful to understand for yourself what does Christmas mean for you and not pretend it’s a happy time if that’s not right for you.


Are triggers an issue?

We’ve heard from many people who say the Christmas drinking season is the toughest time to control their drinking. All that pressure to be happy, all the parties and meeting ups. The feeling that if you don’t drink you’re an outsider and weirdo.

So identifying your specific triggers for the Christmas drinking season is really helpful


What are your triggers?

What are your specific triggers?  Could it be work Christmas parties, or is it particular family members, or putting up the Christmas tree. Even specific Christmas decorations can be triggering. I always find a Christmas decoration with all our names painted on it makes me feels really sad. I can’t bring myself to throw it away. So now I just put it in a separate box which I never open.

Is spending too much time with family a trigger? Or maybe tiredness after too many late nights or not sticking to your usual daily routine.


Start planning for the Christmas drinking season

So write down all your likely triggers by the 1st of December and then you can start planning how you are going to deal with them. That way you get to control your drinking and actually enjoy the Christmas drinking season.

In the next post, we’ll give some tips on dealing with these triggers.

You can also see more advice on Christmas drinking here.

Brian’s ability to control drinking destroyed by his beliefs

I wrote previously about beliefs and how the meaning we take from events, influences our ability to control drinking. It may seem like beliefs have nothing to do with taking control of our drinking, when in reality it can be the key to not just drinking too much, but to leading a happy life.

Brian’s story shows how our beliefs can even be a matter of life and death.

Brian’s story

I knew Brian as a sensitive, gentle, intelligent man. Despite leaving school unable to read, he now enjoyed reading and poetry. Patrick Kavanagh was his favourite. He could discuss politics and any kind of music you’d mention. Because of his rough time at school and home, he was really scared he was

“A bad person who was going to hell.”

In all his time in the mental health services, this belief had never been challenged or addressed. It’s easier to throw drugs at people, despite it costing more in the long term.


Impatient Boss

When the boss changed in work, Brian could not cope with the new boss’s style, he got too stressed and he left on disability. Life went downhill from there. His kidneys failed and he went on kidney dialysis.

He was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. Brian had no health insurance. However because the doctors thought it might be TB, they put him in a private room to prevent other patients being infected.

We all thought this was terrific, because now he had peace and privacy and would be able to sleep at night without noises and interruptions.


Let him die

But then Brian became unconscious. He stopped talking. Drips were inserted. Even when he was brought down for his regular kidney dialysis, Brian never appeared to wake up. The Doctors called a case conference, where we all came together to discuss Brian. At the case conference, the Doctors suggested nothing more could be done. They wanted to stop kidney dialysis which meant Brian would be dead within the week.


Natalie saves the day

We were all so upset, nobody could talk. I could not get any words out.  I wanted to ask how somebody who walked into a hospital with a chest infection just two weeks earlier, could suddenly get so ill, and be allowed to die. But I was too upset to talk.

Luckily we had a friend, Natalie, with us who was able to ask that question. So the doctors decided they would do more tests and keep going with the kidney dialysis.


Brian wakes up

The test for TB is clear. Brian is moved from the private room into the main ward. Next day he wakes up and starts eating breakfast. He gets up and walks around. Soon he is well enough to be released home. It really feels like a miracle.


None of this made sense

I asked Brian what had gone on. How come he had been so ill in the hospital and then got better?

His answer, to use a cliché “made my blood run cold”.

When he was put in the private hospital room, he assumed he was put there because he was dying. So he decided he might as well get on with it. He always knew he would die young.  It was one of the reasons he drank too much.Then, when the doctors put him back in the main ward, he realised he was not dying and decided to live.


His beliefs nearly killed him

I was horrified and in shock for days after hearing this. None of us had even thought to explain to Brian why he was in the private room. We assumed the doctors or nurses had told him. We also assumed he would like it. It brought home to me how powerful our beliefs are and how they can control our physical bodies. Brian’s belief that private rooms were for people who were dying, nearly killed him.


Beliefs about alcohol

Which brings us onto our beliefs about alcohol and our ability to control drinking. All around  us we’re surrounded by messages that drinking is essential to a happy life. We’re conditioned to believe, that every event needs drinking, every time we’re stressed we need drink, every time we’re happy we need a drink and so on. Advertisements are all around us linking drinking to happiness.

We even believe that becoming an adult is all about having your first drink.


What are your beliefs about alcohol?

So when we’re surrounded by all these messages, is it any wonder we find it difficult to control drinking?  So  a good tip is to identify your beliefs about alcohol.  What does alcohol mean to you?  For example

  • Drinking helps me to relax
  • Drinking means I’m less nervous meeting people for the first time
  • Life would be boring without drinking
  • I’d have no social life without drinking
  • People would not like me if I’m sober


Control Drinking by looking at your beliefs

Once you’ve listed your beliefs on a sheet of paper. Then you can take action. Challenge these beliefs. Would life really be boring without alcohol, or would you start doing new more exciting activities? Sky diving anyone?

control drinking

Take action

Are there other actions you can take which help meet the needs drink currently satisfies?

For example, developing a social life which does not involved drinking. You’ll find some suggestions here.

Or maybe using meditation to relax.


Control drinking by changing your beliefs

So a key part of your control drinking toolkit is changing your beliefs about alcohol. Then it becomes easier to actually control drinking. For many people there’s also a second part to beliefs. The beliefs they have about themselves. For example, I’m not good enough.

We’ll deal with this in a future post as these can also really impact on people’s ability to control drinking.

Photos by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash   

And  by Kamil Pietrzak on Unsplash

Think Jigsaw for controlling your drinking

As regular readers will know, we believe “no one size fits all” for controlling your drinking. Yet alcohol treatment services often give people the wrong idea by sticking to a very rigid, regimented schedule of treatment approaches. For example in AA, it’s follow the 12 steps and if you fail (ie drink at all) it is your fault. You have not worked the 12 steps hard enough. Now AA has helped  lots of people, but it does not work for everybody.


Think jigsaw is a better approach

In reality, unless we put all the pieces of the jigsaw together in the right order, we’re unlikely to succeed in controlling our drinking.  For every person, the pieces of the jigsaw are different and will need to be put together in a different way for success.


What are the pieces of the jigsaw for controlling your drinking?

Well there are many, many pieces and for everyone these pieces are different. For example, physical exercise is really important. However some people drinking too much may already be exercising on a regular basis, so exercise won’t be part of their drinking jigsaw. However it’s important they continue to exercise as it creates those happy endorphins in our brains.


Deciding whether to stop drinking or reduce drinking

In our drink soaked culture, it can be really difficult to not drink at all, because of the reaction of friends and the  impact on our social life.  So some people will find it easier just to drink less, others will find it easier to not drink at all. So this is a very personal decision in your jigsaw.  You’ll find some useful questions to help make your decision here.


Looking at feelings around drinking

Another important jigsaw piece is understanding your feelings around drinking. Comparing how we feel when we do drink, to how we feel when we don’t drink is useful.  Lucy found when she acknowledged her feelings she was better able to control her drinking. Her story is here.

Some people have difficulty identifying their feelings, they just feel numb. If this is you, this post  here will be useful.


The trigger jigsaw piece

Understanding the things that make us drink more is another big piece in the jigsaw. These are called triggers which  make us want to drink. This post explains  more


The practical jigsaw piece

The other big piece is looking at all the practical things we can do which help. From drinking low alcohol drinks (more information here), not having drink in the house, to relationships with friends (more information here)


Controlling your drinking using the jigsaw approach

So there’s lots of jigsaw pieces to consider when controlling your drinking. We’ve just mentioned a few of them. So next time you feel you are failing, just think of the jigsaw. Keep going until all the pieces from the jigsaw box are on the table and in the right place. Might take a bit of time and organising getting there, but once we do controlling our drinking becomes a lot easier.

A simple practical tip to help manage your drinking

This week after the focus on managing your thinking we have a simple and quick practical tip to help you manage your drinking.

Never again

How many of us after a bad hangover say

“Never again”

We really mean it at the time and then we go ahead and drink too much again! A lot of the time this is because of triggers. A trigger is something that causes you to want a drink and we explained more about it and how to deal with them here.

A practical tip

A practical tip is to write down positive reminders which mean something worthwhile to you about your drinking. For example,

“I’m losing weight every day I don’t drink

I enjoy waking up in the morning feeling good

I am now creating a healthy radiant body

I’m now enjoying the mornings with my children

My skin is looking good as I drink less”

What’s important is these reminders are positive.  So no

“I don’t want to make a show of myself again

The messages should also mean something to youThey should relate to your benefits of not drinking too much. (See here if you want to work on  your list of benefits)


Where to put these reminders?

Again, this is a very personal decision. If you live alone or have the support of your family, writing them on a load of “post it” pads and sticking them in places where you can easily see them can be really helpful. On the bathroom mirror as you put on your make up, on the dashboard of your car, inside your kitchen cupboard door, or even on the bottle of wine in the house.

Some people write these messages into their diaries.


Use your mobile phone

Other  people find putting the reminder in their phone as a diary entry with an alarm, or a clock alarm on their mobile phone really works. They then time the reminder or an alarm to go off at a time they are most likely to want to take a drink.

Just a note of caution though, if your diary is also on your PC make sure the reminder does not go off at an important time. Like when you’re presenting to an important client or at a job interview!

I love the example when an executive got a delayed response from a friend in the middle of an important presentation to their executive team. Up on the projector came

“Yeah, you better take care of me Bitch! I expect a Happy Ending!”

So always turn off reminders when screen sharing!

Other people use their mobile phone to record a positive message to themselves and then play it back to themselves when out walking.

So try out this simple practical tip to help you manage your drinking.

For more tips on dealing with cravings click here and here



Lessons for Life- part three

This is our final post on  lessons for life  from the book.

“Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us about the Mysteries of Life and Living”

These are the key messages I took from the book and provide  quick help when you’re pushed for time.

Lessons for life

 lessons for life


  1. Anger is natural except when it is suppressed
  2. Anger creates action
  3. Anger tells us when we have not dealt with our hurt
  4. Generally there is another emotion behind our anger
  5. Have a safe space to let out anger



  1. Happiness is a natural state- it depends on our perception
  2. Happy people are the least self-absorbed and self-centred
  3. Don’t focus on “shoulds” if you want to be happy.  I “should” have done this, I “should“have done that
  4. Life is long, but time is short
  5. Change how you react to situations that make you feel bad about your life
  6. There is no good without the bad- e.g. There can be no mountains without the valleys
  7. In the ordinary, find the special



  1. Playing keeps us young, passionate and helps relationships to thrive
  2. Playing is to live life to its fullest
  3. Playing improves our mental health in the same way that physical exercise does
  4. Strive to get the work out of fun- if it’s fun it’s not work.
  5. Watch out and don’t turn play into productivity – it must be enjoyed to be play
  6. Every experience is rich with the possibilities for magic.



  1. Accept you don’t always get what you want
  2. The ability to delay gratification is important
  3. Learn to live with a situation as it is- not as you would like it to be
  4. Each life experience comes when you are ready
  5. Need to exercise the patience muscle- think about being patient
  6. Develop a faith or belief that healing is always at work – even if you can’t feel it
  7. Don’t always try to fix things
  8. Have hope



  1. Think of life as a roller coaster- ride don’t drive
  2. Use the Roller Coaster image when you’re exhausted from trying to control
  3. Don’t fight the unfightable – let go
  4. Turn into a situation not away
  5. Use the serenity prayer first written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr made famous by AA

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference”



  1. Forgiveness heals our hurt and wounds
  2. Forgiveness restores us to a place of grace
  3. Non forgiveness keeps us stuck- a perpetual victim
  4. Forgive yourself
  5. We are here to make mistakes

From me, I’d add forgiveness is for yourself, for your own piece of mind. It does not mean you forget what happened or put yourself back in a position where the same hurt can happen  again.

So that’s it- our lessons for life summary of a really useful book. Hope you found it helpful. You can find the first post in  the series here and the second post here.

Quick Life lessons -part two

In our last post we talked about quick life lessons from  the book

“Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us about the Mysteries of Life and Living

So in this post we continue with some of the messages I found helpful.

This weeks life lessons

life lessons


  1. Love needs to be unconditional
  2. Don’t count the details
  3. Loving yourself enables you to receive love
  4. Treat yourself with compassion
  5. Loving someone may mean just being there- you may not be able to make them happy



  1. Be present in the moment- it may be the last
  2. Loving relationships may not be a “couple”
  3. Don’t try to change other people- because it’ s always about you
  4. Confrontation with expectation is manipulation
  5. Learn from every relationship


  1. Eventually we will lose everything we have. An old Jewish saying- dance at a lot of weddings you’ll cry at a lot of funerals
  2. Time does heal all (if you let it)
  3. Take time to mourn and experience your loss



  1. Recognise the power to change in you
  2. What matters is what you think and feel- form your own opinion of yourself
  3. Live for to-day not for tomorrow
  4. Be grateful for what you are



  1. Tragic events happen and can be no one’s fault
  2. Guilt is rooted in self-judgement
  3. To move past guilt align your beliefs and actions
  4. Shame comes from old guilt
  5. Bad people don’t feel bad about hurting others



  1. Time is relative to the observer- your perception determines whether time passes fast or slow
  2. As one door closes another opens, but the hallways in between are a bitch
  3. It’s the life not lived that we regret
  4. Don’t be chained to the past
  5. Stay in the present moment- one at a time
  6. You don’t know how much time you have left



  1. Pain translates into growth- if you let it
  2. Fear does not stop death- it stops life
  3. Face your fears, take them to lunch!
  4. Kindness overcomes fear
  5. Fears are multi-layered, involving past and future, only love is in the present
  6. Practice doing the small things you’re afraid of
  7. Use compassion for yourself to overcome your fears


In the next post we’ll finish off all the remaining life lessons. You can see the first post in this series here.

Life tips on the go – part one

Is n’t it strange the way we all know we’ve got to keep exercising to stay physically fit, but we ignore our mental fitness? Yet mental fitness is a key part of managing our drinking. The better we feel mentally the less likely we are to drink too much.

We’ve talked previously about things that help our mental fitness here and here.


My life’s too busy

But in our very busy and hassled lives it can be really difficult, if nearly impossible to keep doing these helpful things every day. I’ve found the last few weeks really stressful and hectic -even more so than usual. So when I came across some key messages from a book I’d read previously it really helped me. Because I’d forgotten most of them!  Just a quick glance at my one page listing and it helped me to not get sucked into all the drama around me and maintain some sense of peace amongst the chaos.


Life Lessons

The book is called

Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us about the Mysteries of Life and Living

It’s by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler. Elizabeth has since died after a long exhausting illness which left her totally helpless. While the topic may seem depressing, it’s anything but and well worth your attention.


Need some inspiration?

I first read the book about nine years ago, when my wonderful, active, loving, kind Mother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I needed something to help me make sense of the awfulness of what lay ahead. Although the book title may seem grim, the content was inspiring. I ended up listing some of the key messages. They’ve really helped me cope with the last few years as life got harder and harder. After a day with my Mother who at times became this awful demanding stranger, one or two drinks at the end of a long day, often seemed like an easy solution. But using this book I’ve found I don’t feel the need to hit the bottle.

So for the next few posts, I thought I’d just list some of the key messages from each chapter which covers topics ranging from love and power to patience and play.

The 14 topics are

life tips


So here are the key life tips  from each topic starting with authenticity – being yourself.

Life Tips: Authenticity- Being yourself

  1. Allow yourself to be you, not a role
  2. Accept your positive and negative sides
  3. You are unique

It’s easy when we’re targeted by all kinds of marketing, media messages, and demands on us to lose sight of ourselves. But by recognising we’re not a role, – an employee, a business owner, Mother, Carer etc etc we can be happier, because we’re less likely to become stuck.

Accepting we have our good and not so good sides is important. It gives us permission not to be perfect and think more kindly more of ourselves when we behave or do stuff we don’t like.

In the next post, we’ll continue with the rest of Elizabeth’s and David’s important life tips.

Forgiving yourself for drinking too much is vital

It may sound strange but forgiving yourself for drinking too much is vital to taking control of your drinking. Many people who drink too much often feel a deep sense of shame. People of my generation will also have a good ould dose of Catholic guilt, making things even worse.  People think about the time they made an eejit of themselves at the office outing. Or were n’t able to bring the kids to the park as promised because of a hangover. So they become buried in  shame rather then focusing on what needs to change.


Release your heavy burden

By forgiving yourself, you release yourself from the heavy burden of self-judgement, guilt or regret. It is this very burden that often makes people drink more as they try to block out these horrible feelings of shame and remorse. It literally becomes too painful to sit with the feelings so they drink to block out the feelings. So forgiving yourself correctly is key and you can also learn something very valuable too.


How to start

First of all think about the event or incident that you need to forgive yourself for. Maybe you were so lost in your own drama and suffering that you did not recognise the damage you may have caused to others. Certainly in our culture, with our acceptance of heavy drinking this may be the case. So if you did not have the insight, you have now, how could you have acted differently?


A key question

But maybe despite having insights that you’re drinking too much, you still continue to drink and harm yourselves or others. So a key question to ask is what you have learned from these “mistakes”. The ancient Chinese don’t have a word for mistakes. The closest English translation is “learning opportunity”.  So referring to drinking too much as  “mistakes” sets us up for a big fall. Yet, so many treatment approaches to drinking seem to punish people for making mistakes.


Many alcohol treatments encourage shame

I read a recent article on an Irish addiction treatment centre which uses the “Minnesota” model. This treatment model is based on the AA method and sees success as not drinking at all. The language used creates shame. Residents are asked to admit they are powerless over alcohol and ask forgiveness of others for their “shortcomings”.No mention of forgiving themselves. Residents  urine is tested for traces of alcohol. At mealtimes, they stayed quiet, apart from one lady standing up to read a few lines about the impact of alcohol addiction.

No where in the article does it quote treatment  success rates. For example, the percentage of people  attending the centre whose lives are better as a result of staying in this centre.


Toddlers don’t shame themselves

Watching a child learn to walk is a good example of how we should treat ourselves.  Toddlers usually crawl first, then they start taking tiny little steps. hanging for dear life onto chairs, tables, the nearest available hand. They fall down. They may cry or laugh but they get back up again and slowly they become steadier on their feet. Then they stop falling. They learn from every fall. They don’t tell themselves they’re stupid, or shameful for falling. We seem to learn that kind of thinking later as adults.


We don’t shame toddlers

When we see toddlers falling, we don’t give out to them. We praise and encourage. We help them up again. It’s one reason, why they don’t give up. They keep trying, until finally, we’re the ones chasing around after them and trying to keep up with their running.


Don’t punish yourself

So next time you drink too much, you have four choices.

  1. Do nothing
  2. Repeat too much drinking again
  3. Beat yourself up for not being perfect and being able to control your drinking
  4. Forgive yourself and learn from what happened.

Of these four choices, the one that is most likely to help you is choice 4. Forgiving yourself and learning from what happened. What happened that made you drink too much? What was the payoff or benefit to you? (We’ll cover these in a future post)

For example

You were with friends and could not say no without feeling awkward. In this case you might find this post here useful.

If your feelings drove you to drink, you might find this post  here helpful.

Or you’ve realised you can’t do this on your own and you need more help. You might find this post here helpful.


Try forgiving yourself for drinking too much

So forgive yourself, accept what happened. Then find the learning in what happened and you’ll be further down the road to controlling your drinking.