A Bush Christmas Sober Survival Guide. From a survivor.

Do you feel like Christmas is a matter of survival, rather than the celebration it’s meant to be?

I dunno about you guys - but I struggle. I start feeling anxious in early December and for a month it feels like I have a double-layered-slightly-pained-grin permanently plastered to my face to ensure I say/do the right things while all the hype goes on ... when actually, I am whispering ‘get me out of here’ under my breath.

This is for so many reasons, not the least of which is that my own near-death from alcoholism (you can read about that here) went down in Silly Season. To be clear, I don't blame Silly Season. I blame the fact I was in raging denial about the fact I was a raging alcoholic and hadn't yet gotten serious about myself or my recovery.

But the fact remains, Silly Season is a really scary time for those cutting back on grog or in their own fight to overcome addiction in permanent isolation in a landscape that is socially bound together with booze at just about every single gathering.

So as usual I will just go ahead and say it like it is, as usual, for no reason other than to open up and hopefully facilitate a potentially difficult yarn for others to have with their loved ones and, God willing, prevent someone else's horror story unfolding. Because remember - we are here to catch people before they fall. That is our primary purpose.

Sorry to sound predictable now, but guess what, poppets? The key to surviving Silly Season doesn't lie within tips and tricks and fancy side-steps. It is simply about being honest and being prepared.

While I am thankfully, blessedly, entirely free from the desire to drink (headed for six years and gratefully counting) - I am HYPER aware that for those who are still in the clutches of active addiction, it’s truly a challenging and deadly time of year for so, so many reasons.

So, while we are still eight weeks out - let’s discuss some survival plans and tips, and do what we can, collectively, to make sure we are OK.


  • First and foremost: PLAN. I mean seriously, seriously plan. If you’ve been fluffing around the edges with your self-talk around your own sobriety, and you know you've got to knuckle down and buckle down - NOW is the time to get very serious. Like SAS seriously-serious. Because remember failing to plan is planning to fail. So get yourself a relapse prevention strategy in place if you’re working through early sobriety. Get a recovery programme in place. What that looks like is for you to work out. Just please don't head into into Silly Season with a ‘’she’ll be ‘right’’ approach as your first and only line of defence. There are SO many other online resources and starting places available - some of those are here.

  • Get yourself into a supportive online group. Come join our Bush Tribe if you’re rural! It’s free and it’s filled with hundreds of rural men and women who get it.

  • Work through strategies now for Silly Season with your family, friends, and loved ones as well as with yourself. Be HONEST with them. Be honest with YOURSELF.

  • If in doubt: DON’T. Just don’t. Say no to the office Christmas party or the NYE celebration or the back-yard booze-ups if you’re in early fragile sobriety - or - tell your mates the truth that you’re going sober. Just ask for their support - and if they're your mates, they'll gladly give it.

  • Be sure you’ve got an independent early exit plan and if in doubt, DON’T. Christmas will come and go, but your sobriety might not. No party is worth the risk.

  • Be really careful with ‘’alcohol free’’ beer, wine, and spirits. While these can be a fabulous alternative and absolutely have a ‘’place’’ for many, make no mistake that they’re also a deadly potential trigger for others. Refer to point 2. If in doubt: DON’T. We recommend ETCH Sparkling as a delicious grown-up beverage that doesn’t emulate the taste or smell of grog. You can buy it or learn about them via the link.

  • Have your own food ready for parties. Big drinkers tend to think of booze first, and food second. So don’t rely on anyone else to feed you. Take your own snacks and don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, thirsty or tired. And if any of those happen, and you’re feeling flighty - leave. Which won’t be an issue, because you will have been a legend and told your mates and family the truth that you’re off the grog, right? (see point 2).

  • Take your own drinks, and don’t presume you’ll be catered for. Ask your local publican to consider stocking something other than sugary pre-mixes, and tell them you’ll be stoked to pay for an alternative. Again, we recommend ETCH. Or just a lovely sparkling soda with fresh lemon or lime. Hell, maybe your mates / publican / family can lash out and create some delicious mocktails! Give the lovely The Mindful Mocktail a follow on insta. Nat has some gorgeous recipes for the non-alcoholic-drinkers.

  • Get your expectations in order. Lower those suckers if you must. Be real.

  • Make sure you have your own transport ready to go. Don't load yourself up with a carload of drinking mates unless you're 100% prepared to stay until the end or they're prepared to evacuate early if you hit struggle street. If in doubt ... don't rely on anyone else.

  • Volunteer. Do something good for someone else and take the focus off yourself. If you feel lonely at Christmas, imagine how it is for others. Reach out. Host an Orphans Christmas, or party. Think about others in your small town who are in the same boat. Be a leader, and scoop them up.

  • If you’re lucky enough to live within close proximity to real-life face-to-face support group options and you’re yet to give that a whirl, then GO. Try it. Seriously. What have you got to lose? Nothing. Meetings are listed here.

  • Finally : if you’re a drinker, and you’re reading this and you’ve got a non-drinker coming to an event - please, please, please CATER for them, too. Have some fresh soda and lime at the least, ready to go. And get used to not making it a BIG DEAL if your mate says no thanks, or not today.

Honestly the key to successful, ongoing, long-term sobriety is the same as the key to getting through Christmas. Just get to work. Put your head down and your bum up. Make a plan. Follow it through. Be honest. And just get up and show up and do it one day at a time.

Please feel free to share this post - because I can guarantee you that somebody you love needs to see it. Feel free to add any thoughts, comments, or ideas that have helped you !!!

Shan Xx

Shanna Whan is the CEO and Founder of national rural charity Sober in the Country and a grateful recovered alcoholic who has made it her life's work to carry hope for others.

DISCLAIMER: SITC is a national charity that works via advocacy, social impact, and peer support. We are not a ''programme'' but a connection point . This blog isn't intended as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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The Sober in the Country Ltd charity is grateful for seed-funding in 2020 from these extraordinary donors.