Ignite Your Goals

9 Non-Alcoholic Celebration Ideas

A table spread feast of colorful healthy food and healthy mocktails

First things first – I’m not gonna throw shade on anyone who enjoys drinking, and I’m also not telling anyone what to do or not do. I’m simply sharing my experience being alcohol-free because I get asked about it often. My hope is that these tips inspire you to try some new things and to feel confident that taking a break from alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.

Why Might You Want To Take A Break From Alcohol?

Only you can answer that question, there’s a lot of reasons, but what I hear most often from women is that they want a break from battling their willpower.

The sheer willpower and energy expended when deciding whether to have that second or third glass can be a draining and guilt-inducing battle inside your head.

Not drinking means no longer having to wonder if you’re behaving oddly in front of sober people (like your cute date). What about making less poor food choices because of being under the influence?

Taking a break from alcohol also eliminates the added stress of what happens after a night of drinking. Being sober means you’ll go home feeling awesome, you’ll sleep well and wake up feeling energetic. Compared to going home feeling yuck (or maybe not even remembering going home), then sleeping poorly and waking up hungover or just drained.

These are a few ideas to ponder and reflect on when it comes to whether drinking is helping or hindering you. (And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach, keep reading and you’ll see what I mean).

A clear glass filled with soda water, herbal bitters, ice and a sliced lime

My Story With Alcohol

I just celebrated another birthday, and with each year that I’m privileged to age, I revel in planning the fun activities I’ll do to celebrate.

I’ve been a non-drinker most of my life, and I spent a solid 10 years without having as much as a sip. Why? Well, I never really got into it.

The legal drinking age in the US is 21, and by the time I reached 21 I’d already been dealing with some severe health issues so drinking simply wasn’t on my radar, when most days were about just getting through.

I went out to dinner with my family that night and had 1 or 2 mixed drinks, then a full decade passed before I even entertained the idea of alcohol again.

Because I’d experienced such a harrowing and extended health crisis at a young age, once I was on that road to re-gaining my health, and especially once I was feeling great, I didn’t want to undo the hard work I’d put into gaining wellness, so it really wasn’t a difficult choice for me.

My Wellness Philosophy

As you’re likely aware, there is plenty of research out there showing varied negative effects of consuming too much alcohol. Most importantly to me, the impact it has on the liver, which affects our hormones and many other processes in the body. But I’m sure we don’t need another lecture on these things, most of us have a general idea of what we can do and eat to maintain good health.

Knowledge is power and these days, thanks to all that I’ve learnt, lots of inner-work and my good health – I like to think I have an accepting and relaxed approach to wellness.

Instead of an absolutist attitude, I aim to be a ‘roll-with-it-kinda-gal’ – meaning I have my preferences and non-negotiables when it comes to what I will and won’t consume, but these come from an accepting point of view. One which understands that a ‘control-ly’ or perfectionist attitude is actually counter-intuitive to my best health and there is a lot of nuance that we can forget when we get too rigid around what is considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for us.

This mindset has served my health and then some. Without these important mindset shifts, all too often I see people stuck in the land of plateau, wondering why they don’t feel as good as they want to, even though they’re eating well and moving their body regularly and essentially ‘doing all the things’.

Food and exercise are only part of the equation. True and sustainable wellness is also about what’s going on in your head: i.e. your thoughts, beliefs and inner-dialogue, and the way we approach this can make a big difference! (Though it takes practice and support and doesn’t happen overnight, so be gentle with yourself).

So here I am in my 30’s and for the last few years I’ve had a few drinks, maybe 2-3 times a year at special occasions, and only if I want to (never out of peer pressure).

I don’t say this to win an award, only to show you that there are always alternate ways to approach life, and the ‘done thing’ doesn’t have to be your done thing. If something ‘unique’ suits your health and happiness better, I give you permission to do it differently – and have fun with it!

So below I’ve shared 9 non-alcoholic celebration ideas with some examples of what we did for my birthday. No worries if you’re not local to Brisbane, just look for similar activities in your area – the skies the limit!

Title reads: '9 non-alcoholic celebration ideas' with a photo of a smiling woman holding a mocktail and a table spread of food

I also wanted to touch on what you can you say to friends and family if you’re taking a break from alcohol (whether that’s for just a night or a longer timeframe).

I understand that it can be a sticky subject or just a foreign one, so take heart that you can go into these situations with confidence and stand in your power. Ultimately it is your body and your decision. (Just imagine me high-fiving you for sticking up for yourself if the pressure gets packed on!)

How To Say ‘No Thanks’ (to alcohol) With Confidence

-None ‘O Yo Bizniss-
Firstly, it’s really no one’s business what your reasons are for saying no, so remember you don’t owe an explanation. Labels are for tin cans and there’s no need to make it a definitive, you can do this any way you want. You don’t have to give up alcohol for any specified time period or say you’ll never drink again. You call the shots, you’re an adult and do what works for you.

-Smile & Keep It Light-
It really helps in these situations to keep it light-hearted. When someone questions you, you don’t have to get stern or serious, I find that smiling and casually but firmly saying ‘no thank you’ or ‘I’m not drinking right now’ works a charm.

There’s nothing wrong with a more definitive statement like ‘I don’t drink’, but feel into the situation, especially if this is new for you, the softer approach goes down well and gets less questions. Whatever the case, feel confident that you get to choose what you put into your body and it’s a-ok to say no thank you. Keep it light, and move on.

-It’s Their ‘Stuff’ Not Yours-
Finally, if people pressure you or give you a hard time, it’s just them projecting their own ‘stuff’ onto you, so try not to get defensive.

Your ‘no thanks’ or ‘I’m not drinking right now’ could bring up feelings of guilt for them – maybe they feel like they should take a night off too, or that they shouldn’t have that third glass, and by YOU standing in your power and saying no, it might make them feel guilty or judged.

So leave it with them, it’s not yours to take on, and try to be compassionate. When people ‘judge’ us, it’s never really about us and more about what they’re feeling and believing. Easier said than done, I know, but just hold you head high and smile (with your iced tea).

9 Non-Alcoholic Celebration Ideas

1. Make It A Lunch
A brown-haired woman sitting at a table eating a gluten-free bowl of poke at Cheeky Poke in BrisbaneLunches are a great option to meetup with friends in a social setting, especially if you’re brand new to saying ‘not right now, thanks’ to alcohol. Lunch being a midday meal, tends to have less of an emphasis on alcohol, so naturally there’s usually less pressure (whether self-imposed or otherwise) to drink.

I find that most people are much less inclined to ask about it during the middle of the day so this is a great starting point to being around food without it. Regardless, please feel empowered to say no using the tips I shared above.

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2. Host Dinner At Your House
(see main image at top of this post for the dry Christmas dinner I hosted last year!)
When you’re the host, you’re in charge! I’ve simply provided non-alcoholic alternatives when hosting dinners and everyone’s been happily satisfied. If you’re worried about guests bringing alcohol to share, simply let them know ahead of time it’ll be a ‘dry’ dinner or that drinks are already sorted.

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3. Go To A Comedy Show (and feel free to say no!)
An iPhone screenshot showing an image posted to Instagram Stories by comedian Celeste Barber. The image is of her audience who attended her live show in Brisbane. Emily is in the third to front row enthusiastically waving her hands.My friend and I went to Celeste Barber’s live show on my birthday weekend. If you’re familiar with Celeste’s Instagram, then you’d know we had a good laugh! Celeste is all about not taking yourself too seriously and giving permission to let loose, so just about everyone in that 1600 capacity venue had an alcoholic drink in hand. The auditorium literally smelled of wine. Was I fussed? Nah. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to take on any pressure. I enjoyed the night sober, still had plenty of laughs and there’s even photographic evidence via Celeste’s own Instagram Story that I was having a great time (see photo)!

– Be Prepared –
I brought with me a water bottle from home filled with sparkling lemon water, however a security guard confiscated it and implied I was smuggling in alcohol (ha! little did he know!). He insisted on throwing it out, and even attempted to taste it! In the future I will bring with me a tiny spare glass to pour my water into in case any grumpy security guards want to take a sip, so that I don’t have to go thirsty all night.

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4. Meetup For Coffee Or Tea
A woman in a blue skirt holds open a cardboard takeaway box showcasing a gluten-free blueberry friand cake insideThis one’s pretty self-explanatory. Morning and afternoon tea are great opportunities to have a chin-wag without the alcohol. No one’s going to complain if your meetup includes delicious gluten-free cake…. I mean that’s always a reason to celebrate right ;)

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5. Get Active Together
A dark-haired woman walking on a forest trail surrounded by trees and shrubberyI LOVE meeting up with friends for a walk. It’s the ultimate busy-woman’s hack because not only are you catching up with people you care about, but you’re getting fresh air, time in nature and exercise. Hopefully some Vitamin D too if you live somewhere sunny!

We went for a hike in the Glass House Mountain region and it was breathtakingly gorgeous. You don’t have to go anywhere special though, during the work week I just meetup with friends in each others neighborhoods and we walk along the sidewalk. Keep it simple!

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6. Check Out An Art Exhibit
A woman with long dark hair looking at a photograph on display at an photography exhibitNetflix is fun, but it’s good to get out of the house and to see what the local talent has to offer. I always learn something new whenever I visit QGOMA and other local exhibits.

For my birthday weekend we checked out a local photographers pop-up gallery which sparked some great conversation. I keep my finger on the pulse by following different venues and artists via social media and checking out websites that regularly update and share what’s happening locally.

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7. Visit The Night Markets
Here in Brisbane there are night markets and events on in South Bank, Hamilton and the CBD to name a few. Walking along the river in South Bank and perusing the markets is a beautiful and non-alcoholic friendly way to enjoy a night out. With plenty of places to grab a bite to eat (including an entire market dedicated to food called Eat Street Markets in Hamilton) you will be sorted for dinner and can just enjoy your time with friends. (Make sure you follow me on Instagram and Facebook where I regularly share healthy and allergen-friendly cafes).

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8. Pitch A Picnic
A colorful spread of health food on a patchwork picnic blanketGet your girlfriends together and plan a picnic for your next celebration. Assign everyone a dish to bring, noting any food intolerances and enjoy the potluck.

You can specify that your picnic will be a dry one, or just use the talking points I covered above to casually and cheerfully say no thanks!

P.s. How good does our picnic look here? This was an AIP blogger meetup that I organized on a visit back to Seattle. Being an AIP picnic, no alcohol was involved.

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9. Wild Card
This isn’t a specific activity but more of a prompt.
– First, reflect on what makes a social situation special for you (after eliminating alcohol). (i.e. quality time with people you care about, enjoying good food, time to relax, laugh, feel supported).
– Second, jot down ways you can make something a ritual, celebration or feel special without it. (i.e. instead of cheers-ing with wine, do it with non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider, a delicious herbal tea brewed in a beautiful tea pot, build a bonfire and roast your food over it, get out the board games, turn on some good music, etc)
– Third, schedule it in (don’t put this part off) and do those things! It really is that simple.

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Celebrate with Confidence

As you can see, these ideas could also double for how to stay on track with your healthy eating whilst maintaining a social life. I just want you to feel confident to enter into a social situation and feel strong to say no if that’s what’s in your best interest right now.

I’ve been out dancing with girlfriends whilst sober, I’ve been to gin bars and wine nights and football games all whilst saying ‘no thanks’ and I’ve always still had a great time.

Bonus Tip!
You can order a ‘Soda and Bitters’ from almost any bar in the world (this is simply soda water and ice with a dash of ‘Angostura bitters’ herbal tincture). Just be sure to ask for ‘no syrup’, as this is also essentially a sugar free drink (not to be confused with a ‘lemon, lime and bitters’ which can be very sweet). This is my go-to super refreshing choice on any summer day, especially with a slice of fresh lemon added.

The reason this drink is so ideal for when you’re ‘not drinking’ is because it LOOKS alcoholic. Often times if you have a drink in your hand, and you seem to be having a good time, those around you will not even blink an eye.

A dark haired woman standing in front of a wall of green plants and a neon sign that reads 'SMILE'. She's holding a mocktail.

Remember attitude, perspective and keeping it light all play a part in how this goes down.
You’re not missing out if you don’t think you are.

If you’re feeling like alcohol is not serving your health and happiness, feel free to take a break. But don’t do it just because someone said so, or because you read somewhere that it will make you thinner or younger or something else.

Do it because it feels right for you, and because you know your body best. That’s the healthiest way to come at any dietary choice, and is a perspective that might serve you well longterm.

I would love to hear about your experiences, favorite mocktails and any insights you’d like to share around alcohol in the comments below. Your comments help encourage others in our community too. Thanks for being here and for sharing.


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P.S. Know someone who would find this article helpful? Share it with them!

If you’re looking for more healthy eating support, be sure to checkout my new recipe book: Calm Mornings – Balanced Breakfasts For Modern Life
(recipes free-from gluten, grains, dairy, eggs and sugar)

Comments (4)

Great article Emily! Thanks for sharing your experiences and advice.
I was very sick for a number of years so, now I really appreciate what it feels like to be healthy and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardise it.
I love my alcohol free life, I feel amazing!
When I go out I like to drink big glasses of soda water or mineral water with ice and lime. Many restaurants/ bars give away soda water & lime for free.

Thanks for sharing Jacinta. I can certainly relate to the overwhelming feelings of gratitude for good health and not wanting to jeopardise it! That’s how I feel too, and I greatly enjoy my soda water with bitters and fresh lemon, as well as water-kefir mocktails when I’m in a fancy mood. I don’t feel like I’m missing out one bit. It’s all about how we frame it isn’t it!

Great tips, Emily! I hate having to explain myself. I’ve considered being perpetually pregnant, or inventing myself a religion, as these seem to be the only socially acceptable excuses sometimes!

Thanks Anna and you made me laugh out loud! I hear you. It’s interesting how some people seem to be more inclined to pressure the choice of sobriety over other dietary choices like ‘I don’t eat pork’. I speak from experience when I suggest a softer statement like ‘no thanks, I’m not drinking tonight/right now’ (said cheerfully with a smile) because adding that ‘tonight’ or ‘right now’ at the end of the statement softens it a bit and people seem less inclined to investigate further, whereas I’ve noticed a more definitive statement like ‘I don’t drink’ (which feels more permanent) seems to be more intimidating/confusing/threatening to others. But regardless if people continue to push it can be frustrating! Then there are times where it just feels easier to hold my soda and bitters in hand and avoid talking about it at all. Just depends on the situation!

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