I quit drinking five years ago. How should I handle my father-in-law offering me wine every Christmas?

This is incredibly frustrating, advises columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, but you will need to find ways to redirect that irritation.

I stopped drinking five years ago and have been transparent about my past struggles with alcohol. However, my father-in-law insists on giving me a bottle of wine every Christmas, which is the only gift he gives me. How should I handle this situation? I feel irritated and angry with him, but I haven’t spoken up.

Eleanor suggests: Sometimes, when you inform people that you don’t drink, there is an expectation that you are not entirely serious about it – as though it’s just a temporary decision and you’ll give it up if you receive enough persuasion. Alcohol is such an integral part of social life that people often cannot fathom its absence.

The incredibly irritating aspect of this, as you know, is that it continuously brings up something you’d rather move on from. When people repeatedly “forget,” they burden you with the constant task of reminding them, making your sobriety a more significant focal point of your identity than it would be if they simply accepted it once and allowed everyone to move on. By persistently offering you drinks that you won’t accept, they push you into the role of a stern refuser. It’s no wonder that you feel irritated!

Could you ask your spouse to address this issue? They may have better communication with their father and could potentially request a change more easily. They could say something like, “Dad, I have a favor to ask. Although we appreciate the wine you give us, [so-and-so] doesn’t drink. Would you mind giving us something else this year?”

You could even suggest a specific food item that you would enjoy, so you’re not burdening him with the task of coming up with gift ideas.

However, if he has already done this for the past five years, it indicates a significant level of indifference towards your struggles. This suggests that similar situations may arise in the future, such as being offered champagne at a wedding or a drink placed in front of you at a pub. It might be worthwhile to find ways to manage your irritation if he continues this behavior (or if others do as well).

Strangely enough, private moments of pettiness can be a healthy way to cope with situations like this. You could secretly pour his wine down the sink while putting on a show with a large funnel. Stick your tongue out while doing it. Before tossing the bottle in the recycling, you could even write “you emotionally clueless mug” on it. These small indulgences can serve as a release valve for frustration and transform anger into amusement.

Another way to cope might be to reflect on how little imagination or self-reflection people demonstrate when they do these things – especially when compared to how much effort you put into getting sober. If you have managed to give up drinking, you have displayed an impressive level of insight and the ability to change. Observing how little of those qualities your father-in-law exhibits through his gift choices could provide you with a quiet moment of satisfaction.

Perhaps, if he continues this behavior despite your requests for change, you could decide that he is unwittingly giving you a valuable gift. It becomes an opportunity for you to be proud of the fact that you understand the challenges of sobriety and take your well-being seriously.

If you have a conflict, crossroads, or dilemma that you need assistance with, Eleanor Gordon-Smith is here to help you analyze life’s questions and puzzles, no matter how big or small. Your questions will remain anonymous.

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