Grateful for the Simple Gift of Sobriety in my Second Alcohol-Free Holiday Season

Gift of Sobriety

It’s that time of year again, when almost everything I see and hear triggers old memories of past Christmases. For at least 20 years I drank my way through the holidays, in part to blank out the sadness and grief those memories often conjured as my family grew and left home, my social circle shrank, and my celebrations became smaller and more muted. This is going to be my second sober Christmas in a row. Last year my job was simply to get through the holidays alcohol-free, and with the help of BOOM and the Unpickled Holiday Survival Guide, I succeeded. 

But this year feels different. Harder. Because now I’m letting myself look back. After nearly a year and a half of sobriety, my heart feels softer and more exposed. And the global pandemic is making it impossible for families and friends to gather in the old ways. My husband and I will be spending Christmas completely alone, and mostly at home, for the first time in our 39-year relationship. 

Last night my daughter texted me a photo of the cloth Advent calendar I got for my granddaughters more years ago than I remember, to tell me that at ages 16 and 19 they still love hanging it and taking turns placing the tiny stuffed animals in their proper pockets. 

It’s a triple whammy of nostalgia! They’re continuing a small tradition that surely reminds them of those years when they were tiny and innocent and Santa was on his way. My daughter surely sees her children through the same lens I use to look at her and her siblings, that magic viewfinder  that takes us back and back into the misty past, altered by feelings and time into the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

I can barely stand to look back sometimes, knowing that the holidays I remember far outnumber the ones I can look forward to. I’ve been dealing with some version of empty-nest syndrome since the late 1980’s when my oldest child left for university. In those days my husband and I had a houseful of kids and an active social life, much of it revolving around the choral and folk music we loved to practice and perform. We didn’t have money for fancy gifts, but we loved to cook and bake and decorate, and our house was filled with good smells, beautiful music, and noisy laughter.

But it got a little quieter every year. I can’t remember the last time all of our children and grandchildren were together in one space, but it feels like forever. They live in different states and have families of their own. We see them in small clusters, some more than others. The last time any of us were together was last January. Because of Covid, I’ve only seen one of my children since then, and none of my grandkids. 

So I’m pretty sad a lot of the time, and lonely. The other night I tried listening to my own holiday playlist, and each song triggered so many memories that I had to shut it down because the weight in my chest was so heavy that I began to cry. Two years ago I would have run for the brandy, or opened what would surely have been my second bottle of wine. This year I feel naked and unprotected from the onslaught of feelings that keep threatening to overpower me. 

But this morning, while reading posts on BOOM ( online support community) and realizing that I’m not alone in my longing and hunger for connection, I decided that this year I’m finally going to look my memories straight in the eye and cherish them with the gratitude they deserve. I’ve had a rich and happy adult life for the most part, and I want to honor that fact, and honor myself, by continuing to live alcohol-free and fully alive to the whole big adventure. 

I want to breathe into my sadness when it comes up, cry when I need to, bake a few cookies for my husband and me, and decorate my tree without running for the bottle when the memory each ornament evokes threatens to overwhelm me. I want to live in the moment before me, with clarity, grace, and thankfulness.

More Posts from our Boozemusings Blog to Inspire you from your first sober Christmas and beyond :

Creating New Holiday Traditions Joyfully Sober 

From Resentment to Joy – Reaching Out as I Begin my 3rd Alcohol-Free Holiday Season  

Staying Sober? Tips to Help Celebrate the Holiday Season Alcohol-Free  

Tips and Tools and Great Alcohol-Free Drinks to Celebrate the Holidays Sober 

The Key to Alcohol-Free Holiday Serenity

The Ghost of Christmas Past …

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