Triggers to drink are everywhere between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Seductive images of wine, champagne, and golden liquor in crystal snifters, are pasted on kiosks, billboards, and posters in store windows. The bottles in the shops will be called Holiday Cheer and wrapped in gold with a bright red bow. It can also be especially hard to stay sober during the holidays because drinking at this time of year is an association that you may have been building for many years. On top of everything else, we’re expected to go to parties, throw parties, and be happy, generous, warm and loving, at ALL TIMES in the holiday season. IT’S EXHAUSTING!
There is nothing like holiday season exhaustion to make you want a drink and there is a very good reason for that. Did you know that alcohol works as a stimulant and a sedative? I think that alcohol is the only drug that does this which makes it the PERFECT drug for overachievers during the Holiday season. Alcohol is the only drug that will perk you up and then calm you down.
Alcohol produces both stimulant and sedating effects in humans. These two seemingly opposite effects are central to the understanding of much of the literature on alcohol use and misuse….. individuals at high risk for alcohol use disorders have a reduced sedative response to alcohol …and a larger stimulatory response .
The perfect party fuel! I remember the first time I read about that stimulant / sedative effect of alcohol. It made so much sense to me because alcohol always gave me a sort of razor-sharp focus before eventually knocking me out. HOWEVER, the last Christmas I drank was dark and ugly. The bottle hitting the floor and glass flying everywhere. The fight that followed. I will not go back to drinking because there is nothing worth the result of me mixed with exhaustion mixed with wine. It was my rocket fuel but also my kryptonite.
Last year was my first sober holiday season since I was a child. That was no small feat for me because the period between Thanksgiving and New Years’ had been my favorite drinking season. It was a tight race between patio season and college football season, but the Holidays always won. Starting with beers on Thanksgiving morning and ending with Bloody Marys on New Year’s Day, I did not stop. I had even planned both of my pregnancies not to interrupt those glorious six weeks so I could ensure my booze-soaked days, afternoons, and evenings. It was expensive, exhausting, and dangerous, but it was all I knew.
I felt terrified as I entered the week of Thanksgiving with barely two months of sobriety last year. I remember that on the day of Thanksgiving when I was exhausted at the end of prepping for our large dinner, I was thinking about the wine that was coming with my friends. I knew I wouldn’t drink it, but I WANTED it. I wanted the good feeling, the sensual pleasure, the release of tension, the drinking indulgence that I remembered …. But the option of drinking is off the table for me now. Non-negotiable!
So I put on that lovely, soft, velvet jacket I found hidden in the back of my closet …. and there it was…. pleasure, indulgence, that party-happy sense of peace, something special, something lovely. That was a surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting to find that jacket and I wasn’t expecting it to have that effect on me. But here’s the thing …. If you take the possibility of drinking out of the picture … you will find alternatives … sometimes they’ll surprise you and sometimes you’ll plan them but you WILL find alternatives because you don’t drink and the holidays are BETTER that way.
My December birthday falls smack in the middle of the season and holiday parties filled my calendar. It was tempting to think back to all of the “fun” I had had, but when I really thought about it, the Ghost of Holidays Past was mostly plotting and anxiety: will I be sober enough to drive my kids home Thanksgiving night? Will I be able to afford Christmas presents AND spend hundreds of dollars on alcohol? How fast can I get out of the dry parties and move on to those where I can drink?
It was also tempting to allow the Ghost of Holidays Future to visit: what will people think about me being sober? How will I turn down the champagne poured into my glass without my even asking? What do I do with the dozen or so wine bottles I will receive as gifts? Could I have just one glass of wine at the party?
Three things that helped me through my first sober holiday season and that I will use again this year are to stay present (one day at a time), to form new traditions, and to delegate. I delegated stuff to my kids and husband. My daughter wrapped presents, my son made cookies, my husband decorated the tree, and I learned to say no to overextending myself. I learned to protect myself from everyone else’s demands and get serious about what was necessary and what felt good to me. And I learned to say no to myself… no, you don’t need to be everything to everyone. Just let it flow. Breath, put some fluffy slippers on, make some hot chocolate, put your feet up, and simply be.
I consciously did not allow myself to dwell on what I remembered or regretted about the past and I did not plan out stories in my head that hadn’t happened yet. I tried hard to be in each moment, and it worked! I had much better conversations with my family members, I connected with co-workers with whom I had never given the time of day (because they weren’t bellied up to the bar), and I repeated my mantra, “No thank you, I’m good,” when offered a drink. Also, I gave up some of the traditions that made it easier for me to drink. I used Black Friday to catch up on work emails and pampered myself; I took a quick weekend trip on my birthday instead of planning a variety of boozy lunches, happy hours, and bar crawls; I put up the Christmas tree in the morning instead of at night (not that I had a problem with day drinking, but it changed things up); I said “yes” to invitations that I knew wouldn’t include alcohol, and I either said “no” or stayed for a minimal amount of time at ones that did.
As we enter the holiday season in what will be for many a very different year, do something very different. Stay alcohol-free, start new traditions, and allow the spirit of an AF Christmas Present to watch over you.
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