by Renee W.
Christmas time brings loads of cheer and celebrations, or at least it’s supposed to, right? For a recovering alcoholic, the holiday season may also bring on loads of stress and anxiety.
Newly sober, I dreaded the Christmas holiday season. A time that is meant to give gifts, share meals, and be with loved ones sent me into a wave of unrelenting panic for four reasons:
1. People made me uncomfortable.
2. I was uncomfortable with myself.
3. I could not drink to ease the discomfort.
4. I had to witness others drinking (or at least I thought I had to).
These four factors worked against me, or so I thought. I started worrying about my first sober Christmas party months before it ever appeared on my calendar.
How could I get through a party with others drinking? What would people think if I was not drinking? Could I get out of going to holiday parties altogether?
No one gets it. I am alone in this. I am crazy. I am miserable.
Sure enough, at the end of November, Christmas get-togethers with family and friends started to dot my calendar. I spent most of my time and energy worrying about how I would survive.
The first one was just as bad as I expected it to be. I will never forget sitting there in my red and green festive dress watching other people laugh, share stories, eat, and of course, drink alcohol.
I gritted my teeth and held back tears as I thought how inconsiderate these people were, drinking right in front of me as if alcohol didn’t nearly destroy my life.
Oh yes, there were others not drinking, but somehow, I didn’t notice them. I noticed, uh, more like examined, the ones that were drinking, how much they had left in their glass, how often they refilled their glasses, what they said, how they acted, what I believed they were thinking.
Yes, I was obsessed with others’ consumption of alcohol while bitterly resenting them the entire time.
Sure, there was delicious holiday treats and other beverages I could drink, like sparkling water or soft drinks, but all I could do was obsess over the fact that I couldn’t drink and had a terrible evening watching everyone else drink, all the while feeling excluded, disrespected, and entirely alone.
What I didn’t have during my first sober Christmas were recovery tools. You see, at the time, I didn’t know what I know now about myself and sobriety.
With recovery comes connection and support
As someone who had felt “apart from,” “misunderstood,” and “left out” my entire life, I realized that I was, in fact, not unique at all. One of my AA meeting buddies puts it this way: “I always felt like a black sheep, but then I started recovery and found the rest of the herd.”
Realising I was not alone in recovery, that there is, indeed, a herd of us and we can support each other, made the biggest difference.
With recovery comes self-confidence
With self-confidence comes not caring what others think or do. Today, I laugh when I think of my extreme anxiety and paranoia during my first sober Christmas season.
I was so incredibly focused on what other people were doing and thinking that I felt emotionally paralyzed. I felt like I had to attend all the Christmas parties with alcohol, even though they felt excruciating to me at the time.
Today, I don’t care what other people think or do because I know I am doing the right thing for ME, and that means staying sober. I can go to Christmas parties and events if I want, but I no longer obsess over if others are drinking or not.
Today, being around alcohol doesn’t send me into a panic because I know I know who I am, and I know that I want recovery more than anything else.
Since we are officially in the Christmas season, albeit a bit different from usual seasons thanks to Covid-19, I am going to share my top five ways to stay sober over Christmas:
1. Put your recovery first
It goes without saying that if you want to stay sober and you are committed to recovery, you must treat it like the life and death matter that it is. During holidays, it can be easy to let the guard down and think, One drink won’t hurt, or I just want to celebrate with my friends.
These are dangerous thoughts that can lead to dangerous consequences.
Keep your recovery alive by using your sobriety tools such as meetings, a sponsor, exercise, meditation, writing, praying, whatever works for you. Don’t isolate yourself, as that always makes the addictive thoughts multiply and take over.
Reach out to your support group. Remember why you are sober and how far you have come, and be grateful!
2. Choose your events and celebrations carefully— and have an exit strategy
Here’s what I wish I would have known during my first sober Christmas: you don’t have to attend every get together you’re invited to. If you know the one with your coworkers makes you tense, opt-out.
If you’re starting to feel anxiety rise about a certain party, ask yourself if it is worth it. You have a choice!
If you decide you truly want to attend a party, but you know you may be uncomfortable, have an exit strategy. You don’t have to explain it to anyone—just thank your host and be on your way.
I have done this many times with no guilt. My recovery is the most important thing in my life, so if I feel something triggering it, I’m out. Thanks for the cookies and cakes—bye!
3. Share with others that you aren’t drinking (if you want).
I used to make lists of “Why I Don’t Drink” excuses because I truly thought everyone was wondering why I didn’t drink, and I thought I wouldn’t be accepted if I didn’t.
“I’m on medication, and I can’t drink.”
“I have to get up early tomorrow.”
“I am allergic to alcohol.” (There’s reality in that!)
I was terrified to tell the truth: “I’m a recovering alcoholic, and if I take a drink, I won’t stop drinking until I’m unconscious and before that, I will turn into someone crazy, and if you saw that, you would probably never talk to me again.”
Honestly, most people don’t care whether you drink or not. It’s only us alcoholics who obsess over such matters. Today, I am open about my recovery, and it takes the anxiety out of the equation.
Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t drink and why, and I am proud to be able to share that.
4. Look for needs and help others
Christmas time should be a happy festive time, but for some, it is a painful season for various reasons. Some people are missing loved ones, some are stressed from financial issues, some may have health problems, and the list goes on.
When your focus is on helping others, you are not likely to think about drinking or using. Helping others can be something as simple as volunteering at a local food bank, running an errand for your elderly neighbour, or visiting someone who needs a companion.
Since Christmas time is a time of giving, you could make a plate of cookies and take to someone or be proactive in your recovery support groups by seeing how you can help those struggling in sobriety.
5. Be yourself and have fun
In recovery, you will find yourself, and once you do, you likely won’t want to ever lose sight of who you are at your core. Once you realize you can be yourself, you can have fun. Christmas parties? Yes, please, I will bring the chocolate pie!
Christmas time is truly a time for connections with others, and the best thing about recovery is we can have true connections in our lives. Have fun this Christmas season. Take care of yourself first, and the rest will take care of itself.
Remember that while the Christmas holidays are special, for those of us in recovery, they are just like other days.
In recovery, we use the slogan, “One Day at a Time,” and it allows us to focus on just the day we are in. You don’t have to worry about how you will stay sober this entire Christmas season if you are just focused on how you will stay sober today.
Focusing on the day we are in right this second keeps us in the now and lets us live out our day to the fullest with the freedom and joy that recovery brings.