Maintaining sobriety through the holidays can be a challenge, especially early in sobriety. I know an “old timer” that says, “Going to a holiday gathering this time of the year in early sobriety was like walking into a college final exam. You can study all you want, but you still don’t know what’s going to be on the test.”
Seeing family, attending work parties, and just generally being around the “festive” atmosphere of the season will bring back memories. Some recollections are good, and others are fraught with regrets. I had always related to this time of year as party time. It was full of happy and joyous times with family and friends and alcohol.
1. Remember What it Was Like
Of course that wasn’t always going to be the case. The good memories became fewer and more recent memories turned uglier, and sometimes there were no memories at all, just a black hole of incomprehensible demoralization.
I would describe my first sober holiday season as awkward. Removing the element of alcohol from my personal holiday equation left me feeling very self-conscious. There was no more social lubricant, no more boldness in a bottle, I felt raw, perhaps even socially fragile. I would think to myself, “I could be more comfortable if I could just have a drink.”
“Going to a holiday gathering this time of the year in early sobriety was like walking into a college final exam. You can study all you want, but you still don’t know what’s going to be on the test.”
But I knew that I couldn’t have just “a drink.” I never could . . . I never would . . . have just “a drink.” I had failed at every previous attempt. Why would this time be any different?
Would alcohol make anything better? And even if but for a moment, how long would it last and then what would be the likely consequences? A hangover at the minimum? Jail, a possibility? Hurting myself or others? Today I know that all of these consequences are not likely but rather inevitable and eventual outcomes.
2. Have a Plan
Being around family and old friends can be especially tough this time of year. So it is important to remember that the event that you feel so obligated to attend doesn’t necessarily have to be an all day affair. If your comfort level at the party tells you that it is time to move on, then by all means do so and don’t be shy about it.
Have an escape plan. If the drinking around you gets to be too much of an irritation it’s time to slip out. If saying “goodbye” can’t be avoided, you can always say that you’re off to another holiday gathering of friends. They don’t have to know that you are referring to a 12-step meeting full of like-minded folks such as yourself.
3. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
Sobriety is a serious subject but sometimes our best way to avert stressful situations is to inject a little levity while sidestepping the inquisitions of others. Sometimes the best responses to drinking questions are the humorous ones. When someone asks you if they can get you a drink, why not consider saying something like:
- I’ve had enough, . . . thank you.
- I’m the designated driver, . . . for myself.
- I have a severe allergic reaction to alcohol, . . . I break out in handcuffs.
4. Minimize Exposure, Bolster Resources
If you are feeling squirrelly this holiday, don’t attend more events than you can handle. If you “must” go to an event, see if you can bring a sober friend. Two dry-heads are better than one. You can also compare notes with each other later about which of the partiers you may see at future meetings. Keep your sponsor and sober friends on speed dial. If your feeling squirrelly, call a squirrel killer. Your sponsor and friends have been here before; they’ll know what to do.
5. Bring Your Peace and Celebrate
No not a gun. Equip yourself with that inner part of you that is growing stronger with every day of sobriety. It’s that quiet place within where spirituality lives. Embrace the peace of the season for what it is meant to be. Ingesting holiday spirit doesn’t require liquids. If you are religious or semi-religious, consider going to a place of worship. If you are still struggling with the “God thing,” then go to a meeting and celebrate that power greater than yourself that is helping you to stay sober today.
There is a place of peace within ourselves that only sobriety allows us the opportunity to create. If you have two days sober share your experience with someone who has one. Maintain your inner peace this holiday season by sharing your own peace and joy with others whenever you can. Peace.