10 Things I Learned During My First Sober Holiday Season
During active addiction, I wasn’t a fan of big holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah. To me and my addiction, holidays and holiday parties meant one of two things: either I try to white knuckle it through a family gathering or office party without my drug(s) of choice, or spend the whole party sneaking extra drinks when no one was looking, and going out for multiple “walks” that would allow me to use my less socially acceptable drugs of choice in privacy.
Both options had their advantages and drawbacks. If I went the whole day without drinking or drugging, no one was be able to accuse me of being high at a family or work function, but I’d be extremely uncomfortable and might even get sick halfway through the day. If I used alcohol and drugs, I would feel a lot more comfortable, but there was always the chance that I might go overboard and say or do something to embarrass myself, black out, or nod off on the couch or at the dinner table. And if things went really bad, I’d get caught in the act of using by a family member, boss, co-worker, or loved one, making for an extremely uncomfortable situation.
My addiction was not a secret
Of course, my family and friends (and more than a few co-workers) knew I was an addict. They all knew that, at any moment, I might fall down the stairs, or break something, or make crude, inappropriate jokes in front of the kids and the grandparents. Because of one too many “missing” wallets after a family get together one year, most of the women in my family took to carrying their purses around with them during the party. My cousins, whom at one time I’d been close with, didn’t seem to want to hang out with me the way they did when we were all younger.
While others at the party or get together would talk about new jobs, getting engaged, getting married, buying new homes and renovating old ones, sports, weather, politics, and all the rest, my family members mostly asked me questions like, “so, any new leads on a job? I know your mother would love to finally convert that basement into a home office.” Or in the case of one particularly no-nonsense aunt, “so, been arrested lately?”
There is no joy or happiness in active addiction
Such is the life of an active alcoholic or addict during holiday. I’d spend the entire holiday season feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, feeling sorry for myself, resentful, depressed, anxious, sweating, wishing I was somewhere else, wondering when I’d finally get a chance to break away and get right.
Before my recovery, the holidays were a miserable time of year surrounded by an even more miserable existence. I was a slave to alcohol and drugs. Every facet of my life was planned around finding, getting and finding ways to use more and more. I was obsessed with alcohol and drugs, and they were ruining my life.
There is a solution, and it isn’t at the bottom of a bottle
Finally, I discovered the joys of recovery. Through my recovery plan, which includes therapy, addiction recovery meetings, healthy diet, exercise, volunteering, spiritual growth, and more, I was able to conquer my old demons one day at a time, and eventually rejoin society as a productive and helpful community member.
I was nearing almost a full year of continuous sobriety when the holidays rolled around. I knew it was going to be tough, but I had a great support system in place that coached me on how to deal with frustrating or confusing situations, and helped me stay sober just one more day when I felt temptations and cravings rear their ugly heads. I made it through that holiday sober, and the next few holiday seasons after that. And God willing, I’ll make it through this holiday season sober as well, as long as I focus on my program and remember a few simple things I learned during my first sober holiday season.
I’m not the only one who isn’t drinking
My biggest fear attending my first holiday party sober was that I’d be the only person in the room without a drink in my hand. Beer, wine, spiked punch, and adult eggnog are big features at my many holiday parties, and in my head, I pictured everyone hoisting a mug of frothy brew or festive punch, clinking glasses, toasting to the good times, and guzzling down drink after alcoholic drink. Turns out that at most of the holiday parties I’d ever been to, the only person drinking to excess was me.
During my first sober holiday season, I noticed something I’d never noticed before: very few people at the parties I went to were visibly drunk. Sure, my family, friends, and coworkers would have one or two drinks and maybe get a little goofy or laugh a bit too hard at a joke that wasn’t funny, but the more I looked around, the more I noticed that a lot of people didn’t have drinks at all. It was also the first time I noticed that the big table full of sodas and juices and sparkling water wasn’t just there to provide mixers for the alcohol, it was a whole table full of non-alcoholic drinks. It’s amazing what you can see when your vision isn’t clouded by substances.
I handle stress better without alcohol and drugs
During active addiction, I tricked myself into thinking that alcohol and drugs helped me cope with my anxiety and stress. And of course, since the holidays were such a stressful time already, I’d have to respond with an increased dose of my favorite substances, “just to keep things balanced” I’d say to myself. But the truth is, alcohol and drugs, though certain ones may be depressants, only make long term stress and anxiety worse.
In the addiction psychiatry field, this phenomenon is known as blowback. I’d be anxious in the afternoon, so I would get wasted to forget about my problems and feel better. The problem was, when the substances wore off, my anxiety was still there, waiting for me, and often times even stronger than it had been the previous day. Add to that the fact that most substances don’t allow for a good solid night’s sleep (passing out doesn’t count), and I was a sleep-deprived, anxious, stressed out mess during my entire active addiction.
Once I got sober, I learned some yoga and breathing exercises, along with some mental and emotional wellness practices that help control my stress and anxiety. And because I’m sober, I sleep better, longer, giving me an even bigger leg up on my recovery. These days, my anxiety has all but disappeared. Sure, life happens, and there are stressful days, but now I have the tools I need to treat my anxiety holistically, without pumping myself full of addictive chemicals that just make everything worse.
My family and friends are excited about my recovery
When I first got sober I felt nervous being around family, friends, and co-workers in my newfound sobriety. Almost everyone I knew was aware that I had gone to rehab, and that I’d been going to meetings and making substantial changes in my life. And while talking to friends and family members one-on-one about my recovery was easy for me, the idea of being the only sober person at a holiday party made me very anxious.
I’d spent a lot of time worrying about how my friends and family members might treat “the new me” in a party environment. I’d done things I’m ashamed of at previous family gatherings, and I feared that my loved ones would hold a grudge over past misdoings. I had only recently started to correct my old habits, after all, and even then I knew enough to know that some wounds take time to heal. I decided that if any of my family members were angry or hurt because of my addiction, I would do my best to make amends over time. But to my surprise, I was greeted at my first sober family holiday party with love, warmth, and welcoming.
I’m very grateful that I received the welcome that I did that day. My family members were supportive and inquisitive, wanting to know more about my recovery, my health, my plans for the future, and more. My fears of being shunned and ostracized didn’t come true. No one shamed me, or said “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Instead, my family illustrated their love for me by supporting me, believing in me, and believing in my recovery. I pray that someday, all people in recovery will receive the same level of family support that I did.
Preparation is the antidote for fear
As my first sober December approached, I built up a lot of fear worrying over what might happen if I were invited to a boozy holiday party. Should I go? Is it safe for me to be around alcohol? Would someone try to peer pressure me into having a drink? Would people be watching me, making sure I didn’t get too close to the bar? What do I do if I pick up someone else’s cup and accidentally take a sip of alcohol? Will I be tempted to drink because of the festive atmosphere? My head was filled with what-ifs and whatabouts. I was creating my own stress and anxiety, creating my own fear.
After sharing my fears at a recovery meeting, someone suggested I read the short and informative Alcoholics Anonymous book Living Sober. In it are real-world, nuts-and-bolts solutions and precautions one can take in preparation for attending a party where there will be booze present. Living Sober is full of useful advice regarding parties like arrive late/leave early, bring your own car or have taxi fare so you can leave when you want, bring your own non-alcoholic beverage of choice, talk to a sober friend before and after the party, bring a rubber band to put around your cup to avoid accidental drink mix-ups, and more. These real-world solutions helped me feel prepared for any and all situations that may present themselves.
For more tips on surviving the holidays sober, check out this blog post from the Life Assurance archives. https://www.lifeassurancerecovery.com/single-post/2017/12/19/Surviving-the-Holidays-Sober-and-Happy
I have more fun when I’m sober
One thing I did not expect from sobriety was a lot of fun. I saw recovery as this very serious undertaking, a matter of life and death, with no room for fun and games. But I soon discovered that life in recovery is brighter, happier, and more fun than I ever imagined. After years of trying to make myself feel good with substances, I learned how to allow myself to feel good without them.
When I’m sober, I have fewer things to worry about. I’m no longer living in fear of running out of booze, running out of drugs, running out of money, getting out of control, getting arrested on the way home, or any of a million other concerns in active addiction. These days, all I have to worry about are normal, everyday concerns that everyone has to deal with. And because I have so much less to worry about, I’m much happier than I’ve ever been.
I drink and drug alone, but we recover together
In active addiction, all I cared about were selfish endeavors. I protected my addiction at all costs. I lied, cheated, and stole from many people I love and care about deeply. People stopped wanting to be around me. My addiction had separated, ostracized me from my loved ones. I felt alone and so behaved accordingly. I lived for me and me alone. I perpetuated the nauseating feelings of guilt by acting out impulsively time and time again, until finally I’d had enough and decided to make a change. But I couldn’t do it alone. I needed support, help, guidance, and love from other people who’d been there before.
Through the rooms of recovery fellowships, I formed intimate bonds with other people in recovery. I learned how to open up and trust people, and how to become a trustworthy person myself. I slowly rebuilt trust with my family and friends, made amends when possible, and tried to play an active role in all my important relationships - family, friendship, professional, and romantic. I had been alone in my addiction, but in recovery, I felt a togetherness and brotherhood with other people in a way I never had before. I learned that helping others helps me stay sober, so I started volunteering and taking service commitments at my regular recovery fellowship.
Most importantly, I learned that my addiction wants to keep me alone, hiding in the dark. My recovery, though, wants me in the light, sharing with others and experiencing a feeling of togetherness. Today I help people who ask for help, and I ask for help when I need it. I’m no longer alone. Not only do I have the support of my family and friends, but I have the support of a whole room full of strangers, in every city, town, and suburb across the USA. Because no matter where I go, there’s always a recovery meeting nearby, and they’re always there to help me when I need it.
The only gift I need is the gift of recovery
This holiday season, I am grateful for the gifts that I’ve been given. Not physical gifts. Not presents. The gifts I’ve been given can’t fit under a Christmas tree. I’ve been given the gift of hope, the gift of freedom, the gift of love. The gift of being a part of my family again. The gift of having my life back. The gift of not being a slave to a substance. The gift of sobriety. The gift of gratitude. The gift of feeling happy, joyous, and free. The gift of recovery. And it’s the only gift I need.
Happy Holidays from Life Assurance Recovery