Eight years ago, I ruined Christmas. I won’t go into the details; I’ll just say that heavy boozing at a holiday party days before December 25th led to reckless decisions that hurt people and caused a lot of unnecessary pain, drama, and chaos. It took one more year of abusing my body and hurting my loved ones before I finally stopped drinking. Since then, the holiday season has not been necessarily joyous (in a couple cases, it’s been quite grueling), but each seasonal to-do has been approached with steady, sober and conscious footing. Life isn’t always a party, thank god.
While I may have six sober Christmas’s under my belt, I still find this season more difficult than any other. Emotions are fraught, expectations are high, families are brought together with the pressure of being bubbly and happy, but for many of us there are underlying conflicts, complex interrelations at play, and pressures to be something we are not. Of course, when you throw a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on top of this scenario, it doesn’t always end up as pretty as the holly and ivy that decorates the home.
For those of you experiencing your first sober Christmas, each step can feel as difficult as walking in five feet of freshly fallen snow. Baby, get on your big boots and lace up, we’ll get through this together.
Remember that you don’t need to go anywhere. If attending your friend’s holiday party is making you sweat with anxiety, don’t go. You don’t need to do anything, especially not if it poses a risk to your sobriety. It’s unlikely that your friend will think poorly of you for not attending, but if they do – so be it. In due time, you can explain things.
Buy yourself a special non-alcoholic drink. If your family continues to pour wine and spirits to mark the special occasion, take up space in the fridge or the bar with a pretty bottle of something sparkly but non-alcoholic. I like Bottlegreen Elderflower, but IKEA also makes a great sparkly apple & pear drink.
Enjoy nature. Let’s be honest, when you were drinking, your days were spent in bed or hanging over the toilet, trying to nurse hangovers so bad that they left you shaking and in tears. Take advantage of your newfound clarity and get outside to breathe fresh air, marvel at the beauty of wintertime, look at trees closely, and listen to your feet making tracks in the snow. A simple walk can remind you of what you were missing for years while your head was in the bottle.
Make movie dates. There are so many great films that release this time of year. This can be a great way to make a date with some of your friends that you feel you haven’t been able to connect with since you stopped drinking, or dial up your sober sisters for some buttery popcorn and blockbuster fun.
Volunteer. Sometimes when life feels overwhelming, the best thing to do is get outside yourself and help someone else. It will quiet the noise in your head, shed some perspective on things, make you feel less alone, and you may even catch yourself smiling. Here’s a list of holiday volunteering opportunities in Toronto. If things don’t get organized in a timely manner, try shovelling your neighbours sidewalk. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Go to a meeting. I spent my first sober Christmas Eve at a recovery meeting with a bunch of strangers. It was really nice to hold hands, sip coffee, and walk out into the night feeling connected with others and not drunk. Go to as many meetings as possible, and you’ll start making friends. (There’s also a 24/7 help line: 416-487-5591. Never hesitate to call.)
Make a kickass sober NYE plan. I’ve done that thing where I stare at the TV alone, watching the big ball drop in Times Square, quietly letting tears stream down my face while feeling sorry for myself that I’m not poppin’ champagne and dancing on a table. This a really shitty way to spend New Year’s Eve if you’re not yet at peace with your sobriety. Instead, do something magical. One year, I drove to Collingwood and spent the evening dipping into outdoor pools and staring at the stars at Scandinave Spa. If an out-of-city adventure isn’t in the cards, I always find a bit of magic at 24-hour diners. Here’s a comprehensive list of other sober NYE plans you could try.
Give yourself a rewarding project. Make a really tasty soup. Clean out your closet. Get crafty and design your 2017 vision board. I recall in those first couple of years physically itching from climbing the walls. Dive into something that makes you happy and feels good, and give yourself a block of time to complete it.
Chocolate. I mean, if you don’t get to drink or smoke or whatever your dirty vice was, treat yo’self to some chocolate balls. Sometimes I feel guilty about how much chocolate I consume this time of year, but when I do, I harken back to the Christmas I ruined and realize that a couple extra Ferrero Rochers once in a while will not harm anyone. Enjoy.