New sobriety is one thing, but newly sober during the holidays – how in the world do people do that? The answer is- very well, indeed. Especially, if you follow these five key tips, which always helped me.
The first key to staying sober during the holidays: you have to want to be sober just a smidgen more than you want to drink. I remember how it was in early sobriety. By the time December rolled around, I was only six months sober. I was at the point in my life when all the 30-something aged couples were in full party mode. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas was an especially busy time. Friends sent invites to lavish Christmas parties with beautiful displays of food topped by even more festive drinks. My first inclination was, I can’t go. But then I remembered all the things I learned in recovery. We can go anywhere if we have a good reason. Wanting to participate in life and see friends, some that I knew I probably wouldn’t see again until next year, was my reason. So instead of bowing out of the festivities, I went to the party armed with a strategy:
1. Most people seek out the bar the moment they arrive at a party. I’d ask my husband to get me a club soda with two limes. If he wasn’t moving fast enough, I’d head to the bar and get my own. Holding what appears to be a drink in your hand minimizes anyone’s need to ask why you aren’t drinking. Club soda with a lime can be easily mistaken for a vodka tonic.
2. Have an exit plan. My husband knew that if I needed to leave (basically, if I started to salivate when I saw the beautiful drinks) I was out of there and no amount of cajoling on his part for me to stay would win. He accepted that. Now that Uber is popular there is no need to ever feel trapped or uncomfortable. If you need to leave – leave!
3. Seek out the people you wanted to reconnect with and get busy mingling.
4. Hit a meeting before the party, and make sure you feel spiritually fit.
5. Look at what you’ll gain instead of what you’re giving up. You can’t put a price on waking up the next morning without guilt or shame.
On every occasion, the first 30 minutes were always the hardest. I had to stave off those twinges of jealousy, and not get sucked into my internal dialogue that wanted to whine and complain that it wasn’t fair and why could they all drink and I couldn’t? For some
reason, I still equated alcohol with fun, but the truth was, drinking had ceased to be fun for me. I’m glad I heard people in recovery rooms talk about euphoric recall—that twisted mindset that is part of the disease of alcoholism that allows a person to forget anything bad that had ever happened to them while drinking and remembering only the good times.
Now that I was armed with a bit of knowledge and had been warned that euphoric recall would crop up at some time or another, I knew what to do. I shut down those thoughts. I said a prayer. I had phone numbers of people in recovery. I had backup.
I was taught by the wise women who tread before me to play the whole tape forward: what would a night of drinking look like for me? Could I predict the outcome? Could I know with any degree of certainty that I wouldn’t drink too much, make a fool of myself or shoot my mouth off in some inappropriate manner? The answer to all of those questions was, no. I couldn’t foresee what my behavior would look like once I ingested alcohol. My solution had to be abstinence, and the truth was, I wanted to be sober and stay sober more than I wanted to drink. The fun times of my drinking days were long gone. The last six months to a year before I quit—well, there wasn’t much fun left to be had.
I reminded myself of the benefits of a sober life. I also reminded myself that I chose to get sober. I knew that for me, one drink would set the ball rolling downhill. No, it wasn’t worth it. I had to learn how to talk to people without the adjunct of booze, and yes, at first it was uncomfortable. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
By the end of the evening, my state of mind had made a 180 degree spin. Without fail here’s how it looked: Everyone appeared to be roasted. The conversations sounded more like screaming matches. (I never realized how loud people spoke after a few drinks.) Too many of the women looked like they just woke up. They had mascara smeared under their eyes, and they couldn’t stop leaning on other people, the walls, and the furniture. Some even had to grip the couch or a chair back to keep from swaying. Others were barefoot, their shoes tossed away in a far corner or maybe wedged under the sofa. Slurred speech is not attractive on anyone. I also remember the time a friend of mine wearing a short black cocktail dress was supine on the floor doing the alligator dance. I was grateful it wasn’t me.
It was refreshing to leave the party at a reasonable hour instead of being one of the cling ons who overstay their welcome because they can’t pull themselves away from the free booze. I focused on the positives: I got to walk out of that party still looking like a lady instead of a lush with my self-esteem and dignity fully intact. I would wake-up the next morning without a hangover, my memory would be clear, and I’d have no regrets to chew on. Doesn’t sound bad, right?
Sobriety can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living life to the fullest. The only caveat is that when you are new in recovery, even having a plan may scare you to death, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A healthy fear of protecting your sobriety can be the motivating factor that allows you to stay willing to do what it takes. In that first year of sobriety, maybe you do need to skip the Christmas party. The world will continue to spin, but you don’t have to. It’s okay to set firm boundaries. It’s okay to say no. If you keep working on your recovery, by the time next year rolls around you’ll be a pro at navigating social situations, and you’ll be savvy enough to know when to go and when to pass. The truth is, you’ll have made a whole new host of friends and those drinking bashes may not look so enticing after all.
After short stints where she trained polo horses, worked as a flight
attendant, hairdresser, and bartender, Lisa Boucher revamped her
life and settled in as a registered nurse. For past 28 years, she
has worked with hundreds of women to overcome alcoholism, live
better lives and become better parents. She was prompted to write
“Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture,”
published in June 2017, when she realized after 24 years of working
in hospitals, that doctors and traditional health care offer few
solutions to women with addiction issues.
Learn more at www.RaisingtheBottom.com and
follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @LBoucherAuthor.