I quit drinking in the month of July, so I had time to get used to the idea before the onslaught of the holiday season. And when I quit, there wasn’t a pandemic to compound the challenge. By Halloween I knew I was committed to sobriety. I spent the first dry trick-or-treat of my adult life, dressed as a surly Cruella DeVil (a character I resemble a bit too much in the best of times), drinking gassy water out of a champagne glass and diving into the candy bowl with the zeal theretofore reserved for Vampire Chardonnay.
Thanksgiving was difficult for me. I was used to drinking a bottle of champagne while I made the salads, a bottle of white wine during the mashing of potatoes and the better part of a bottle of red wine while carving the bird and laying the table. I was the kind of hostess who cut off most of my thumb one year, with a brand new Cutco knife. And not wanting to ruin the party, I wrapped it with a dish towel tourniquet and continued to cook and drink until I was lightheaded enough from alcohol or loss of blood, to need a “rest” on a lounge chair on the balcony before dinner.
Every Christmas Eve in active addiction (that I can remember) I spent closeted in my war room wrapping station. And I emerged only long enough to replenish my wine glass and snag a Russian Tea Cake or two for quick energy. Every Christmas morning began with mimosas and ended in a sea of wrapping paper, sleeping in front of the fire like Rip Van Winkle with a snoot-full of moonshine. Does any of this holiday nostalgia sound familiar?
When you LOVE the holiday season…
I love the holiday season, even in the year 2020. But the obligations and the disruption to routine make it hard to say no. And when you are trying to quit, the memories and magical moments seem so inextricably linked to drugs/alcohol, you just want to call the whole thing off.
But, I did it. In fact, I have stayed sober during the holidays for many years now, and I am about to embark on my seventh sober New Year (swearing, like I do every December 31st, that 2021 will be my year). I’d like to share some tips from the other side on how to navigate a sober holiday season successfully and with style.
Presumably you will not be at a big party this year, but the pandemic will not go on forever and these questions/answers are appropriate for the ages.
The Sober Holidays Q&A – 2020 and Beyond:
1. What do I say if I’m asked what I want to drink?
Answer politely. You might look like a reindeer in the headlights for a minute, but tell them what you want. Club soda please. If the host asks WHY or insists on handing you a cocktail, stand firm. You do not have to explain or give excuses.
2. What if people try to get me to drink/use?
This was a big worry for me. And in seven years, I can count on two fingers the times someone has insisted I “party”. I think it happens very rarely. And if it does, you are in a triggering situation (and they are probably not your friends). Hightail it out of there. One good thing about the pandemic, is that we are hanging out with people we know and trust.
3. What if I’m at a dinner party and the server pours me a glass of wine? Or there’s a champagne toast?
Limited guest weddings do go on in 2020. And even your “social bubble” may not know you are new to recovery. You can nip this discomfort in the bud by making a plan beforehand. Ask the wait staff to fill your toasting glass with sparkling water. At a work event, or with folks you don’t feel comfortable, politely decline and be charming and lively and no one will notice. If you are new to recovery, or if you do not trust the safety of the situation, you may not be able to attend some gatherings (sorry). Everyone is making sacrifices this year.
4. If I am having a small, outdoor get-together, can I ask my guests not to drink?
Sure. If you don’t want anyone to come. I’m kidding. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone you knew and loved was sober this holiday? If you are committed to sobriety, and you do not feel you can be around temptation, ask your friends and family to respect your decision to change your life. Ideally, the home you live in will provide encouragement. But, don’t try to have a big bash early in recovery. Best to keep your sober holidays low key.
5. What if everyone else is getting drunk or high?
This is a very good question. And the intimacy of this holiday season means you probably won’t be able to sneak out. I still glance at my watch whenever the stories start getting repetitive.There is nothing worse than being the only sober person in a pie-eyed group. Unless you are the only newly sober person in a group that is drunk. If you have to be at a raucous party because of work or your significant other, arrive early and leave early. And again, it is fair to bow out altogether, especially with the COVID-19 excuse.
6. What if I get lonely? Or bored, tired or worse, what if I start craving?
Here’s the bad news – your first sober holiday season will probably not be your favorite holiday season to remember. But you will remember it. If you are at a gathering and are bored, or tired or for God’s sake if you are drooling over the party punch bowl – go home. Be polite, thank the host, and split. If you are alone this holiday season, three words: telephone, FaceTime, Zoom. Connect with loved ones during your key craving times. Or change your routine – go for a walk, or participate in Zoom yoga when you might typically use or drink.
7. What if I am living with (or dating) someone who still indulges in drugs/alcohol?
This is a tough question given our current situation with coronavirus. You can’t ask your significant other to go to a bar if they want a drink. But you can ask for respect, and you can insist that liquor or drugs are not kept in the house. During the confinement of 2020, our housemates’ behavior is on display like never before. If you are living with or dating someone with a drug or alcohol problem, or if home-front becomes untenable, seek professional help.
8. Should I tell my boss, co-workers or acquaintances I will be sober this holiday? Should I tell them I have a substance use problem?
That depends on how well you know them. Or how bad your behavior has been. By the time I quit drinking I did not have to tell anyone I had a drinking problem. Because they already knew – and were thrilled I had taken control of my life. Disclosing that you are “cutting back” or “not drinking” this holiday is a good idea. Being open about a substance use disorder, particularly to a boss or co-worker, is dependent upon circumstances. Does it jeopardize your standing in the company? Or are they forward thinking and proud of you for improving your quality of life?
9. Should I tell my extended family my holidays will be sober?
These are the people who push your buttons. The folks you want to impress (even though you may see them infrequently). They should be your closest allies in recovery. If your family is not celebrating in-person this year, you don’t need to divulge on Google Meet that you have quit drinking. It can wait. At extended family gatherings tread carefully – listen to your better judgement and follow the family dynamic.Hopefully your mom or significant other will pave the way.
10. What should I wear?
Exactly. Think about it – this holiday season you will be upright, upstanding and SOBER. You will remember everything. In the mornings you will feel fabulous and righteous. There will be no regrets (except that third piece of fruit cake – a small, well-deserved indulgence) and you’ll be just a little bit proud of yourself. Revel in it – sobriety is the holiday gift that keeps on giving – year after year after year!
Sober Holidays Note to Self
A sponsor, significant other, therapist or sober companion will be invaluable during the holidays and for years to come. And you can create community, connection and sober friendships online; this is important if you are alone for the holidays. Rely on those you trust, and do not put yourself near the people, places and things that cause you to feel uncomfortable. Your recovery is the biggest, grandest and most confetti worthy thing you’ve done this year. Celebrate!