If you have decided to take a break or quit alcohol recently and you’re apprehensive about all the Christmas celebrations coming soon, this little post may resonate with you.
My first Alcohol-Free Christmas
I’ve never hidden my journey with alcohol and why this led me to become an alcohol addiction counsellor. Here is a short version of my first Christmas sober. For me, this event wasn’t too triggering and challenging but still it was part of building my muscle to face the next ones. It started as a quiet family day with my partner and son at the beach. Then, we prepared everything to receive a few friends over. Most of them were parents with young children which wouldn’t have been the biggest drinking crowd buddies for me. I didn’t have to deal with some old family triggers as we moved overseas more than a decade ago.
Consequently, for me it wasn’t a traditional Christmas with triggering memories as the Australian Christmas have nothing in common with my white Christmas souvenirs. My first Christmas was nearly one year after I quit drinking, so I had built my muscle through a variety of other first-time moments. It helped me. However, the first time I had dinner with my friends wasn’t a piece of cake, my first time going out to a nice restaurant with my partner was extremely tempting and every time I see some old friends with whom I had lovely time drinking are also really testing.
But over time, what happens with all the first-time events that are challenging, it’s like a muscle and you become stronger when the temptations come to you and tell you with this sneaky voice ‘Come on, go on and just have one drink’. So, you can respond: ‘Go f$%&* yourself with this drink’ to this annoying voice how slowly becomes lower and weaker.
Building the muscle
Every time you’ll face a first-time scenario where alcohol was a part of your life, it may be challenging and triggering. Every time you’re sticking to your goal and not giving into the temptation, the muscle becomes stronger. It’s like that with all habits giving you a hit of dopamine: alcohol, chocolate cake, coffee, cigarette, scrolling your phone to name only a few.
Imagine you’re going to a Christmas party with all your colleagues, especially if it is an event you are usually looking forward to go because there is free booze and good food all night. On top of that, some people you really enjoy having a drink with will be there. Well, this first time attending sober may feel very trying.
So, navigating the difficult initial social events and celebrations challenges without alcohol is crucial in the sobriety journey – building the sobriety muscle is for the long run. And it's more than just getting through those first-time events; it's about creating a lifestyle that supports lasting change. Everything is changing when you’re taking a long break of alcohol or quitting for an indefinite or definite period, and it is why it becomes easier progressively.
The worst is feeling that you’re missing out. If you feel like it, a good quick trick is to remind yourself why you want to make this change in your life. Take one minute to think about your worst drunken mistakes, painful hangovers, the regrets, and everything else that repulse you from alcohol. And hold onto the hopeful day ahead with no hangover, shame, self-loathing, and the immense pride you’ll feel instead. You’re building the muscle and like taking on a new activity, it takes time to be confident and not feel the pain that ends up bringing up joy.
Recognising and managing triggers becomes an ongoing process, setting healthy boundaries with others, listening to your needs are all part of a personal journey filled with opportunities to reinforce that sobriety muscle. The goal is to create a resilient, enduring path toward a fulfilling and life with a lifestyle that makes YOU happy.
Christmas sober tips:
1. Plan Ahead: Before heading into holiday gatherings, have a plan in place. Anticipate potential triggers and decide how you'll navigate them, what you will tell your friends and family if they ask you why you’re not drinking and when they are offering you a drink. Consider bringing your own non-alcoholic beverages, so you always have a drink in hand to avoid some discussion and question.
2. Build a Support System: Surround yourself with supportive people in your life who understand your commitment to making those changes in your life. Even if the support is online and not directly at the event, knowing that some people get you and understand your struggles and goals is always helpful.
3. Engage in Non-Alcoholic Activities: Suggest or plan activities that don't revolve around alcohol. This isn't easy during a Christmas party, but activities like playing with kids, going outside, or taking charge of the BBQ can be helpful.
4. Have an Exit Strategy: If a situation becomes too challenging or uncomfortable, it's okay to have an exit plan. Know how you'll gracefully remove yourself from a situation if you start feeling overwhelmed.
5. Reflect on Your Progress: Take some time to reflect on how far you've come in your sobriety journey. Celebrate your achievements and acknowledge the positive changes in your life. This can provide motivation to stay off the booze during the festive season.
6. Create New Traditions: Establishing new, alcohol-free traditions can help reshape the way you approach the holidays.
At times, the pressure from others to have a drink poses an additional challenge, as humans, we all desire love and the approval of others. If the pressure, anxiety, or struggles related to attending a social event become overwhelming, it's also an option to avoid it and prioritise your health and mental well-being. Setting boundaries is often the most significant lesson that comes with taking a long break from alcohol or quitting.
Remember, it's okay to prioritise your well-being and to celebrate the joy of the season in a way that aligns with your commitment to a healthier, alcohol-free lifestyle (or long break).
The day after, you'll feel refreshed and proud of yourself, and your sobriety muscle will be much stronger. Merry Christmas and (alcohol-free) cheer to you!