From eggnog to mimosas, the holidays appear to normalize round-the-clock sipping all in the name of joy, good will toward men, blah blah blah. But let’s not pretend that for some of us this wasn’t one huge buzzed-filled season where drunken nights gave way to Bloody Mary mornings. What I thought were warm and fuzzy feelings of the season with Johnny Mathis crooning Christmas carols on a 33 album was really the warmth and security I found in living slightly buzzed.

When I quit drinking a few years ago, the warm and fuzzy feelings were replaced with the cold reality that my dear friend, alcohol, had gone away and left me alone to maneuver through familial relationships (yikes) and holiday gatherings (even scarier).

Sober Holidays Change Everything

When you are accustomed to using alcohol as a social lubricant, and it is abruptly removed from your life, everything must change. In the beginning, losing alcohol was like losing my wingman. I mourned its absence and only remembered the good times we had together. The hangovers, embarrassing behaviors, and health issues become hazy memories, and I could easily trick myself into thinking the good ole days were only to be found in a glass of pinot noir. But alas, I was determined to see this through, and so I changed everything about the way we celebrated the Holidays.

The first year was probably the most difficult to maneuver as I had to create boundaries. I was invited to the normal Christmas Eve family gathering and had to say no. They asked why, and I said simply because alcohol would be present. I remember the confusion and hurt that followed. Why couldn’t we be around it? All I had to do was not drink it, right? Well, sort of. People who have never been problem drinkers have a hard time understanding this, but I learned it’s not my job to explain the emotional and mental toll that it would take on me so new to sobriety. So, we came up with a new Christmas Eve tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life in our pajamas. I have to say it has become the highlight of Christmas to this day.

Over the years, my family has shifted the focus from socializing to just being together at home. I have learned that the holidays are not always filled with joy and laughter but mostly stress, and so I tend to keep things simple. We don’t get invited to many gatherings and that’s OK. This is a short time for me to focus on staying present and doing what is best for me. I look forward to having everyone home and spending time together – REAL time.

If It’s Your First Sober Holiday Season…

Christmas is a hard time for many, especially if you are trying it sober for the first time. Go easy on yourself. Don’t ever let someone else decide your comfort level. Stick to your gut – it’s rarely wrong. One of the best pieces of advice I got my first sober holiday season was “you are just not that important.” In other words, it may be a different Christmas for your loved ones, but the show will go on. If they love you and truly care for your wellbeing, they will understand.

Be bold in asking for what you need to stay true to your new life. Things will get easier, and your memories will be replaced with new ones and new traditions. In fact, this year we are changing it up again and having a few folks stop by our house for hot chocolate before watching our movie. Who doesn’t love hot chocolate? If you are struggling this holiday season, reach out for help. Talk to someone who has experience doing it alcohol-free. Also, there are many books about your first year of sobriety. They helped me, and I’m sure there is one for you.  Make a plan, stick to it and like the famous quote goes, this too shall pass.

Happiest of Holidays from me and all of us at Youturn Health!

For more information on stress management and substance use around the holidays, please visit our Stress Management and Burnout and Substance Misuse resource pages.

Elizabeth McKissick, Director of Communications, Youturn HealthElizabeth McKissick is the Director of Communications at Youturn Health. Elizabeth has been in recovery for substance use disorder for 16 years and is a strong advocate for sharing her story in the hopes of helping others struggling with dependency and misuse.