Surviving your first Christmas without alcohol
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Tania Glyde MBACP
17th December, 2014
It’s your first sober Christmas, and your therapist’s away for two weeks. What do you do?
So you’ve stopped drinking. Maybe you went to 12-step meetings, or maybe you didn’t. You’ve not had a drink for six months, or perhaps just a few weeks. You’re just about okay with being in social spaces where there’s alcohol available, and those closest to you have mostly accepted what you’re doing and don't put too much pressure on you. Your social life’s looking a little different these days, but you’ve been feeling so much better, and you’re getting so much more done.
Perhaps you’ve been in therapy over this period of transition and you’ve got to the stage where you’re getting to know the new sober you, and it’s been hard but it’s all starting to make sense. Some of your relationships are changing because you are. Not everyone’s happy about that, and it’s up to them what they do, but you’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. And then along comes Christmas. And suddenly there’s a whole load of brand new social challenges, and your therapist’s away.
Prepare in advance
Actually, if you’ve made a lifestyle change as major as this, it’s good to plan escape routes in advance, to avoid difficult situations which may trigger you in the early days. Self-protection is vital. Find out if your therapist offers emergency phone sessions over the period. Can you get away? A holiday if you have the money, or a retreat, or house or cat-sit, or just a visit to trusted friends, or even spend the day on your own, if you’re okay with that.
If none of this is possible, you may need a strategy to survive Christmas as a non-drinker in a drinking environment. It’s very hard to resist being sucked into Great British alcohol culture. Drinking can be a wonderful way to relax, but the stop button has a tendency to wear out very quickly, and before you know it, alcohol has become the longest relationship of your life. In many circles, telling people you’ve stopped drinking is tantamount to telling them you have a singing tattoo – they really, really want to know what it’s all about. Just as if you were pregnant, have cancer, or are estranged from family, everyone’s got an opinion on your situation, and will be only too happy to give it, entirely uninvited.
Questions you may be asked
Christmas makes this 10 times worse. For ‘Christmas’, of course, read ‘other people.’ You may wish to be prepared. Here are some questions you might be asked the first time you refuse an alcoholic drink at this time of year.
• ‘Oh, was there a problem?’
This is a very common response to a non-drinking British person. It is very rude to ask this question, particularly when there are other people watching and listening. Very likely there was a problem or you wouldn’t have bothered going through all this. Do not be afraid to tell them it is none of their business.
• ‘Can’t you have just one?’
When you have given up drinking, or anything else, there is no ‘just one.’ ‘Just one’ is the door to the big slippery snake that will take you right back down to rock bottom. Resist this. Eat chocolate. Anything but ‘just one’. If someone continues to push you, or makes you feel self-conscious in front of others, you have every right to tell them where to go, or even to leave yourself.
• ‘But Christmas is supposed to be fun!’
And you are meant to fall off your wagon to make them feel better about themselves as they hear the sound of their own voice echoing and you are looking at them wearing their torn paper hat? No.
Stories you may need to tell
Family politics may well demand that you do not swear, shout or storm out, but some people will continue to bug you about your refusal to partake in boozing. Let’s assume you can’t escape from them. You need to get your story straight. You could tell them:
• You’re doing a detox
It’s a fashionable concept. Mention allergies and gluten or dairy. Talk about the gym. Yoga. Training for a marathon. Miraculously you may find them cheering you on instead of fishing for mental health gossip.
• You’re trying for a baby
A risky strategy, because clearly this statement comes with other baggage, (particularly if untrue), and people will persistently ask you how things are going until the baby appears. However, it cannot be argued with. Ditto actual pregnancy. Another variant is mentioning a mysterious medical condition and doctor’s advice.
• You couldn’t stand the hangovers any more
If you make it all about the aftermath, it sounds as if you were really going for it, a true party animal. You could even mention an ‘allergy to alcohol’. Allergy talk is always popular, and chimes with the detox above.
Am I advocating a kind of dishonesty here? In a way, perhaps I am, but you are being authentically you, and protecting your still-fragile sobriety and therefore your mental health, so I have no problem with it.
You may reach a point in the day when you’re wondering if all your efforts to stay sober have been worth it, and you’re starting to wonder how you’re going to get through the next six hours without a drink. And everyone else looks like they’re having such a great time. Can you slip away and phone a friend? Go on social media? Even if you haven’t been going to meetings, you could see if there’s an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in your area on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day and find community there. There may be a few on Christmas Day itself.
Finally, I return to my point about self-protection. You’ve come so far and done so well to stay sober - you owe it to yourself to keep your new life going. Good luck and Happy Christmas.
About the author
Tania Glyde is an author turned therapist who specialises in sex/sexuality and addiction/recovery. You can find her at londoncentralcounselling.com. She is also part of the group practice London Sex and Relationships Therapy.
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