I was just over 6-months into my sobriety journey when my first sober Christmas rolled around. It was Christmas 2016 which seems like a lifetime ago to me now.
I went back to the blog I was writing at the time to jog my memory of how it all went.
I wrote about how others were agonising over whether the champagne stocks were sufficient for the big day (to avoid the nightmare scenario of the booze running out). I wrote about a friend ringing me for advice on giving up, because they realised they had a “drinking problem”. I reflected on how alcohol was no longer a factor in my life, and how I was looking forward to the Christmas Holiday. I wrote: “I don’t feel like I’ll be missing out at all. I’m looking forward to focussing on what’s important – family unity, love for and from my wife and children, and sharing good times with friends. I’m also looking forward to my clear-headed mornings. Where does alcohol rank in the grand scheme of things? I’m happy to say it just doesn’t.”
I look back and am grateful I already had some sober form over the previous six months. I’d had plenty of practice socialising sober, during a family holiday, and during my 40th birthday. I wasn’t going into Christmas clinging onto sobriety by my finger nails. But I’m aware it’s not going to be like that for everyone.
It can be so stressful navigating the final push to Christmas Day, dealing with at times fraught family dynamics, the logistics of feeding and watering everyone, and having everyone else necking booze all day. There’s a lot of pressure on to enjoy it. There is also so much uncertainty about the future at the moment. The pressures of the transition towards the post-covid era, and continuing social and economic stresses from the pandemic, are still being felt.
There is a seemingly endless list of reasons to drink, especially at Christmas. I certainly needed little arm twisting to drink throughout much of my adult life. But what started me on my sober path was the fact that I had never had a prolonged period of sobriety since my mid-teens, and more importantly I knew my problem drinking was making me truly miserable. Once I had made the break, I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t need alcohol, and that life was actually better without it.
We as a society are brought up to believe that social events are enhanced by alcohol, and that hard times are eased by it. We are brought up to believe that drinking goes hand in hand with pretty much every facet of our lives.
If you believe the messaging from Big Alcohol (PLEASE DON’T!) and their not-at-all-subtle deluge of Christmas advertising, then you you'll believe drinking in moderation is actually good for you (TOTAL BULLSHIT).
When I was a drinker, I seldom questioned alcohol's role in our lives. It was always there - in the background and foreground of our lives. Being a shy person, I used alcohol to help me socialise. But learning to socialise without that crutch has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of being with others – being totally present. I’ve learnt that the sober me is good enough.
Later in my 30s my drinking became a sadder, more solitary pursuit to numb negative feelings I had about myself. When tough feelings rise now, or shitty things happen, I sit with the pain and process it properly rather than drown my feelings with alcohol. It’s still pain, and it’s still difficult, and often it does still feel overwhelming, but it’s been an amazing gift to learn more coping mechanisms than simply getting drunk.
For those of you who are early in your sobriety, or considering giving up this Christmas, I understand how scary this can be. When I was battling temptation I think about how desperate I felt when I made the decision to quit, which reaffirms why I decided I no longer wanted alcohol in my life. I think about my worst drinking moments, and then I think about all the gains – how being sober has transformed my life for the better.
In the past year I’m probably more settled and staunch in my sobriety than ever before. The drinking of others probably annoys me more rather than less if I’m honest. I’m meeting more and more people who choose to drink very occasionally if at all.
For me, Christmas is about the people you love, the people who love you, and being together. It’s really not about something as arbitrary as the liquid in our glasses. Above all remember, it is possible to live sober.
Wishing you all the best for Christmas. You deserve it.
Matt Calman @emjaycee