‘Surviving the holidays’ means something very different when you’re an alcoholic

The holidays have always been hard for me, for a variety of reasons. I find family time incredibly stressful, and I’m not what one would normally call super into anything involving cheer or being especially “merry and bright.”

For a long time, my trick to getting into the holiday spirit involved imbibing copious amounts of holiday spirits. I mean, nothing says “holiday cheer” like many, many holiday “Cheers!” — amirite? But what happens when someone like me, for whom alcohol was my saving grace, my social lubricant and my main coping mechanism, can no longer drink it?

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My first sober holiday was terrifying. I had never realized how much holiday parties revolve around booze until I stopped drinking. There was punch at the office party, champagne at my friends’ parties, and spiked eggnog at the neighborhood block party. Well-meaning colleagues gave me bottles of prosecco as gifts, and I’d never wanted an Irish coffee more than I did that year — and I don’t even like Irish coffee. Thank goodness for supportive friends and family, who carried me through the season when all I wanted to do was hide in my bed until it was over (which is a totally valid and legitimate option, should you choose to take it). But that year I learned that it was not only possible to make it through the holidays as a sober human, but also that it didn’t have to suck, either.

Now, at four years sober, I no longer dread the holidays and I even kind of look forward to the season. The fact that I don’t drink no longer registers at all as the holidays approach. Once I got over the fact that I couldn’t drink, it turned out that no one else either noticed or cared. The only person who was concerned with whether or not I was drinking was me. Everyone else was too into their own partying to pay attention to what was (or wasn’t) in my cup.

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Now, if I go somewhere that I know there will be a lot of drinking, I’ll often bring my own fancy sparkling cider or flavored seltzer water so that I have something that I’m excited about sipping on. And if it gets too boozy, I always have an exit plan. I make sure to go with someone else who either doesn’t drink or is supportive of the fact that I don’t drink. If I feel uncomfortable, that person knows that we leave, no questions asked.

The truth of the matter is, your friends love you and want you to be well. No one is going to question you if you have to take off. And if they do, you absolutely don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re leaving. Taking care of yourself should always be your top priority. The holidays are about spending time with people you care about, but not at the expense of your well-being. Plus, putting down the booze means you never again have to be the one in those embarrassing photos that surface the next day. So enjoy your sober holiday — and raise a glass to your sobriety, because it’s worth celebrating.


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