With the holidays coming up, I thought I might offer some suggestions on how to make it through without drinking or using – at least the things that I will be doing to keep myself focused. For whatever the reason, I think Christmas is always the hardest holiday to stay sober. Many of us are living in cold climates, there’s snow on the ground, a fire blazing in the fireplace, and a drink sure sounds good. I’ve been sober long enough that the actual urge to drink isn’t there, but feelings still play upon my heart which can be just as dangerous.
Christmas has the tendency to cause us to reminisce – to think of past loves, memories, empty promises, or broken dreams. For me, even if I’m with the people I love, the season still makes me feel like there’s something missing or things aren’t the way they “should be”. Hopefully, your memories are happy ones, but for many of us as alcoholics and addicts, there’s quite a few skeletons in our closets. The one thing we hate to feel is deep emotion inside of that shakes us at the core, regardless if it’s happy or sad. Christmas usually brings a combination of both of those feelings, so we have to be ready to combat them.
Make a Conscious Decision to Change the View You Have of Christmas
One of the difficult things I’ve dealt with is changing my outlook on Christmas. When I was actively drinking, it was a great excuse to get drunk, party, and not feel too bad about it. New Years was just around the corner, which was another drunk fest. Sure, I liked spending time with family and friends and the whole Christmas spirit, but if I’m honest, I looked forward to the party much more than anything else. If I wasn’t getting drunk on Christmas or New Years, it was kind of like “what’s the point?” But when you’re sober, you can’t continue to view the holidays in the same way you used to because you’re either going to be miserable, be resentful, and/or get drunk.
The way I dealt with it was by trying to reconnect with my childhood self, trying to remember what it was that I looked forward to then. Ok, we all can’t pretend Santa is real again, but we can believe in the magic of Christmas and what it means. It is a time of giving, love, gratitude, and family. By focusing on that magic, instead of the false sense of control or stability we feel when we’re getting drunk or high, we can see what we’ve been missing for many years and rediscover the magic.
For those that are Christians, it can be very helpful to mediate on the meaning of Christmas through God’s sacrifice. By keeping our attention focused on the Christ in “Christmas”, it turns our awareness away from our self and onto Emmanuel. Even if you are not a Christian, you can still use the season as a time to think about others and focus on giving instead of receiving. Viewing Christmas as a holiday about Him or them drastically changes our mindset, getting us out of ourselves and worrying about others instead of worrying about getting drunk or high.
Stay in the Moment
This is my toughest area. Often times, the Christmas season and this time of year can make me depressed or lonely. When I get lonely, I begin looking back into the past, hanging onto “better” days. Let’s just be honest. We had some good times drinking and using. They are a part of who we are and always will be. You can’t pretend that they don’t exist, but you need to be careful of glorifying them or pretending that you could do them again because you can’t. Just as you can’t go back and relieve waiting anxiously for Christmas morning as a child, you can’t go back and have great times without great consequences. You’re a different person now, and you must recognize and accept that. When you find your mind drifting back into time, consciously try to shift it back into the present moment and make new memories. We can’t change or relive the past and will never know what the future holds. The only thing we have control over is the present. Don’t drift back into old thinking patterns. Accept your new you and be proud of the person you’re becoming and already are.
Avoiding Old Mistakes
I think this is the area that is hardest for people without much time under their belt, but that even people with a lot of time can get tripped up on. We tend to believe that we’re much stronger than we are. We know we don’t want to drink/use. We know sobriety is the best life for us and our families, but it’s Christmas, right? What’s Christmas without a big party? Too many people put themselves in the same situations that got them in the mess they’re in and expect things to be different this time.
What’s the definition of insanity ? (I know. I hate hearing it as much as the next person, but it’s true) “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yes, you are a different person, but you’re still an alcoholic/addict regardless of how many days, months, or years you’ve been sober. It sucks, but you can’t change that. Too often people relapse not because they consciously sought it out, but because they played with fire and got burnt. I am not saying lock yourself in your home and talk to no one. I am saying be careful about going to familiar party spots that are going to bring up memories that you don’t want to deal with and temptations that are best left not tested. Remember, it’s ok to stay no. Your sobriety and life are more important than other people’s opinions of you.
Hopefully, this gave you some ideas to get started and ways to stay sober over the holidays. I wish you a very merry Christmas!