When you stop drinking, you notice alcohol’s presence in places you didn’t before. It’s part of the celebration, it’s the remedy for tough times, it’s the excuse to get together with an old friend, it’s at the finish line of a big project, it’s the reward after the struggle, it’s the bond of friendships, it’s allure of attending an event. Football games, charity events, dinner, weddings, birthdays, 5ks, cooking classes, brunch, book readings, relaxation time, samplings at the grocery store. There seems to be few inappropriate times for alcohol.
Practically every holiday comes with ceremonious drinking, but the Christmas season seems to warrant extra encouragement for alcohol consumption.
First, there are a lot of holiday festivities and parties. Office parties, Friendsmas (I didn’t come up with the term but using it as a catchall for holiday parties thrown by friends) happy hours between running errands, shopping breaks at the bar restaurant, etc. Very rarely do these not contain alcohol, and in fact, drinking is often the point. Plus, who doesn’t love a cocktail or two while wearing red and green with shiny lights and ornaments in the background?
Drinking is also a major coping mechanism for a stressful time of year. Not only are we trying to perform in a way, by what kind of gifts we buy and how well we follow all the holiday traditions, but this time of year stirs up old demons. We see who and what is in our life, along with who and what is not. We take stock of where we could be, should be and are. Plus, there are high emphases on family and money, and if you have little of either you’ll be reminded of the fact everywhere you go.
The third major excuse for holiday drinking is the variety. From Christmas-spiced ales to cranberry mimosas to mulled wine, there are numerous options to gulp down the Christmas spirit.
Sobriety is less festive. There are fewer holiday-themed cocktails, and the non-drinker is rarely the life of the party. You like your sober friend, but she is just less fun this time of year.
A few weeks ago I had a dream that I was at a holiday party at a bar with a glass of champagne in my hand. I finished the flute in two gulps and then stared at the beer list longingly. I suddenly remembered that I couldn’t drink and that I wasn’t supposed to drink that champagne. I broke into tears; I had failed. That feeling of guilt stayed with me when I woke up and tried to reassure myself that it was a dream.
The temptation appears daily this December, and each time I have to take it straight on and say no.This week there were several opportunities for a slip up. A glass of red wine during a happy hour meeting. A beer at dinner before the show. A cup of glogg in between holiday shopping. A drink could have been ordered in a minute, the soothing alcohol stinting my building anxiety. The smell of wine nearly weakening my knees.
Would it hurt to have just one, I bargained with myself. No one would blame me, and this is a self-imposed regulation.
I am the kind of person who seizes every moment of an experience. I ordered the buttery popcorn at the movie. I splash in puddles when it rains. And, when a holiday drink is put in front of me, I chug it down in the name of celebration. Now, I pass the Christmas Ale or spiced wine to the side and hope I can be part of the party in some other way.
Friends have cheered me on through sobriety – during the election, at Thanksgiving – but I feel the greatest urge to drink when I also want to celebrate. I know that Christmas and the holiday season are about so much more than a grossly sweet hot wine, and that you absolutely don’t need alcohol to celebrate, but for nearly 10 years I’ve drank in the holidays and it’s hard to do anything else.
I don’t, though. I say no to each urge and hope that I will have enough courage to get through the next temptation.
The hardest part of being sober: See above. I never knew the smell of red wine in a hotel conference room could be so alluring.
The best part of being sober: Several family members came for a girls’ weekend. We shopped, ate and merried our way through the city. There were plenty of opportunities for drinking – all of which I had to decline. However, my mother decided to be sober with me this weekend and having a buddy really helped me not feel so alone.