From mulled wine at a carol service to bucks fizz on Christmas morning, alcohol features heavily in many people’s holiday celebrations. But for those in recovery or anyone who is trying to create healthier drinking habits, Christmas doesn’t always feel like the most wonderful time of the year. In this blog, Susan Laurie, who has been sober for six years, shares her top tips for how to avoid drinking and truly embrace the holiday season.
Even though it’s been a long time since I drank alcohol, I do not have to try very hard to remember that gut-wrenching feeling of waking up after having drank too much, with a hazy recollection of upsetting and embarrassing special people. This feeling was always compounded at Christmas, because every year the only gift that those who loved me wanted, was the peace of mind that I would be sober and safe and present for them, and I would begin each festive season determined not to let them down.
Sadly, I failed on many occasions and, whilst I am not making excuses for my own behaviour, I know from experience that Christmas is fraught with added challenges and temptations for anyone who struggles with alcohol.
I cannot change my past, but I can draw upon it to offer some advice if you find yourself worried about getting through Christmas without alcohol. I receive many messages at this time of year from people who are terrified that they will relapse, and for a lot of people Christmas is not a time of joy, but the toughest time of the year.
On a practical level, alcohol is absolutely everywhere at this time of year and it is also acceptable to have alcohol earlier in the day and at every occasion, from mulled wine at a carol service and bucks fizz on Christmas morning, to desserts laced with wine and spirits. Whilst this may present a heavy drinker with a perfect excuse for their excessive drinking and an opportunity to blend in, for the person trying to avoid drinking it can be torture. Not only is it easy to accidentally eat something containing alcohol, it is also harder to refuse alcohol when everyone else is in the festive spirit, especially for those in early recovery. Feeling left out of all the fun can put them at high risk of relapse.
From an emotional perspective, the festive season can make people feel wistful or even depressed and being around drunk people can trigger difficult memories and feelings, or simply make a person feel incredibly pressured to drink. People can also feel uncomfortable when others question why they are not drinking. Add to that loneliness and perhaps being estranged from loved ones, and we can understand why many people struggle with their relationship with alcohol at Christmas.
Whilst I can’t guarantee you a merry Christmas, I can offer my own advice and tips for staying alcohol free and, hopefully, enjoying yourself over the festive period.
Don’t get into a negative mindset as if you are missing out. Try and stay focused on why you have decided to give up alcohol and focus on the positive and concentrate on all the things you’ll be gaining, like lasting happy memories, more energy, and looking fabulous as a result of quality sleep and no hangovers. Recognise what sobriety has given you and write down every item you’re thankful for. Keep looking at this list and adding to it by noticing every little amazing thing that happens over Christmas as a result of not drinking.
Create a supportive circle around you and get people on your side. Tell the people you trust that you aren’t drinking or are worried about your drinking and they will be happy to help you. You may or may not want to share your recovery journey with everyone, but we can all identify close friends and family members who care about us and who will be there for a walk, or coffee if we are struggling.
Whoever your support group may be, ensure you have their numbers at hand. You need to consistently have someone you can turn to for support because often, as soon as you talk to someone, you feel better and back in control.
If you are struggling to cope without alcohol this festive season, there is also a lot of help and support available online, online communities and groups who support one another throughout the whole year. These are people like you, who are trying to stay on the path to recovery by providing support and tips to each other – it really does help to get the support of people who are experiencing the same feelings as you.
If you’re at an early stage in your recovery, it might be best to avoid parties and events where alcohol is flowing freely – this is simple self-preservation.
If you do feel that you are able to meet up with family and friends, always have an escape plan – have your excuses ready if you wish to leave early. It is good to have answers ready to questions about why you aren’t drinking, but also remember that you don’t need to justify not drinking to anyone – ever. If someone continues to push you to drink when you have decided not to, this is absolutely unacceptable behaviour on their part. You do not need to put up with it. As far as it is possible, try to spend time with those who already embrace and support your decision not to drink.
Take your own drink to parties and gatherings. Find a non-alcoholic drink that you love and that feels a bit special.When everyone else is drinking champagne, you don’t want to be nursing a glass of water. I love fiery ginger beer, but there are now loads of interesting alcohol-free drinks, due to increasing demand. You can even make alcohol-free mulled wine.
Glasses are very important to me too, and most things taste better in a fancy glass – it’s the power of the mind.
As I have already mentioned, lots of Christmas food contains alcohol, so please check or better still make your own. Mince pies and Christmas cake are often laden with alcohol.
Treat yourself to a gorgeous new outfit and enjoy some pampering. Spend time on making everything look beautiful, and cooking lovely food, even if it’s just for you. Remember that Christmas is really about joy and family and spending time with loved ones, so put your efforts into making it a really magical time, but allow yourself moments to take a breather and recharge your batteries.
Most of all – enjoy every sober minute of the holiday. Wishing you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Written by Susan Laurie, Alcohol Health alliance