One of my worst Christmases was a few years ago when I woke up on Christmas Day morning feeling awful. I had got drunk the night before – I can’t remember now where I’d been or what I’d been doing but I can remember waking up with stale alcohol emanating from every pore, a disgusting taste in my mouth and a sense of dread that I had to go to my mum and dad’s and face all the family.
I felt so bad I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could survive the drive to mum and dad’s without being sick. I didn’t think I’d be able to pretend I was feeling okay. I didn’t think I’d be able to behave like I was “normal” and fine in front of my son. I didn’t think I could cope with nieces, nephews, noise and merriment. I didn’t think I’d get through without a major panic attack and feeling like I was going mad.
I lay in bed next to my partner, trying to hide my fear and shame and just wanting to stay in bed all day recovering. This wasn’t an option though. I had to make myself get up, get in the car and drive home to my son before getting ready and driving to my parents to join in the merriment and good cheer. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a white face with puffy, bleary and bloodshot eyes looking miserably back at me. I didn’t recognise this person and I couldn’t figure out how to make her look better. I felt so sick, scared and ill that I decided soon after waking that the only way I could cope would be to keep on drinking.
I had a couple of glasses of wine at home while I was getting ready. These didn’t make me feel good but they took the edge of how bad I was feeling. I still felt sick, drained and paranoid. I was still terrified about getting through a Christmas Day Dinner and pretending I was happy and fine.
I remember getting to mum and dad’s and making some excuse about having a dodgy tummy so that there would be a reason for me not being the life and soul and not eating very much. But, the alcohol was flowing, my partner was driving us home and, although I couldn’t bring myself to eat, it wasn’t long before I’d had enough to drink that I started to feel better. Only, by then, I was drunk again. Over the years, my body had built up such a tolerance to alcohol that, in order to feel the desired effect, I had to drink enough to actually get drunk – and, even then, it didn’t feel like enough.
So, I have this hazy memory of a drunken conversation with my mum in the hallway. I have a hazy memory of sitting in the back garden playing a game with my niece and feeling great – relieved to no longer be feeling so hungover and crap. And, I can remember my stomach recovering enough that I started to pick at bits of food on the table when everyone else had finished eating.
There was also some drunken jiving in the kitchen with my dad later on in the evening where I literally fell over and into the kitchen units.
This all felt like part of the fun and games and the Christmas shenanigans at the time but looking back afterwards, I was filled with shame. From a sober perspective, I can see that I was totally OTT (too loud, too silly, too out-of-control).
Alcohol got me through my hangover and created another one. It enabled me to survive Christmas Day and created hot waves of shameful memories. Alcohol was the cause and the cure for panic, anxiety and paranoia.
Even writing about that Christmas now makes me shiver with relief that I no longer have that same relationship with alcohol.
Since I’ve stopped drinking, my Christmases have been a totally different story.
I’ve spent Christmases in Spain, breathing the mountain air into a clear and happy head. I’ve spent Christmases with family, in control, relishing the food and enjoying the conversations and connections. And, I’ve created really important and special memories of spending time with loved ones that I can cherish instead of being ashamed of.
This year, I’m seeing my now grown-up son. He’s coming to stay with me on Christmas Eve and I’m so looking forward to seeing him and relaxing, catching up, playing some board games and watching some Christmas TV. Then, on Christmas Day I’ll be driving the two of us to my parents where I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, helping with the food and enjoying the laughter and silliness. On Christmas Day evening, I’ll drive my son to his girlfriend’s parent’s house and spend an hour or two chatting to them and eating mince pies or whatever goodies they have leftover. Then I’ll drive home to spend the rest of the evening with my partner, who will have spent the day with his mum. The two of us will cosy up and share stories from the day as we glut out on Christmas snacks.
On Boxing Day, I’ll go round to my partner’s mum’s to help her eat more leftovers.
Alcohol doesn’t feature anywhere. It’s not a thought, it’s not a regret, it’s nowhere in my mind or body. I won’t have a hangover. I won’t need hair-of-the-dog. I won’t be feeling ill. I won’t be self-conscious or anxious.
What I will be is 100% me. What I will be is clear-headed. What I will be is in control. What I will be is excited. I’ll end up relaxing, having fun, laughing and remembering it all. Since I’ve been sober, Christmases have become about relationships, connecting with family and close friends, enjoying time together, having fun. They’ve become about indulgence and people. There is no fear of missing out – the missing out happened when I was drinking.
I actually stopped drinking one November. I know lots of people find the thought of stopping drinking before Christmas a little challenging. They can find themselves worrying that there might be too much pressure or extra challenges with all the Christmas and New Year celebrations. I know lots of people imagine that stopping drinking in the New Year, once all the celebrations are over, will be easier. But, for me, I just didn’t want to go through another Christmas of drunken misery. I was scared of what might happen if I did. I wanted to get to my happy sober lifestyle quicker. I didn’t want to put it off. I also recognised that there was a part of me that was scared to stop drinking and was coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why I should carry on – the fact Christmas and New Year were coming up was providing a great excuse for that part of me so I decided to ignore it.
If you’re toying with the idea of stopping drinking and are worried about how being sober will affect celebrations like Christmas, if you’re worried that you might be missing out by not drinking, you can be reassured – once you’re practised and confident with living life sober, Christmas and any other big celebrations become so much better than they were when you were drinking. You miss out on more through drinking than you ever will by being sober.
Enjoy your Christmas, however you decide to spend it, and get in touch if you want some support to help you stop drinking and stay successfully sober.
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