Surviving Christmas

Day 315: I survived my first Christmas sober. Actually, I didn’t ‘survive’ it. I lived it.

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Since starting my recovery journey I’ve had to navigate numerous times of the year which have made me anxious and worried about not drinking. I reached, faced and passed each milestone and it’s fair to say that this is what makes us stronger in sobriety.

Whilst Christmas has been a potential trigger point and challenging time of the year for many people I’ve spoken to in my recovery circles I can honestly say it hasn’t been for me. Considering it was my first festive period abstaining from alcohol I can report back that I haven’t once had an interest, urge or thought about drinking. I used to like a Baileys on Christmas Eve, Bucks Fizz on Christmas Morning and Guinness on Boxing Day whilst watching the football and horse racing. Baileys was replaced by a non-alcoholic Irish Coffee. The Bucks Fizz was replaced by a fancy bottle of Sparkling Elderberry and yesterday I watched the Horse Racing with my Dad and Brother whilst enjoying a 0.0% Guinness. I lie, I had two. Easy-peasy.

I’m under no illusions it isn’t always ‘easy peasy’ though. I know of others who relapsed on Christmas Eve & Day. Some are still in that relapse. Some have started their Day 1 again. There are no guarantees in recovery and there is nothing to say I wouldn’t wobble or break on a random Tuesday in mid-January. That’s why it’s so important that we live each day one at a time and embrace the now.

I’m proud of myself for having a happy, restful and sober Christmas but that is now the past along with the 300+ days of booze free living that preceded the holidays. Today is my focus. As we speak, my wife and daughters are preparing to go out this afternoon. I’ll be home alone. I’ve already decided I’m going to fill the hours with some self-care. I’ll be getting the Yoga mat out for 30 mins followed by the start of my new book I got for Christmas (‘Sunshine warm sober’ by Catherine Gray). I’m doing nothing else. No chores. No graft. Time to switch off before I return to work tomorrow.

It’s my wife’s birthday on Friday (expensive time of year for me!) so I’m looking forward to doing some family stuff. We normally head to the coast for a Winter walk and some lunch. NYE is not a big thing to us. I’ll probably be in bed by 10pm. My young girls love making a fuss of birthdays so no doubt we will have balloons up and a cake or too for Mammy!

Oh, and running. I’m loving running at the moment. Today is a rest day but since last Thursday (23rd) I’ve ran every day bar Xmas Day. The joy I get from being outdoors in all weather on my own just treading the pavements and roads is hard to top. I’ll be back out in the morning before I log into work. I hope some of you reading this who have maybe never fancied running give it a go in 2022. You don’t have to run fast, far or often but I can promise you this – if you can physically get out and do it, your body and mind will thank you. Maybe not in the moment but afterwards, once you are home, hydrated and stretched off there is very little that can beat the ‘runner’s high’

The Nightmare before Christmas

Day 309: I’ve seen a lot of people in my sobriety social network talking about the worry they have around staying sober this Christmas. Most of those who are worried are like me, in their first year of recovery and therefore this time of the year is naturally an anxious one because we have never known it to be anything other than an excuse to booze.

This time last year I was already going through a difficult period of recovery from a mental health incident in the November and I was in treatment with a Psychologist. I was lying to her because I was explaining week to week that I was drinking much less since my episode and that I was keeping the alcohol aspect of it under control. I wasn’t.

I did reduce my social and visible drinking around others but I was still drinking when stressed and anxious. I was also coming out of my virtual Zoom sessions with my Doctor and immediately having a whisky because I was feeling so edgy after opening up old wounds and in part, not being honest with myself or her.

Thinking back, I do wonder if a Psychologist was the right treatment at the time. I was having deep, detailed conversations about my past and unlocking old memories to analyse yet my issue was my dependency to turn to alcohol as a quick fix every time I got pissed off, felt overwhelmed or anxious. I wish I’d been honest at the time and admitted I was alcohol dependent. I was still in denial.

Anyways, after a difficult Christmas with depression and Covid restrictions I spent most of January trying not to drink (and succeeding at times for 3-4 days at a time) but then hitting it hard and privately when I ultimately ‘needed it’ the most.

This Christmas I’m in a much better place mentally and I’ve been sober for 309 days. I was at the local pub last night to watch the football with a few friends (all drinking) and I never once had the urge. I’m really proud of myself and enjoyed my evening with no subsequent low mood which has previously followed a sober social event this year. I’m not overly worried about a sober Christmas because I’ve challenged myself throughout the year in various situations such as meals out, family holidays, weddings and a bloody stag weekend! I’m having a quiet Christmas Day in my own home with just my wife and little girls so in many respects it will be no different to many weekends I’ve already lived this year. My wife isn’t a big drinker and is very supportive which makes life so much easier I guess!

So no, going into my first Christmas and New Year as a Teetotaller isn’t really something I’m thinking about. I’m too focused and happy with my abstinence to allow a holiday to distract me from my life goal of living a happy and clean existence with the ones I love.

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That can’t be said for so many others though so please don’t see this as a ‘I’m better than you’ post. I think it once again highlights that we are all on our own unique journey and different things will challenge us in different ways. I live my life with the ‘one day at a time’ approach and this has helped me remain sober for as long as it has this year. This is my first go at abstinence so I haven’t experienced relapsing. Many people in recovery will relapse at Christmas but many people relapse on weekends, on holidays, at the first sign of stress. Relapse is relapse. It is succumbing to the beast and taking that drink whether it be a mouthful or a bender. The approach should never change. We need to break down Christmas into the simplicity of just another day. What works for us day to day to stay sober? Why can’t you apply that same technique over Christmas?

Since being a parent I have traditionally been the designated driver on Christmas Day because I wasn’t really bothered about drinking during the day (when we are eating so much and have the kids running about in hyper mode I have little desire). On the outside looking in family would say “oh that’s nice of him, letting his wife have a drink and playing taxi.”

I soon made up for it on Boxing Day though. That was my Christmas. Boozing, betting and watching sport with my mates. Easily into double figures on the pints.

I hope everybody who is in recovery can find the inner strength to stay sober this Christmas but if there are wobbles, relapses or full blown benders at any point just treat it as part of the journey. We shouldn’t be judged solely on the number of days we have stayed sober previously. If I had to go from Day 309 today back to Day 1 tomorrow to ensure I could understand and appreciate my individual journey more so be it. It isn’t my plan and I have no desire to drink but in reality it happens in our circle and it isn’t anything to be ashamed of. I wouldn’t forget and dismiss my achievements. I’d park them as proof I can get through ‘one day at a time’ and apply that mantra again.

I’m speaking hypothetical of course and some of you reading this might disagree and be dismissive of what I’m saying. That is fine. I can only share my thoughts and feelings about recovery from my own experience so far. What I will never do though is treat a person who is one day sober any different to somebody who is twenty years sober.

We are all in this for the same common goal and we will all need support at some point. The frequency and depth of that support will differ massively but yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t here yet so we all go today and today only. If we have the strength and focus within today that is fantastic but if we don’t – we use our support mechanisms we have in place. Christmas Day is just another today. It isn’t here yet so we focus on today.