Sober for the Holidays: How It Changed My Life

My first sober Christmas, I was 24, and I navigated every holiday party and family gathering with high anxiety, blurting out “Ginger ale!” in answer to any and all questions. It was only a few weeks earlier that I’d sat in my therapist’s office, examining the wreckage of a few relationships, family visits, social gatherings and other moments sullied by my own drinking. I was pretty sure this was the worst possible time of year to quit. What would I do at end-of-year work parties, or on the Friday after Thanksgiving when hometown friends got smashed together, or on that booziest holiday of all, New Year’s Eve? Questions like these haunted me as I nervously dodged alcohol left and right, avoiding spiked eggnog and re-gifting bottles of wine like I was playing some Sonoma Valley version of hot potato.

Slowly, though, through a lot of practice over the years, not drinking during the holidays began to feel just like not drinking the rest of the year: normal. My anxiety about it lessened, my self-pity abated, and I found that I didn’t need a proverbial lampshade on my head to enjoy myself. I’m still struck by occasional pangs of envy (whipped cream flavored Smirnoff? How did I miss out on this?), but I know from experience that it’s absolutely possible to enjoy the holidays sober.

A night without drinking for me means a day without a hangover, humiliating gossip, futilely hunting a for a lost iPhone, or dealing with the aftermath of poor romantic choices. (For the record, you can still make poor romantic choices sans alcohol, but you’ll be painfully conscious during every moment of your mistakes — and you’ll remember it all.)

Once I’d stopped drinking and then stopped feeling like I was missing out by not drinking, I was thrilled to find that I felt more attractive and had gobs more cash to spend. This is especially helpful during the holidays — it’s always nice to show up at a gathering of folks you haven’t seen in months feeling like a million dollars and knowing your tab after two seltzers won’t be more than six. True, seltzer gets a little old, as does soda, the most common sober drink of choice. One time I was so nervous about being out with a group of people I’d just met that I drank eight cherry cokes and immediately felt like I was going to die a sugary death. But I developed a bag of sober tricks, like always having a glass of something non-alcoholic in hand (people can’t shove a mug of holiday cheer at you if you’re already drinking), bringing a non-drinking buddy along when possible, and reminding myself throughout the evening how good it will feel to wake up tomorrow sure of how I got home. For me, no cocktail can beat that.

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