In early November, I hit a milestone of 300 days alcohol free. I felt surprisingly flat. The festive season was approaching and continuing to abstain from alcohol felt harder than it ever had before. Not drinking alcohol day-to-day didn’t bother me, it was just the social gatherings and celebrations which I was starting to find very challenging.
Within the 300 days, I made it through two major events, my 30th birthday and my sister’s engagement party without an ounce of alcohol passing my lips. I felt proud of my strength to stay sober but also a sense of loss, that I was missing out while others were having more fun.
Feeling sad about the prospect of staying sober at my upcoming Christmas celebrations, I started reasoning that it might be ok to drink again. I didn’t want to get drunk, just to allow myself to have one or two when I felt like it.
By mid-November, I had successfully drunk moderately on two occasions without any consequences. Then came my first Christmas function of the year. I planned to have one mid strength beer per hour and drive home. As soon as the alcohol was in my system, my mindset switched and my drinking escalated into a full-strength beer, followed by multiple glasses of wine and shots. The rest of the night was a blur ending with dire consequences including losing my phone, locking myself out of my house, writing off the next day and re-visiting the awful post-binge shame spiral.
As I realised from my slip, the festive season can make it especially hard to stay sober or moderate drinking. There are several valid reasons for this, so it is important to recognise what these are if you are struggling with any urges. Some common urges to drink at Christmas time are caused by increased social pressure, increased availability of alcohol and heightened emotions.
The expectation to drink at festive events is hugely ingrained in our culture so it is not surprising that there is increased social pressure to drink at this time of year. Workplace Christmas parties and sporting club break ups often come with the mentality that we can only let off steam or celebrate achievements with alcohol.
The increased availability of alcohol at festive events may present another challenge. Alcohol at corporate events is often free flowing as a reward, and intake can be unmonitored with large bar tabs. The increased amount of social gatherings around Christmas and New Year also add to the number of drinking opportunities. I’ve found that multiple events and activities contribute to social fatigue which can also drive excessive drinking, which of course is often used as a social lubricant.
There is no doubt, emotions are heightened over the festive season and alcohol may be used as a way to numb any discomfort or social tension that this time of year brings for some people. Alcohol can also fuel arguments between family and friends – so all in all it’s a tricky time of the year!
From my recent slip, I was reminded that moderation does not work for me and sticking to non-alcoholic alternatives is the best option. Whether it is sobriety or moderation it is still important to have strategies to make it easier for yourself. This could be having a task to stay occupied such as offering food platters to other guests or making fun mocktails to share. It is also helpful to surround yourself with others who are not drinking or who are moderating their intake.
Slip-ups may happen over the festive season. So it is important that if they do occur, be kind to yourself, learn from it and address the issues that may have caused the slip.
A key take home message that may be helpful over this period, is to focus on what you will GAIN over the festive season by not drinking, rather than what you fear that you will miss out on.
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I have lots of non alcoholic options at my work functions. Just had my office party drinking non alcoholic gin and tonic. The zero alcohol beer was drunk.
Well done in your honesty & learning. I’m very early in my sober journey & this time of year is hell! I’ve avoided all functions that I could (even resorting to saying I’m waiting for a COVID test result) & the 2 I couldn’t skip were hard. I bolted early. I appreciate you sharing your experience & am right now working on my plans for xmas day. Thank you!
Good for you for being so honest and sharing your experience. As we all grow from others experiences it’s important to be kind to yourself if you do slip up. Be kind to yourself as you would be to a friend who was on the same journey.
What a great timely reminder about both being kind to ourselves if we skip up and also the mind switch that can happen after a glass or two. I would also add that even though we look forward to the festive season for most of us there is a certain amount of anxiety. Another reason we may slip up. So I’m going to prepare for that well in advance.
Thankyou for hour honesty and courage.
Yes, for me too one drink is one too many.
I went to a recent large social event with free alcohol.
Then realised someone at our table was drunk and annoying and others were busy getting down as much as they could.
Felt compassion as i recognised they were probably topping up.
Thats what I would have been like.
I had a good time without alcohol and celebrated the occasion.
“There but for the graceof God go I…”
Written by an expert. Beautifully written and always good to remind ‘there but for …’
Thank you a timely reminder
How very true. I too can’t drink in moderation although I have tried on numerous occasions. I have finally learned my lesson which was a long time coming. Thank you for reconfirming it 🙏🙏 here’s to a happy AF Xmas 😉
I feel your pain. The moment I take alcohol into my body I don’t get to choose what happens next . If I don’t lift the first drink I can’t get drunk
I’m always amazed at our brains ability to start justifying “just one drink”, no matter how strong our resolve is when we start out on the sobriety path.
It’s amazing, isn’t it. That coaxing, persistent and seductive message that just one will be fine. I so wish that could be the case.
Thank you Sarah for taking the time and honesty in what you have written, I am sure it will resonate with many including myself.
My brain and being is not designed for one drink. One drink always ends up being many. Best to stay sober, but I also have had that little devious voice in my head saying “ones fine go on one won’t hurt, you have you drinking under control”. Yeah Right!!!! I have slipped up before too, but all part of the journey.
Really interesting to read. I can’t moderate my drinking either. But I have done 2 years now AF allowing myself only 1 week between Xmas and NY as a reward. It worked last year and I am doing the same this year but I plan exactly what I will have and will go off it again on the 31st when many other people are also ‘starting’ not drinking. Any more than a week for me would be too hard to stop again Just an idea that might help other people.
Holiday party survival tip:
Ask for a champagne flute (that alone screams “festive”) and ask for sparking water with a splash of pomegranate juice or cranberry juice. Tastes great, is alcohol free and the flute is great for toasting! Enjoy!
After having a slip up recently when I was made redundant without any notice and beating myself up for months afterwards this was a great read. I had been sober for a year so when I was given the news about my job I had nothing prepared to help me so I turned to booze. After some time being sober again I am now being kinder to myself and not beating myself up. The biggest piece of advice I can give If you slip is please be kind to yourself. You can get get sober again and learn from the experience.
Your insights are straight on. I have also found that although I may have a nip at home from time to time, at social events it is best for me to pass on the eggnog and other goodies.
The consequences of a DUI are not just getting pulled over. The act endangers others and will affect the loved ones that count on you.
Bloody hell I’m darn proud of you Sarah!! From one alco to another this is a lesson needing to be realised, learned and mitigated in the future!
I choose abstinence, I spent decades trying to moderate my drinking, epically failing more each year. I now understand that no amount of alcohol is safe for me to drink, although hard to acknowledge at first, I have resigned myself to this. I focus on recovery not on not drinking. Happy Hols!
An excellent and timely blog, Sarah. I especially relate to ‘social fatigue’ with multiple engagements where conversations are so hard to follow with hearing impairment, and a partner who can talk with folk for hours on end and doesn’t want to leave. I’ll continue to work on strategies to not drink, at home after the events to relieve the strain, and focus on what is to be gained. Many thanks.
There are continual lessons we learn in our lives and you learned a big one. Congratulations! Thank you for sharing.
AmazIng 300 days. Wow. And from
What I’ve been learning, you don’t “go back to day one.” You take everything you learned with you as you continue now. I found myself nodding along with your account of the festive mindset. I had a similar experience 11 days ago… which is why I am in Day 11 now. I feel like it happened “accidentally.” There’s no danger of that if I don’t have any! That feels good.
Thanks for sharing. I’m going on a 3 week cruise in a couple of months and I am thinking ALOT about drinking. This helps me to let it go.
I was sober for 2.5 years, then drank again. I convinced myself that I could handle it, but pretty soon I was drinking every day and not “handling” it. I got sober again 1.5 years ago. Recently, I had a slip on Thanksgiving. Two drinks. This time, however, I realized that it was not OK, and that I didn’t want to go down that road again. I was ashamed of the slip, but I also know that it has re-charged my recovery. I know I can’t mess around with this stuff. Maybe some people can stop drinking and stay sober continuously forever. Clearly that’s not me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in the game. If you have a slip, learn from it and move on.
I have been moderating my intake of alcohol and toying with the idea of going alcohol free for many years and just one week ago I found myself suddenly ready to take the plunge and hav not had a drink now for ten days. I keep reminding myself this was a conscious choice to change a habit that is no longer serving me. There are three keys helping me to remember why I am doing this and why it is important to me. Firstly: Identity
I am identifying with the part of myself that loves life and wants to live it more fully with less indulgence and more truth
Presence of mind: taking time to think about how transformational this decision has been and how much I am enjoying this new clarity of mind and to reflect on all the gains
Appreciation: I appreciate being more alert, more active, having less headaches, enjoying sleep more and losing weight. I could really relate to this article although binge drinking is not my problem, I just don’t want dementia, cancer or CV disease.
Thanks for your honesty Sarah, I’m 7 weeks AF and have being going great but have been finding the pressures of not drinking pretty hard this time of year. Particularly as everyone around me are heavy drinkers (family & friends) & they can’t comprehend that I don’t want a drink. I also considered just having the “odd one or two” & I asked my daughter what she thought and she said “don’t do it mum – it’s just your brain trying to trick you into having one and you don’t need it – I’m so proud of you”…..that’s all it took & it reminded me it’s so important to have some moral support around you. I’ve had so many good experiences this past 7 weeks without alcohol – I just have to remind myself of how much I’ve GAINED & not missed out on.