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.