February 26, 2024

How going sober during the holidays changed the happiest season for me

“Why do we have to completely overwhelm ourselves?”

Erin Darcy, a political consultant, celebrated five years of sobriety last October. She refers to an episode of Sex and the cityin which Carrie Bradshaw asks herself the same question, wondering whether or not we want what we are told to be the traditional trappings of womanhood such as marriage, home and family, or whether we simply feel that we should she wants. Darcy brings it up because it could easily apply to the holidays as well. It’s a time when we’re told that celebration means indulgence, and on multiple levels: food, drinks, gifts and more. Do we really want those things, or are we told we have to want them? When you are sober, celebrating the holidays takes on new meanings and brings new experiences.

“I feel like a lot of logic and healthy behavior goes out the window during the holidays because it’s ‘a special time,’” says Darcy. “We live in a capitalist society that encourages us to do all that excess. So [for me] it had to be a very deliberate pulsing of the brakes. Sobriety can mean different things to different people – for Darcy it means no alcohol, tobacco or drugs. For some people it is also a matter of life and death; for others it is a frugal month or a frugal holiday period. Either way, it changes the way you approach what is typically the happiest time of the year, in ways that can be enlightening, challenging, both, or more. For starters, sobriety can make you notice how much drinking is embedded in our cultural experiences. Or rather, what we’re told they should look like (there’s that). should again).

However, it is important to remember that you can decide how you go on holiday. “I remember being really surprised the first year at the number of commercials on TV about drinking during the holidays,” says Darcy. “I was really very aware of this [idea that] Drinking equals celebrating, there is no other way to celebrate if you don’t drink. I had to make a lot of substitute associations of, well, what else does celebrating look like to me?”


While she previously remembered drinking lots of her dad’s chocolate martinis and smoking a blunt before going to church, her first sober Christmas was very different. “My very Irish Catholic family said, we’re not going to Mass this year. We’re going to do a fasting sound bath in Mom’s yoga studio. That was so incredibly healing and beautiful and such a different spiritual experience than sitting reluctantly high up in church on Christmas Eve,” she laughs.

Tawny Lara, a sobriety expert and author of Dry Humping: A Guide to Dating, Relationships, and Connecting Without Booze, says the holidays are a time to find your own traditions. “You just do the things you want to do and you can determine the atmosphere of the holiday,” she says. Lara and her husband prepare Native American dishes on Thanksgiving, but before they were together, she also made a Sex and the city marathon with a friend. “Just let yourself explore what you want tradition to mean.”

Being sober during the holidays also means re-understanding what it means to spend time with people and who your friends are. It may also be that a drinking buddy and a friend are not the same thing. “Reevaluating your relationship with alcohol reveals many truths about yourself, yes, but also about those around you – and that can be very painful. Identifying my drinking buddies and my real friends was a very painful part of early sobriety,” says Lara. “Anyone who blames you for not coming to their party because you’re trying to stay sober, that’s not really a good friend.” You’ll have to stand up for yourself and your decisions, which can be difficult, Lara says, but it will get easier with time.

With this in mind, it’s also important to note that your relationship with holiday parties will change, and it’s essential to identify what your triggers are. For example, Lara is fine with people having a glass of wine, but would rather not be around people who are taking shots or being ‘wasted’. That first year, Darcy remembers feeling like she was missing out on time with friends who went drinking and feeling left out at parties, so she decided to skip a lot of it. “In the first year, I honestly stayed away from a lot of triggering people, places, and things just because it was too raw for me and I didn’t really trust myself yet,” she says. But now she has tricks. “I have seltzer and cranberry at a party. I have something in my hand that I am still a part of [the group but] I don’t sell myself short and walk around with a glass of water while everyone else is enjoying themselves,” she says.

But that might not be for you. These are decisions you can make for yourself. You may notice that you have limited energy or patience for overindulgent parties, and that’s okay too. While you might normally attend three or four parties, you may only have the energy for one or two. Wherever you are, says Lara, make sure you feel safe, in a place where non-alcoholic drinks are available and where people aren’t binge drinking.

But you don’t have to do all this alone, whether it’s a dry month or a dry life, and nor should you. Rather, it is important to ask for help. “It’s not something you can do on your own, that you can ‘girlboss’ your way through on your own,” says Darcy. “You have to find that community. It is invaluable.” That community can be a friend, a sponsor, an accountability buddy who you call when you feel anxious or triggered. There are so many people who have the same experience as you and it is crucial that you call someone. “Find a peer support group, find a therapist, there are tons of online groups. Don’t do it alone,” says Lara.

Darcy was initially concerned that she would never have a good time again. “I really thought my life was over and that I wouldn’t have fun anymore or meet interesting people or go to cool parties or have fun experiences. I can’t tell you how different that experience has been.” Today, she says she can stand up for her partner, her family, friends and now her children in ways she couldn’t before.

“It’s a much more selfless holiday season. Instead of ‘how fucking can I get’ and how much weed do I need before I go home for the holidays or how many bottles of wine do we need at the liquor store and that’s just the priority, it’s like, how can I want to create this positive holiday experience for my family and my children? That was really just a level of selflessness that I didn’t have access to.

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