Day 14. a Sober Christmas
Discussing the reasons, challenges, advice, and realities of an alcohol-free Christmas, with an individual who now lives life sober.
According to DrinkAware 14% of the UK never drink alcohol, and 52% of these individuals say they did previously drink. Christmas can be a particularly challenging time if you don’t drink or are trying to stop. With Christmas drinks parties around every corner, and the constant questions about why you don’t want a drink, the pressure at Christmas time can be a lot, but the reward of a Sober Christmas can be even greater.
Firstly it is important to highlight that if you feel you may be dependant on alcohol, you should talk to your GP, or seek help from professional services. Take the confidential DrinkAware self-assessment test if you are not sure.
I spoke with Jenifer from the Charity UK SMART Recovery about the SMART Programme that helps people struggling with addictive behaviours. SMART Recovery focuses on behavioural change and equips both individuals as well as their family and friends with the tools to empower those in recovery to tackle any addictive behaviours. SMART meetings are free and can be accessed through self-referral as well as GP or Health Professional referrals. You can also order a SMART Workbook or User Guide for self-study. They contain all the information about the programme, tools and worksheets here – but these are completely optional. Read their testimonials here to see if this could be for you.
The individual involved in the below conversation wished to remain anonymous, but we would like to express both gratitude for their bravery in sharing their story, and admiration for their desire to help others.
In Conversation: Going Sober
What made you decide to stop drinking?
“I didn’t have an excuse but I looked for one.”
I’d never been a good drinker. My job seemed to revolve around working tirelessly then going to the pub at the end of the week with my colleagues and drinking the place dry. Looking back, I struggled with sleep after drink and always had a headache the day after. My colleagues appeared fresh as daisies but it’s caught up with many of them since. I suppose I was a binge drinker. Rarely spirits, usually lager. No one noticed how much I drank, I wasn’t aggressive, emotional or staggering about, I was young enough in my twenties to weather the storm.
I gave up for the sake of my family – my children, husband, parents, and grandparents who frowned upon anyone who drank more than half a pint. My aunt thinks an alcoholic is someone who drinks the merest drop of booze. I came from a background of athletes and swimmers. I ran and kept fit every day and can’t blame anything but lack of sleep after having had children and juggling a home and a full-time pressured job. I used alcohol as a form of sleeping and relaxation drug. Maybe I had post-natal depression. I’m not sure. I have researched a lot and think it could be in the genes. I didn’t have an excuse but I looked for one. The doctor gave me anti-depressants for a while. But the drinking eventually escalated to the point where I was putting my whole life at risk and drinking at all times of the day and night – at work and home but rarely when I was out. It was spirits which I absolutely hated the taste of but they blacked out worries and sent me to sleep. I am crying as I say this because the memories are raw and painful.
If I’d carried on I know I’d have lost everything that meant the most to me – my family, my job and my friends and ultimately my life though that didn’t bother me as much as everything else. One day, my daughter who was by now old enough to understand what was happening, showed me a video she’d taken of me on the floor, completely drunk and oblivious to anything. I couldn’t stand and didn’t care. How could I do this to my precious children? I loved them dearly. It was a question I asked myself time after time. The next day, I was ashamed, embarrassed, upset and, in a hungover state which would last for days, I wanted to run away from it all. I would show remorse and apologise to everyone I’d upset but after I’d recovered and felt better, it would happen again maybe days or even weeks or months later.
I was in a dangerous spiral of decline. Around this time, my father who I was especially close to, became ill and passed away. Before that I had an aggressive form of cancer and recovered. These were life-changers. My mother needed me for support as she’d made herself ill looking after my father. I had no alternative. There was no way forward if I drank and I owed it to my loving family and those close to me, to stop immediately. I’d finally acknowledged the words of a friend of my mother’s who told me: “Some people can drink, you can’t”.
What was it like to stop drinking?
“I wasn’t alone”
I have no idea how long I’ve been sober for. Times and dates don’t matter to me. I’d guess about 15 years. All I know is, I’ve never touched a drop of alcohol in that time, that’s the important thing and I don’t really like the label alcoholic. Drink doesn’t agree with me and perhaps it never did. It was an addiction, an illness from which I have recovered. I am blessed and grateful to everyone who has stood by me during a long and painful journey… It was easy to give up drinking in the end. Easier than I had imagined. I just weighed up what I’d have lost – looked at my children, husband and family and photos of loved-ones who’d passed away. I looked at my home and the wonderful countryside I so enjoyed walking in nearby. They were the only prompts I needed. It doesn’t work like that for everyone but it worked for me. I was fortunate that people cared and never gave up on me. I still wonder how my family put up with me. I rarely talk about it as it’s so painful and I’m glad to have moved on but if people ask me I tell them that drink made me very ill and I feel so much better without a drink inside me. I had previously been to AA through a family friend, I was amazed how many people were there. Not the kind of people I’d imagined and seen on TV and in films but wealthy, successful people, business people, ordinary people, sports people and the vaguely famous. I wasn’t alone – that was a positive I got from AA but it wasn’t the answer to my prayers and felt there was a very long road ahead of me. I was fiercely independent and very impatient. I needed a quick fix and wanted to stop immediately – not tomorrow or the next day but there and then. For a while I looked at people drinking and wondered if they were like me or how they managed to be normal and drink within limits. I saw drink in shops and pubs – my husband had taken all alcohol out of our house – but there was no temptation there when, in my head I visualised instead the faces of my children, my husband, my late father and my grandparents. I owed it to them. My father had been proud of me, not ashamed. My children needed me more than ever and my husband had helped and coped with me to the point where I was on a last chance before he walked away and I wouldn’t have blamed him. My mother and elderly relatives who relied on me, needed me and would need me more in later life. They’d looked after me and worried about me and cried about me. How could I risk all that? I couldn’t. I didn’t. I haven’t and I am lucky. I know that and while I still carry guilt and shame for what happened and the pain I’ve caused other people, I am allowing myself to be just a little bit proud of what I have achieved.
Do you ever miss alcohol?
“[I] never feel the need to cover up the fact I don’t drink alcohol”
I can categorically say I do not miss alcohol. I can always remember a friend saying you drink when you’re thirsty. Alcohol doesn’t quench your thirst. Imagine being stuck in the desert? You’d crave water not a glass of wine. Alcohol dehydrates you and can be a depressant for some. I don’t need alcohol in my life. It made me very poorly and I don’t ever want to sink back into the hole I was in. I don’t need it to be sociable or to get me out of the house. I mix with people I want to mix with, go to places I want to go and won’t be influenced. Some people might class that as offish but I know a lot of people who are deemed to be the life and soul of the party. They’re not like that unless they’ve downed a few drinks. Looking back, I never actually liked the taste of alcohol. Water is the best medicine and there’s plenty of refreshing drinks available as an alternative. If there was one drink I slightly miss it would be a cold glass of lager on a very hot day, I did enjoy that. Zero alcohol drinks are becoming popular and I’ve had the odd zero alcohol lager but never feel the need to cover up the fact that I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t even need to think about it anymore and know I will never touch another drop of alcohol again. It’s not difficult for me, knowing it would ruin my life if I did. I wake up every day feeling the best I can be and giving the best I can give. I’ve had a few chances at life and I don’t take that for granted or risk throwing it all away.
What advice would you give someone who wants to stop drinking?
“Drinking problems don’t discriminate”
Having come through a difficult journey and quit drinking alcohol, I know I have valuable advice for someone who wants to stop drinking. Wants is they key word here. There’s a big difference between wants and should. I have a few friends and acquaintances who maybe should stop drinking, or certainly cut down but I wouldn’t tell them or interfere unless they wanted to quit. The will to give up drink needs to come from that individual person and they need to acknowledge that their drinking is becoming a problem in one way or another. It’s a road to recovery which is hard to trudge along on your own. Seek help, read about it, join groups and you’ll realise it’s very common, with more sufferers than you can possibly imagine. Class or social background is irrelevant. Drinking problems don’t discriminate. There is always someone out there who can help get you back on track. You might find cutting down is all that’s needed so try that and if that doesn’t solve the problem then quitting altogether is the next step. There’s a whole new world out there which is not the dark place you’ve been hiding in. People always say life is too short, time is precious and time flies when you’re having fun. Overused phrases perhaps, but absolutely right. Grasp the opportunity to make the most of your life, some people aren’t so lucky and don’t have that choice.
What is Christmas like for you?
“So Christmas for me is happily sober and enjoying spending time with family and friends”
Christmas can be a frustrating time for me. Watching other people on nights out can be entertaining but I also worry for some of them. They get drunk, lose their inhibitions and cry, laugh, fall over and bicker about nothing. They’re not themselves and often say things they regret or don’t even remember the next day. That was me a few years ago. Sometimes, on these occasions, it’s quite satisfying knowing I’m in control of myself and my emotions. I never have a hangover and feel much better, sleep soundly and never lose a minute of any day recovering from the night before. I think it’s sad that some people need a drink to be able to go out and socialise. I would love to tell them the consequences but you can’t give advice to a drunken person. On a positive note, I love the December run-up, meeting friends, family, going away for weekends, I enjoy going out for meals and walks on crisp, clear days. Parties always seem to revolve around drink. I’m the sober one, boring and giving people lifts home because they’re legless. I’m waiting outside while they finish yet another pint they don’t need. They’re usually off work for the Christmas holidays, yet in the jobs I’ve done, it’s always been a busy time of year. I’d rather have an early night or relaxing by reading or watching TV by the fire. Drunken people don’t understand that you might not want to play Twister at 2am while balancing a shot on your head! I know that and I try and compromise by staying out later or spending a night in a pub but I find it boring, maybe that’s me getting older as well. So Christmas for me is happily sober and enjoying spending time with family and friends over a meal or walk in the countryside.
What advice would you give for someone who is going to be sober for the first time at Christmas this year?
“The best Christmas present you can give yourself is stay[ing] sober”
Here’s some advice for anyone heading towards their first sober Christmas. You can eat, drink and be merry – just make sure the drink doesn’t contain alcohol. It’s worth double-checking the contents of the glass as some people don’t have any concept of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks. If you’re not sure, don’t drink it and order an alternative. Seize the chance to experience a lovely festive time with family and friends, where you’re in complete control of your actions and emotions. You’ll feel happier, healthier and more wide awake than the beer-swilling party-goers or those who need a drink to lose their inhibitions. Don’t be influenced by others or be cajoled into having just one drink or a low-alcohol, diluted version. Giving in to temptation could ruin a lot of hard work and determination to stop drinking. It’s not worth the risk for just one drink. You’ll be able to sit back, relax and watch other people make fools of themselves, argue or a adopt a change in personality. You can always surround yourself with those who drink in moderation, not at all or who manage to keep their faculties. You can drive to any event or party so you don’t have to rely on lifts home at silly o’clock or arriving/leaving when everyone else does. But beware of being used as a taxi service, people will be quick to take advantage of your sobriety. You’ll also relish not having a hangover or being jaded during the festive season. You’ll need to learn to politely decline or offload the free drinks or the bottle in a bag that often get gifted at this time of year. It is a learning curve but the best Christmas present you can give yourself is stay sober, banish any negative thoughts and embrace the power of positivity.
Anyone can call 111 if you need help, and always call 999 if you or someone else is in intimidate danger.