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Acing the Sober Holiday Endurance Test!

Updated on

I was stressing about Christmas to my friend David, and he interrupted me to say, “Marilyn, it’s just another day.” It stopped me in my tracks because I have never thought about the holidays that way – as if they could be approached like my recovery, one day at a time. I am a holiday catastrophic thinker and have been since my children were small. Obsessively counting their presents to make sure there were equal amounts, stringing lights to rival Martha May Who’s, running into the holiday rush like it’s an endurance test with cash prizes.

This holiday season, I am more than two years sober: well into advanced recovery. With two years of clear thinking under my belt, I am smarter and more aware of my surroundings than I have ever been. And I think David’s right – Christmastime and Chanukah and the New Year’s hoopla are all just a few more components in the one-day-at-a-time continuum. Eureka!

I am not suggesting you skip Christmas this year – turn off the lights and go on a cruise to the Caribbean like the Crumps (although that could be very nice…). I am saying treat the holidays like an endurance test: one of those races with the mud pits, or the zombies jumping out of the bushes. There will be challenges, but you are sober. You are ready for this.

On Your Mark…

  1. Stress: I used to set up a walk-in closet war room during the holidays – a place to wrap presents and sign Christmas cards with a folding table and a cooler. A sort of North Pole if the North Pole had elves who were drunk on Reindeer Chardonnay. I would drink and wrap and drink some more and stress that it wasn’t enough. Do not let this happen to you. One of the things I have learned as a sober holidaymaker, is that presents are great but corny as it sounds, family and friends are the real reason for the season.
  2. The Office/Holiday Party: I used to have a glass of wine while I was getting ready to go out (the times I had to sweep up shards of broken glass from the bathroom floor). I’d start the night with a low-grade buzz and ramp it up to drunk and disorderly by last call. God, when I think about the mornings after…a headache, the stop and go memory of what I’d said and done. If you are worried about the temptations at a holiday booze-fest, go early and leave early. Or send your regrets with a hostess gift.
  3. Gift Giving: The fallback present is always a bottle of hooch, right? If you don’t feel comfortable handling a liter of vodka in a Santa suit, give something creative and personal. We have some great suggestions for Holiday Sober Gift Giving, but the rule of thumb is: empathize, feel with the recipient, and you will never go wrong.
  4. Money: See above. If alcohol drained your resources, make fudge. String mistletoe…
  5. The Family Reunion: Who pushes buttons more than the family? And who do you want to impress most? And when do far-flung family members seem to get together? It is the trifecta of triggers – the family holiday gets together. This is not the time to “fix” years’ worth of dysfunction or “make amends”. Just keep it light. Try not to expect too much. If you have a family who drinks and it’s difficult for you, the same rules apply as the office party – arrive early and leave early.
  6. Your Higher Power: I say a rosary in the car on my way to work most mornings. It grounds me and seems to allow the important things to rise to the surface of my mind and push the unnecessary stressors to the bottom (where they belong). In the past week or so I have been using the twenty minutes it takes to get to work as a time to make mental lists or phone calls, and I am feeling a bit disconnected to God. I’m getting back to it today – getting back to remembering not to forget how important my spirituality is to my recovery – especially at this time of the year…
  7. Your Routine: Everyone in the recovery community knows the holidays can be rough for the mending alcoholic. There is a lot of great advice to be found online or in your local bookstore, about Managing Your Recovery During the Holidays. The main thing to remember is that your routine is your routine. Do not falter. It is important to your well-being and you are IMPORTANT. Got it?

Get Set… GO!

I buy myself a Christmas present every year. I wrap it and put a tag on it that says: TO: Marilyn LOVE: Marilyn. This year I gave the gift to myself early: a pair of suede, stacked heal booties. I’m wearing them now, and I can’t help but think of the metaphor: me stepping out fabulously (five inches taller), into the holiday crowds in my brand new boots, ready for the endurance test… Taking it one day, one challenge and one step at a time.

Happy Sober Holidays Everyone!

  • Marilyn Spiller
    Marilyn Spiller

    Executive Director of Marketing

    Author, Marilyn Spiller is a writer, speaker, sober coach and recovery advocate with a 20-year history of international hobnobbing and outrageous over-drinking. Five years sober, she writes a popular blog called Waking Up the Ghost, and acts as the Executive Director of Marketing for Sanford House at John Street, Sanford House at Cherry Street, and the Sanford House Outpatient Center.

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