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Holiday Sober Gift Giving

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When I was in college, I had a boyfriend whose family owned an enormous above ground mushroom farm. It seemed, while walking through their rambling family farmhouse, that everyone they had ever known had given them gifts that pertained to mushrooms, toadstools or any facsimile thereof. There were tea-cozy mushrooms, bar stools shaped like morels, paintings of shiitakes, embroidered Portobello pillows, salt and pepper button mushrooms and a host of other fungi swag on every flat surface in the house.

I mention this, because people give gifts they think have meaning for the recipient, and in the many years I was a boozer, I received a host of presents that indicated (in looking back) that friends and party guests thought drinking was my hobby or my avocation. In the same way my boyfriend’s house was littered with mushroom paraphernalia, I was in possession of enough wine-related gewgaws to open a curiosity shop…

I had hand painted wine glasses with catchy sayings like “Who needs a man? I’ve got wine!” and boxes of those cutesy wine charms designed to remind you that your glass is the pig, not the dog or frog (except that after five refills, you forget which charm you have, and keep asking annoyingly, “Am I a pig? Does anybody remember if I’m the pig?”). I had all manner of wine stoppers, personalized labels (Marilyn’s Merlot), wine bottle outfits and Christmas ornaments, novelty cork screws and coffee table books.

Now that I am sober, I realize it might be hard for those who would have given me, Drunk: The Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary, or a gag Hawaiian lei with tiny booze bottles nestled among the orchids, to find the perfect gift. During the holidays it is natural to proffer a bottle of wine when arriving at a party, or boxed wine glasses – especially when you’ve witnessed the hostess with the mostess-buzz, smash glasses like she’s giving the toast at a Jewish wedding. But what do you hand out when the host or hostess is a recovering alcoholic? Or if you’re in recovery and the idea of toting a liter of vodka, bedecked with a party bow, doesn’t seem like the smart thing to do?

There are two things to keep in mind when giving the perfect sober holiday gift: first, your host may not want everyone to know they are in recovery; and second, sobriety is not a job or a hobby. So don’t turn up with the newly minted, Pop Art covered Big Book and a designer AA chip unless you know your host will appreciate it; and forget the tea-towels emblazoned with aphorisms like “Sober is the New Black”.

The best gifts are always the unexpected and with all those bottles of wine in fur jackets and Santa suits you have an opportunity to stand out from the madding (and tippling) crowd. Here’s my list of great sober gifts that everyone wants (and the best news about sober gift giving and receiving is that everyone remembers the exchange: you will recall who got what, and your host will remember you were the one who gave them the coolest gift of the season):

  • A fancy bottle of flavored olive oil with a silk ribbon on the neck
  • Sea glass or shells or Petoskey stones or some other hand collected treasures in a small glass bowl wrapped in foil
  • Homemade fudge – from scratch (yes the recovering boozer needs some kind of vice…)
  • Candles: the expensive kind with the fire hazard, decorator raffia – but not vanilla or patchouli scented for God’s sake…
  • Soaps in an antique soap dish wrapped in see-through foil
  • Mushroom salt and pepper shakers
  • An elegant, hardback book (but save Blackout till the new year) – I like Dr. Seuss or Edgar Allan Poe for the holidays
  • A bottle of fancy, imported gassy water with an ironic, holiday bottle topper tied on top
  • A travel board game like Scrabble and road trip treats (Slim Jim’s and Trail Mix and Pork Rinds – oh my) in a party bag
  • A Christmas ornament that harkens to a shared experience: the Eiffel Tower, not a miniature case of Chardonnay, comprende?
  • Legos or Lincoln Logs or Paper Dolls
  • A leather bound, serious journal – wrap it like you mean it
  • A coloring book and crayons
  • A Yeti travel cup (for ice water people not a wine-roady)
  • A battery operated, hand held leaf blower or mini-vac (I’ll bet every recovering addict wants to play with one at 5 in the morning…)
  • A diamond tennis bracelet (come on I’ve been through a lot…)

You get the picture. Be creative and loving and personalize (but not with monogramming). You know, every time I write an article about an aspect of recovery, whether it is to crow about my sober awesomeness, or to rage at the heavens for the indignity of it all, or to make suggestions for great hostess gifts, I arrive at the same conclusion in the final paragraphs. Being sober (after being a 15 year drunk) is the greatest gift in the world. If you find yourself in the company of a newly sober friend this holiday season, or someone who is making sobriety work for themselves long term, hand them the perfect gift and take the time to tell them, “I’m proud of you. I’m happy for you…” and don’t forget to tell yourself the same thing…

Happy Holidays!

  • 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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