Sung to the tune of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” with the same level of nostalgia and hopefulness…
This will be my fourth sober holiday season. I am grateful and clear-eyed and, well, nostalgic. Remembering some of the drinking traditions I used to have when I was a partier. That’s the rub for someone like me. There are still residual sounds and smells and sights that remind me of the times I was “happily” imbibing.
Committed to My Sobriety…
Let me explain. I am committed to my sobriety, but my brain still waffles occasionally. The pathways I formed in my days of drinking alcoholically, still fire – cue, response, perceived pleasure – at the weirdest of times. It is when I am most grateful for my resolve. And for the tools, I have in my good ole sobriety tool belt. (Think shiny, patent leather-like Santa’s.)
My son used to say that whenever he opened a certain teak cabinet in my condo, it smelled “like Christmas”. It’s where I kept the Spode, holiday china and the candlesticks. And the wine glasses emblazoned with wreaths of holly. The olfactory senses are some of the strongest triggers to memory. My son was recalling the smell of spruce and teak wood, and salivating at the thoughts of Christmas Eve, turkey dinner. Anticipating the opening of the perfect gift, even in July.
It’s classical conditioning, just as primal as Pavlov’s dogs. And an alcoholic has been conditioned to remember the perceived pleasure of a glass of plonk. After all, I used to drink a bottle of champers every Christmas Eve as I wrapped presents. I also drank mimosas while the children opened their gifts Christmas morning. I downed a bottle of red wine with lunch. Those are memory pathways that I’m still working to repair.
So, What’s an Alcoholic to Do?
I keep most of my holiday decorations in an air-conditioned storage space in Ponte Vedra, Florida. I go to get them out for what my children and I call “the high holidays” – the time between Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
It’s a bit of a sticky wicket for me, because so many of my holiday memories past are wrapped up (pun intended) in the trappings of my previous alcohol consumption. These days, I am more inclined to crave peppermint bark than a glass of chardonnay. But, occasionally, I will get an out of the blue, punch in the gut, craving for wine. I hate when that happens.
Here’s What I Do When a Holiday Craving Hits:
Stop, Drop and Roll
By the way, the longer I am sober the less frequently this happens. But, the best thing to do when you open the box with the red and green champagne glasses (jingling with cute little charms on the stems) is stop. Take a minute and think about the way your head hurt on that holiday morning, five years before. Think about how drinking was not a choice…
Play it Forward
You’ve heard it before, but one of the best things you can do when your brain tricks you into remembering your substance use disorder fondly is play the scenario through to its inevitable end. The reason there are 8 wine glasses in the set of 12 you are unpacking, is because you dropped them when you fell. In front of the kids. And they are so proud of you now…
Go Out for a Run
There is so much scientific evidence that proves physical exercise can help rewire the brain and meliorate some of the impact of previous substance use. After you have strung the lights, or placed the menorah get outside for a long walk, run, snowshoe, skate or baby carriage push. Physical activity in the bracing air will cure A LOT of ills.
Do Something You Couldn’t Do When You Were Bombed
Do you know what a Bongo Board is? That’s in my storage space too. It’s a surfboard on a dowel, you balance on. Drag that thing out and be awesome. Or do something else you couldn’t do if you were inebriated. Balance. And remember that in the final days of your active addiction, you had no balance. You had no memory.
Be Loud and Proud
Allow yourself to be proud. That you resisted buying the $3,000 puppy this year (even though it was adorable). That you attended the office party and are not the topic of conversation around the water cooler… That you feel better, look better and are no longer the relative who must be explained.
Just Say, “No!”
When I was new to sobriety, and a craving would hit, I would shout out loud (no matter where I was), “NO!” That worked for me. But what I want to tell you, is that sobriety is not some test of will or a contest with prizes. You should feel free to say “no” if you feel like a situation or a group of people is a danger to your sobriety. Being sober is the gift. Protect it.
And here’s the good news about facing your triggers and your memories. The simplest and best way to break the trigger-response connection is repeated exposure without the reward. So, unpack away! Remember till the cows come home! Just don’t act on it…
This holiday season, I look forward to all the sounds, smells, tastes and sights. I am excited to form new memories I can unpack next year. I have surrounded myself with people who support my sobriety and who love the sober me. And I avoid those folks who don’t. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy myself. The fact is, everyone, says I am more fun to be around these days.
I’ll be sober for the holidays. And for all the moments and memories to come…
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