I believe one of the most difficult things we go through as sober people is acclimating to life.

By this, I mean learning how to move through the world without using drugs and alcohol as a means to an end. During my drinking years, I used booze to socialize, to get through birthdays, holidays, and weddings. Going through these events sober for the first time was weird. Not to mention, as a society, we build events about alcohol. Think about it—weddings have open bars, birthdays are held at bars and nightclubs, and holiday parties are garnished with cocktails and holiday-themed drinking games. It’s close to impossible to find an alcohol-free event. But what is it about the holidays that makes it hard without alcohol?

The holidays and booze are intertwined

Family gatherings are often associated with alcohol and food. “Eat, drink, and be merry,” is a phrase we’re used to hearing and it most definitely rings true during the holiday season.

It starts with Halloween; who can wear a crazy costume without liquid courage? Then it moves onto Thanksgiving, a feast for everyone and the biggest drinking day of the year (Thanksgiving Eve). Then as the December holidays approach, we’re bombarded by spiked egg nog, wine, and imbibing with loved ones. New Year’s Eve is another holiday littered with champagne, parties that last into the night, and the “glamor” of alcohol.

According to the NIAAA, during the holidays 2-3 times more people die in alcohol-related crashes and 40 percent of traffic fatalities involved a driver who is impaired by alcohol.

Even though the holidays are a time of joy and gratitude, they can also be stressful. Alcohol and drug abuse can actually spike during the holiday season. Studies show that depression, drunk driving accidents, suicide, and domestic violence increase during the holidays. Many of these incidents are tied to alcohol and drug use. Even though many people use alcohol or drugs to decrease their stress levels, these substances can actually increase stress, especially during the holidays. Binge drinking and drunk driving also increase during the holiday season. According to the NIAAA, during the holidays 2-3 times more people die in alcohol-related crashes and 40 percent of traffic fatalities involved a driver who is impaired by alcohol. It’s no secret that the holidays and booze are intertwined.

Why the holidays are hard without booze

For those of us who probably indulged too much during the holidays, these certain times of the year without alcohol can seem overwhelming. I lived for bar nights on Thanksgiving Eve, New Year’s parties, and mimosas on Christmas morning. It’s not unusual to feel sad or lost without booze around the holidays. It may have been the way you dealt with stress, the way you coped with family and loved ones, or with loneliness or depression that came out around the holidays. Now that you’re sober you will have to build new holiday traditions without alcohol. This might take some time. You might have to sit out some of your favorite holiday parties, but this is preferable to relapse.

When you grow up and spend many years of your life believing alcohol makes the party fun or bearable, it can take a while to undo these assumptions. It might feel like a loss or that you’re missing out and these feelings can be painful. It’s best to be honest about these feelings, acknowledge and honor them, and realize that they are temporary. One of the most notable epiphanies I’ve had in sobriety is realizing that I can do anything without booze, including attend any holiday event. Knowing that sobriety is difficult and the holidays are difficult, you’ll have to be gentle with yourself while you go through this experience.

How you can separate yourself from the booze during the holidays

Since you’ve been taught by society and your environment that the holidays are built around alcohol, you’ll need to learn how to separate the two. Repeat after me: I do not have to drink.

You can leave any place that makes you feel uncomfortable, even a family gathering because sometimes that’s what we have to do in order to protect our sobriety.
It’s still possible to get through the holidays, work, have fun, and visit with friends and family all while drinking water instead of alcohol. It might seem impossible or pointless at first, but this is a new normal that you will adjust to. Remember, there are healthy ways to cope with stress, to express your emotions, and to make it through the holidays.

Try exercise, meetings, speaking with a friend, meditation, or yoga. Have a plan in preparation for the upcoming months. Think about what you’re going to do and how, ahead of time. Find a community that supports your decision not to drink, whether that’s an AA group, a SMART recovery group, fellow sober people online, or your closest friends. You need to remember you aren’t alone on your journey and there is always help available.

Although it can feel overwhelming, you can get through the holidays sober, even if it’s hard. There will always be hard times in life, especially in sobriety. That’s just how it is. The best you can do is be prepared for what may happen ahead of time so you can deal with the difficulties head on. The holidays should be about joy and cheer, not alcohol and regret.

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