I was standing in a deserted church parking, freezing my ass off, wailing like a crazy woman, a couple of days after Christmas in 2010. Oh yeah, I was also talking on the phone to my ex-boyfriend from eighteen years ago (hey, his phone number was on Facebook), and oh yeah, I was drunk. Not just drunk, but “sobbing, snotty, hyperventilating, drunk-dial-your-ex-from-high-school” drunk. I knew I needed help though, which is what had led me to the church parking lot to begin with–I was trying to go to an AA meeting (my first), except it had been canceled–and it’s also what led me to call someone else to say, “please help me.”
I’m not even sure what else I said. But you know what? He listened, and I felt better afterward. I didn’t do anything stupid that night (much), and the next day, the world spun on and life continued.
In a way, it was my first AA meeting.
I needed help, I didn’t know where to get it, and talking to him for ten freezing minutes in a parking lot may have saved my life. (Which, good, because he was a shit back in high school, so I think this was Karma’s way of saying now you’re both even.)
So why am I telling you this? I’m supposed to be taking a break, I’m supposed to be on hiatus, right? Well, I am, but… Bloody hell the holidays are stressful. For everyone! You don’t have to be an addict or alcoholic or co-dependent to feel the stress and anxiety–just human. And if even just one of you needs to read this, then I need to write it. (Maybe I’m the one who needs to read this.)
Here’s what follows:
- General crisis support options and resources
- My specific sobriety-saving ideas from this year and last
- Links to UnPickled and Mr. Sponsorpants’s “Holiday Survival Guides”
- A special book offer to those facing their first sober holidays
- Stress relief in the form of Grace–a photo and video of my new zoo addition, Baby Gracie
Crisis control and support options:
First, if you need to talk to someone, about anything, and you don’t know who to call (and you don’t have your ex’s phone number), write one or both of these numbers down or program them in your phone:
1-800-273-TALK (8255) — it can be about ANYTHING. If you are stressed out and in a meltdown or crisis, call them 24/7. It’s Lifeline’s crisis hotline open to anyone.
1-800-662-HELP (4357) — this is more about Substance Abuse & Mental Health crisis, but if you’re in mini-meltdown, I’d say that qualifies as mental health, wouldn’t you? It is the number to SAMHSA’s National Helpline.
If you are outside of the US, you can look up a phone number here, or just ask me in the comments (tell me your country) and I will look one up for you.
If you’d rather chat on-line, Lifeline offers instant chat from 2 pm – 2 am eastern. Learn more here–don’t worry it won’t open a chat window, it’s just the info page. Bookmark it.
A few ideas to help you stay sober:
Holidays can be stressful. Stress can be triggering for alcoholics and addicts. Therefore, holidays can be triggering for us addicts. Right? Well, DUH. (My philosophy and logic professors would be so proud of me.) This time of year can get to anyone. It doesn’t take a college professor to know that the holidays can make Mother Theresa herself want to go postal or get smashed on spiked eggnog. It might be human nature, but it ain’t rocket science.
So how do we survive with our sobriety in tact? We do whatever we have to do. Blogger October0Nine and I wrote about this last year in our shared post “Sobriety During the Holidays.” But since then, I’ve come up with five more ideas that I haven’t seen anywhere else:
- If it’s a choice between pumpkin pie / cookies / candy / stuffing / cheese balls / Schweddy Balls / gingerbread cake / the entire gingerbread cake / an entire bag of jelly beans (the huge bag, not the tiny Jelly Belly bags) / an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s / two entire pints of Ben & Jerry’s / three entire (well, you know), _______ (insert ANYTHING here) . . . or drinking, choose the first option. ALWAYS, EVERY TIME. DRINKING IS NOT AN OPTION. Eat the sugar, it’ll be okay.
- Don’t keep alcohol in your house, if at all possible. (Yes, I know spouses and partners and roommates may make this difficult.) But if you host a holiday party or dinner and you buy a couple of bottles of wine or a case of beer for your guests, send it home with them. Or–ugh, I can’t even believe I’m going to say this–pour the left-over wine down the kitchen sink. If you don’t have it in the house, you can’t drink it.
- There is no such thing as “this is a special occasion so I guess I can just have one drink” for an alcoholic. Go eat a cookie instead. Every day of your sobriety is a special occasion, don’t reset your sobriety-counter back to zero just because you think you can handle just one or two. If you could handle one or two drinks, you wouldn’t have quit drinking in the first place.
- At holiday dinners I know you don’t want to feel awkward or different, and I know those wine glasses are so pretty, but please don’t drink out of one. This way you won’t accidentally pick up someone else’s glass of wine or vice versa, the hostess won’t top off your glass of grape juice with Merlot, an over-zealous waiter won’t keep asking you, “white or red?” Chances are you would be fine, but why leave it up to chance?
- You don’t have to be sobriety’s golden child or poster boy. You don’t have to defend your sobriety, or anybody else’s for that matter. You don’t even have to say you’re sober, you can say, “No thanks, I’m not drinking tonight.” You don’t have to speak up if someone makes a tasteless joke about addiction–which, hey, Rob Ford, it could happen–or about drinking too much. This goes against much of what I write day-to-day (be the change; silence is deadly; if nothing changes, nothing changes; etc. . .) but that’s okay. Your mission is to stay sober. That’s all. Not to be nice, not to eat like a rabbit, not to be the smiling hostess, not to be a golden child. JUST TO STAY SOBER.
Links and snippets from my post from last year, UnPickled, and Mr. Sponsorpants:
Sobriety During the Holidays (a Shared Post With “October O Nine”) via RunningOnSober:
Mark Twain (or The Bible or Abe Lincoln or somebody) once said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
I change this around during trigger situations when I need a time-out to: “It is better to be thought rude and sober than to be undoubtedly rude and drunk.” My sobriety has to come first. It’s not rude. It’s not selfish. It is life-saving. If I do not put my sobriety first, then nothing at all can come second. . . .
(Some helpful hints:) Have an exit strategy; bring your own car if possible, don’t be dependent on another if you need to extract yourself from a stressful situation. Bring your own fancy non-alcoholic beverage. The bathroom makes an excellent escape room! Have at least one person who knows that you are not drinking; give them a nod or a look if you are “having a moment.” . . .
(From October O Nine:) If this is your first sober Thanksgiving, protect your sobriety. Remember it is better to understand than to be understood. People don’t understand why you are not drinking? F `em. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself; don’t feel the obsession to be understood.
Survival Strategies for Holidays and Vacations, via UnPickled (Seven outstanding suggestions for keeping your sobriety in tact over the holidays; She always has excellent comments too, so check them out and add your own ideas):
Practice Some Lines – This sounds super corny but it is helpful: write out some ways to say “no thanks, I’m not drinking” and practice them before the event. Generally, as long as you have a glass in your hand no one will care what is in it. Still, there’s always someone who just insists on getting you something in which case you can say, “Ohhhh, I’ll have some of that delicious-looking San Pelligrino that someone [YOU] brought. Yum! Thank you!!”. If you are really pressed, just accept the drink offered and quietly set it aside and calmy WALK THE EFF AWAY. If this leaves you overly shaky, refer to items 6, 3, or 2.
Mr. SponsorPants 6th Annual Holiday Survival Guide, via Mr. Sponsorpants (I first read Mr. SP’s “Survival Guide” facing my first sober Thanksgiving and holiday season–and I didn’t drink. I read it the next year before my second sober Thanksgiving–and I didn’t drink. I’m reading–and sharing!–this year before my third sober Thanksgiving, and I don’t have any plans to drink. I’m not superstitious (much) but, hey, read it–follow it–and maybe it can work for you too. Some of it is 12-Step based, but don’t let that detract you from reading.
Here are a couple of my favorites from his guide of eighteen:
#8 – Remember, “Please pass the gravy” is not code for “Please, now that you’re sober, unload all of your pent up anger and frustration you’ve been stuffing for the past X years, right here right now, during dinner.” . . .
#12 - Remember, you may not have been such a winner yourself on past occasions — it may take a while for people to “see” who you are today. Be patient, show who you are now rather than tell who you are now, and things will eventually change.
I also love #1, #6, #10, and #13.
(SPECIAL NOTE: Did you know Mr. SponsorPants has a book out? It’s called Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA’s & Others. I’m only about 33% in–it’s a BIG book! 700+ pages–but so far I’m really enjoying it. I think he has only posted about it once on his blog. He probably won’t ask you to buy it, but I will. Please go buy his book; It’s only $3.99 on the Amazon Kindle store. I don’t know Mr. SP, and he certainly didn’t ask me to mention his book, but his blog has helped me get and stay sober, so this is my little way of saying thank-you and paying it forward. If he has helped you in any way, please do the same.
In fact, are you facing your first sober holiday season? Or your first after a slip or relapse? If you are, leave me a comment saying something like, “this is my first sober holiday season” (original, huh?) and I will gift you a copy of Mr. SP’s book. (I will email you an Amazon download code.) You don’t even have to have a Kindle, you can read it on your computer or iPhone. You just have to promise the universe that you will pay it forward and do something nice for someone else by the end of the year, okay?
Updated on 11/28: Thanks for a successful pay-it-forward book give-away. I’ve now closed new requests, but please visit the Kindle store to download your own copy.
And to close on a warm and fuzzy note, because nothing says stress relief like warm and fuzzy, meet Baby Gracie!
Gracie–yes, she’s a girl!–was born less than two days ago. I was lucky to get a video of her right after she was born (mom is cleaning her, while Grace tries to stand up) and another the next day as she came over to say hello. She’s so brave, and she has the longest eyelashes I have ever seen.
And because what are the holidays without family portraits, right?
If you have holiday survival tips, or know of other survival-type guides, please feel free to share or self-promote in the comments.
Don’t forget about the book offer; feel free to comment for any reason, but if you want the book, be sure to let me know it’s your first sober season. (11/28: book offer now closed.)
Happy Holidays to everyone. Remember, do whatever you have to do to not drink, even if that means eating the entire tray of cookies. That’s what I’ll be doing anyway. Well, that, and taking baby cow pictures. Love, Christy