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6 Essential Tips for Your First Sober Holiday Season

Ten years ago this Christmas day, Lulu Jane*, 41, said goodbye to her mother, who died after an off-and-on battle with breast cancer.

Married just one month, she remembers flying home for a lot of crying, drinking and reuniting with family and old friends.

“Honestly, the reunion-part was fun,” she said. “But, I drank even more that Christmas than I did on a daily basis and my mom’s death fueled the drinking. As a result, I don’t think that I’ve ever really grieved.”

…I drank even more that Christmas than I did on a daily basis and my mom’s death fueled the drinking… I don’t think that I’ve ever really grieved.-Lulu Jane

Describing the holidays since her mom died as a “shit show,” she said that she and her husband would stay up late wrapping gifts and drinking loads of wine. They’d get up early Christmas morning with the kids…and eventually start to drink.

“By Christmas evening, I’d be drunk,” she said, emphasizing that the holidays always seemed unusually hard for her. It seemed that she was always suffering. But she now understands that she was caught in that loop of drinking and then feeling sad and hung over. Then, more drinking and feeling sad and hung over.

But Lulu Jane is hopeful that this year will be different. Last January 19, 2014, Lulu Jane had what she expects, what she prays, will be her last drink. She joins the growing legion of sober men and women who will march into this holiday season for the first time, closely guarding their new-found sobriety.

She joins the growing legion of sober men and women who will march into this holiday season for the first time…-Polly E. Drew

And the sobriety battlefield is loaded with land mines in the form of glistening jewel-colored drinks that seem to shout, “drink me.”

The days leading up to the holidays, dark and cold in most of the country, weaken even those with the strongest resolve. On quiet nights, many of us are on our butts with a bowl of chips in our lap. For seasonal celebrations, there are parties laden with rich food and booze.

This is all topped off by the fact that the holidays are loaded with memories of familiar customs, stories of our ancestors and our own desires to make this year’s holidays memorable and, yes, perfect.

But striving for perfection never works. It leaves us with an additional burden: achieving something nebulous.

Lulu Jane is combating this elusive quest by letting herself off the hook big time. She realizes that, as a mom, she has an opportunity to see the holidays through the eyes of her children, 8 and 4. She is determined to make sure that this year her vision is clear.

This holiday is different.

“I’m taking it one day at a time,” she said, reciting the Alcoholics Anonymous mantra that emphasizes the importance of staying in the present. Giving yourself a mantra is an easy technique to keep you focused.

Here are some other suggestions to help you walk the walk of sobriety through this holiday season:

  • Take stock of your strengths and all that you know to be good and true. Making a simple list of things that you can count on, and are grateful for, strengthens your resolve to live your best life.
  • Take care of someone else. The fastest way to get out of your own aching head is to evoke empathy. When you reach out and touch another’s soul, you feel more alive.
  • Constantly use the acronym H.A.L.T. to assess weak spots. Ask yourself, am I feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired? One or all of these can sneak up and undermine. Simply knowing that you are, for instance, hungry can help put snacks at the ready. Tired? Get plenty of sleep. Angry? Breathe, say a mantra or give yourself a break. Lonely? Make a gratitude list and help another.
  • Have the phone numbers handy of supporters and friends in sobriety you can text or call. The craving to drink could come out of nowhere and it’s helpful to talk about that unease with another who understands until the craving passes.
  • If necessary, leave the tempting, trigger-y situation you are in and change your surroundings. It’s okay. The world will go on even if you step out.
  • Make new traditions by doing one thing in a different manner this holiday season.

Change is hard and sometimes risky. And alcohol is false liquid courage.

But being sober is truly brave.

*Name and identifying details have been changed for anonymity.

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