I am currently eight months alcohol-free.
Until now, aside from a bumpy start, I’ve been on cloud nine about sobriety. If you know someone in recovery, you may have heard of “The Pink Cloud.” It’s essentially the feeling of elation that comes with living substance-free. It’s also something I never would have believed if someone told me I couldn’t have wine for a week, let alone months.
Life without booze sounded more like pink slime than a pink cloud. Yet here I am, coasting toward a year of abstinence and happier and healthier than ever.
However, here come the holidays. I must admit that even in my high-on-life haze, I’m getting a little edgy as the season of drinking—I mean, giving—draws near. Ice storms, gridlock, traveling, and family will all, no doubt, be triggers. I’ve been working on dealing with negative triggers since day one, but there’s one part of drinking that I haven’t visited in a while: the part of me that just freaking loved it.
The mistletoe, the merriment, the memories—all made while sipping a good ole fashioned cup of cheer. It tastes good, it feels good, and damn it, it just is good. Right?
It sure seemed that way for a while. In fact, if I was back in my regular drinking days and was even considering quitting, I would say what you are likely thinking: wait until January. Duh.
But before you put that thought on the 2019 burner, let me give you some helpful advice that I, too, need to remember in this early season of sobriety.
First of all, there’s never an ideal time to abstain. There will always be an upcoming holiday, a stressful day around the corner, someone’s wedding, a Friday. So, if you’ve got leaving (the booze) on your mind, just do it. It doesn’t get easier in January. It also doesn’t get harder. Every day, no matter the month, is an opportunity to create a whole new story for yourself.
This time one year ago, a fireplace meant one thing to me: Fireball whiskey—followed by the trademark holiday headache come morning. This year I get to rediscover what an evening in front of a fireplace means to me. My hunch? It’ll still equal warmth and memories. Only this time, they’ll be the kind I can remember.
Second, trust the process. I have to tell you that, for years, I would not trust anything but what I already knew: that things were too stressful, my anxiety was unmanageable, and liquor was quicker. I did not see how I could ever unearth myself from the overwhelming rubble that was my life to take care of everyone else if I didn’t at least have that to get me through.
Gals, I’m here to tell you, that whole “wine is how we manage like ladies” thing is a lie. Being present, feeling healthy, and being “you” again is more exciting and thrilling than any Bordeaux-fueled buzz. It’s empowering, exhilarating, and dare I say—sexy. But you have to be willing to trust the process. Lean into it. Your sober self won’t let you fall.
Third, make yourself a plan. Stat. Don’t sashay into back-to-back holiday parties thinking you’ll just wing it. You won’t. So don’t. The key to staying on course is preparation, so go through different mental scenarios and know what you’re going to do and say before it even happens. Here are a few helpful tips:
1. Just say no. Gracefully passing on the Pinot can be challenging, especially in the beginning, but remember this: saying “no” gets easier with practice. Have your go-to script locked and loaded.
>> “I’m good, thanks. I’m kicking off my January detox early this year!”
>> “Actually, I’ve been feeling a little sluggish from all the indulging lately. Think I’m gonna take it easy tonight.”
>> “I’m driving/counting calories/on antibiotics/drinking more water/allergic/starting a Morman revolution.”
I don’t necessarily condone fibbing, but in the case of sobriety, I don’t care if you have to tell a white Christmas lie or two. If it keeps the pushers at bay and your end goal in tact, use it. Your health and how you feel tomorrow is far more important.
And my personal, groundbreaking favorite way to get out of drinking: “No, thanks.” Smile. Ask if the Gouda is goat’s milk. Move on.
2. You were a Girl (or Boy) Scout once—prepare. This is a must. Before I go anywhere I know what time I’m leaving and I make it known before I even arrive. Historically, I have a hard time saying setting boundaries, so now I accept invitations with the conditions built in: “I’ll be there from 6-8 p.m. Looking forward to it!”
I also recommend an “escape accomplice.” Share your goal with someone you trust and have them back you up, play bad cop, and help keep that exit plan in place.
3. The gift of gab. Come ready to talk—about anything else. Most people won’t be phased, but some will be intrigued and ask why you aren’t drinking. Refer to your script and then move the conversation along. Think, in advance about who will be there and what kinds of things you can ask them, so you don’t leave room for interrogation or peer pressure.
Have your conversation topics ready. People love to talk about themselves—especially after they’ve had a few.
4. Fake it ’til you make it. In other words, act natural. Even though this may be new to you, it doesn’t have to be awkward. The more at ease you look and feel, the more you and others will be comfortable. So try to relax with it. If you feel like you’re missing a limb, keep a glass in your hand. Just make sure you monitor your own refills.
5. They just wanna. Have fun. This is a health decision, not a death sentence. Enjoy yourself. Bring a board game, dance, strike up conversations with new people. You’ll be surprised how much fun it is to be in control and regret-free.
The decision, as always, is yours. You can drink if you choose. Abstinence is simply an alternative; an exercise in doing and feeling something differently that you may have done and felt before. If abstinence is your choice, own it. Feel good about it.
I’ll promise you one thing: sober people rarely wake up with regret or shame for booze-bingeing on fast-food, drugs, or risky sex. I don’t know about you, but I never once woke up with a raging hangover and thought, “Damn, I look hot today.” It’s sobriety that’s sexy. Especially the morning after.
Still unsure? I’ll leave you with this: if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. Do it. You’ll have it.
*Disclaimer: The decision to stop drinking is serious and may require medical supervision. Consult your doctor before making any significant lifestyle changes.