Christmas shopping followed by drinking alone.
Hanging out in a dive bar where the cocktail waitresses had Santa hats on.
Making jokes about having a “White Christmas” while snorting cocaine in the bathroom of a dingy Hollywood gay bar.
While I’m not exactly Julie Andrews and these are not exactly my favorite things (which is still not a Christmas song, by the way) these are definitely real life ways I used to spend my holiday season. Being not only a person who struggled most of his adult life with drugs and alcohol but also a person with depression, the holidays when I was using always wreaked with a fake scent of desperation to make things look merry and bright when the reality was I was dying on the inside. I wanted to be present for holiday functions, to buy perfect gifts for people and to generally nail all things holiday but I just couldn’t. When I finally got sober in 2009, I knew everything had to change—including how I celebrated the holidays.
It should be noted that my sobriety date is January 2nd, which means that even in my hot mess alcoholic state, I knew maybe trying to get sober during the holidays might be a terrible idea.
I am, after all, a very festive person at heart.
Whether it’s Christmas or Flag Day or Tuesday, yours truly was always ready to turn anything into a booze-soaked, drug-fueled party. Thus trying to stay clean during the most wonderfully drunk time of year would be tough.
That first year sober, I turned down all kinds of offers to be around drunk friends decking the halls. I said no to family things that would be triggers. I even said no to a few sober parties because I felt too awkward and frankly too sad to be around people. For an eternal people pleaser like myself, saying no to party invitations was hard. What if people were mad that I wasn’t coming? What if I said no and never got invited anything ever again? What if I said no, only to regret it later and come down with a very special Christmas edition of FOMO? Yeah saying no was tough at first but 100% worth it. What replacing “ho, ho, ho” with “no, no, no” did was it allowed me to make the holidays totally my own and come up with new traditions.
As I write this, I have a freezer filled with sugar cookies, lemon bars and other treats ready to be popped in the mail and sent to family and friends around the country. To say that baking is an obsession of mine is an understatement. I always loved it but as I got sober baking became therapeutic and something that helped me calm down. Turns out, I’m not alone as baking as therapy has become somewhat of a trend. People all over are finding zen by spending time with their oven and I am certainly one of them. There’s something incredibly gratifying about baking something and sharing it with people you love. Therefore, my holiday tradition of baking treats and giving them away is one of most my cherished activities of the year. This year, I went a tad over the top, in true addict fashion, and read all kinds of cookie articles and researched the best sorts of tins to mail. Like I said, I’m obsessed but it sure beats day drinking and listening to Bing Crosby.
Another favorite new sober tradition of mine is flocking together with likeminded people. Whether it’s for a meal or some sort of festive outing, surrounding myself with other sober people during the holidays is paramount. The social calendar for clean and sober people around this time of year can be intense because of this very thing. We need one another more at this time of year and I try to attend other people’s sober functions and host some of my own too. This year, for the second year in a row, my husband and I had sober friends over for Thanksgiving. For an amateur Martha Stewart like myself, Thanksgiving is like the Oscars. But it wasn’t even about my four side dishes and three different desserts. What made it special was the people. All of them were sober and, like my husband and I, not from Portland. So our sober orphans Thanksgiving was perfect and a tradition I hope goes on forever.
A holiday season without hangovers, guilt and family obligation means I get to do whatever I want to on Christmas day and what I always want to do is go to the movies. For several years in a row, my husband and I have eaten brunch and then gone to the movies. Sounds simple enough but what’s special about it is it’s a tradition that belongs to us and is authentically me. How many years did I take my hungover ass to things I didn’t want to go to? How many times did I dishonestly agree to go to things all in the name of approval? No more! This little movie and brunch tradition is powerful because it’s real, low-pressure and all ours.
The best thing about finding new holidays traditions in sobriety for me is that I get to reframe the entire holiday experience. Like the rest of my life, the holidays can look however I want them to now that I don’t drink or use drugs. Granted, the halls of recovery are filled with hype about how horrible the holidays are and a lot of it is justified. We have the ruined office parties and knocked over Christmas trees in our past to prove it. But just because it was that way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. So I can saddle myself with this idea that the holidays are hard and terrible and stressful now that I don’t drink. Or I can can bake up a storm, eat mashed potatoes with sober friends and head to the movies. I think my choice is clear.