Y’all. It is December 26th and I feel like a weight has lifted. I am reveling in the magic of this morning (with a dash of grief for the death of George Michael to which I say, “F*ck you, 2016”).
I woke up, dragged my ass to the gym, made a protein smoothie and then gave myself some space to appreciate the fact that I am not in bed hungover with a slight cough from smoking because I came very, VERY close to that reality.
Everybody who celebrates (and many who don’t) have their own relationship with Christmas. Generally speaking, I like this holiday. I like the music, the baked goods, the innate warmth of it all.
For me, Christmas evokes the imagery of fireplaces, fuzzy sweaters, hot cocoa, and family. Last year was particularly great as I got to spend the holiday season in Rome with my husband, mom, and her partner.
This year, however, the hubs and I stayed in the UAE, far away from family and friends. I struggled through the entire day. Here are the three very big thorns in my side from my first sober Christmas.
I mean, last year we were in ROME! My mother and her boyfriend joined us on the trip. Neither had been to anywhere in Europe nor had they met my husband in real life so it was an extra special trip.
We spent the entire time bouncing around the city and drinking in its beauty, figuratively and literally. I’ve never seen my husband so enthralled by a place. He was snapping pictures and taking selfies (this NEVER happens) and genuinely in awe of everything around him. I’d been to Rome before, so it was nice to watch them experience the architecture, food, and art for the first time.
We ate our weight in pasta, drank fabulously cheap wine, smoked cigarettes by the Pantheon, and made good memories. This was a “successful” binge by all measures, likely because it included tons of walking and carbohydrates. Nobody got sick. No hangovers, at least nothing a slice of pizza first thing in the morning couldn’t instantly cure. We bought great hats.
I pined for that trip so much yesterday. I longed for the ability to go back and bounce around an ancient city and stop for wine and smoke without incident. At various points in the day, I started to mourn for the fact that I can never do that again.
The memory started to snowball into a bigger “thing,” like a death of sorts.
One Thing After Another
Okay, so after accepting the fact that we were not in Rome, we booked a Christmas brunch in a place that shall remain nameless.
Christmas brunches are expensive on this side of the world so we went with the best deal we could find because we wanted some traditional food and a festive scene without breaking the bank.
I put on a dress, managed some eye makeup and, along with the hubs, headed to the restaurant. When we got to the mall (everything is inside of malls here), we got rerouted inside the parking garage, somehow ending up on the complete opposite end of where we meant to go. None of the lifts were working.
My husband and I wandered aimlessly until we found some sketchy stairs to go up in order to get back to ground level. Four flights later, and me in heels, we managed to find our way to civilization.
We then meandered around the wrong part of the mall until we got our bearings and found the restaurant in the extension across the street from where we surfaced from the stairwell. By then, my anxiety had popped up to say hello and although I knew these little hiccups were not a big deal, there was a lump in my throat and I suddenly wanted to go home.
Emotions are fickle things for the newly sober. The slightest trigger can bring you to tears and that’s where I found myself. I could’ve gotten a rock in my shoe and been utterly devastated.
We soldiered on to the place only to find that it was just us and two other people. There was no buffet as advertised, and the special “festive menu” contained maybe two things I could eat (I was vegetarian at the time).
Thoroughly bummed at this point, we decided to abandon our reservation and walk out. We then proceeded to get lost (again) trying to find our way back across the street to the same sketchy stairwell that could lead us to the car, which incidentally, was nearly out of gas.
Eventually, we made it to a different mall (and a gas station) and settled on The Cheesecake Factory, which isn’t all bad I suppose. Mall #2 had a random Santa Clause walking around and a beautiful tree display, so we at least got a Diet Sober Christmas experience.
Everything triggered me yesterday. I was sad to be away from home, mostly because I have a one-year-old nephew whom I’ve only met once and wanted to be with to see him open his presents and catch some real-time giggles.
That made me want to drink.
I remembered how that Rome trip was the beginning of the end for me. After we got back from that trip, my drinking got much more frequent. That’s when the panic attacks started and my mental and physical health started to deteriorate.
The first six months of 2016 were a mix of apathy, massive weight gain, and emotional instability. I either didn’t care about anything or cared about everything in an irrationally intense way. My clothes didn’t fit, my hair was in desperate of need of a cut, and my face was constantly red and puffy. I stopped caring. As long as I could have my whiskey and cigarettes when I got home from work, my basic needs were met.
Thinking about this also made me want to drink.
Walking across the street to the grocery where I used to buy my mixers and smokes made me want to drink.
Basically, breathing air and existing on Christmas day made me want to drink. I wanted to feel like a “normal” person who could go out and partake of the boozy parties that were popping up all over the town instead of this mental wreck in yoga pants sitting on the couch eating chips and cheese dip.
But I didn’t drink.
My inner lush kicked and screamed inside me for the better part of the day and there were a couple of times I nearly gave in and said, “to hell with it. It’s the holidays! We’re on vacation! All the expats are out at the bars right now. Let’s go be among them!”
But I didn’t.
For Anyone Else Struggling To Have A Sober Christmas
I don’t have strategies for making those feelings disappear completely. There are no quick fixes, but there are some things I did to help myself out.
I took some deep breaths. I reminded myself why breaking out the bottle of Scotch in the cupboard was only going to seem like a good idea for the first couple of drinks, and then everything would go downhill from there.
(Incidentally, I had this same conversation with myself regarding whether or not to order the nachos at The Cheesecake Factory).
Thinking about these things didn’t make the urge go away and it didn’t snap me out of my cravings entirely, but it gave me the momentary relief I needed to maintain my resolve. I struggled through 70% of the day.
Despite all of that I was still fairly confident that if I could make it to bed without caving, I would wake up the next day feeling better, and so far, that’s been the case.
I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke, and this morning, I don’t feel like shit (with the exception of a tiny tummy ache from too much cheese dip and George Michael’s death). We’ll call it a victory no matter how messy.
To anyone who is experiencing the holidays sober for the first time, or maybe not the first time but is struggling anyway, I feel your pain. It’s a bit like I’m white knuckling my way through New Year’s, and maybe I am, but if it gets me there in one sober piece, so be it.
Here’s to one more week of 2016!