The Holiday Season, Sober

jingle with wineLast year at this time I found every good excuse to make every night Friday night. After all, it’s the holidays! Holiday Shopping? A nice IPA with lunch. Trimming the Christmas tree? Well, that calls for some adult egg nog or spiked cider! Listening to Christmas music by a fire? Sounds like I need a holiday cocktail… Manhattans on date night, dirty martinis with the ladies… Anyway, you get the idea. It wasn’t a holiDAY it was a SEASON and the season was the reason for the drinkin’.

I started to dread events. I knew I would overdo despite all my best intentions going into it trying to moderate. I didn’t know how to abstain and the idea of that made me really sad. I didn’t feel like any nice scene was complete without a drink in my hand to make it perfect. I bought in to all the marketing hype that alcohol is necessary for a good time. Even when I did successfully moderate by my standards, it was too much.

I spent so much of my time trying to catch up. I needed alcohol as my social lubricant and I used social events as an excuse to drink. I started to hate myself. I felt like I was on a merry round of self loathing. I would sometimes wake up at 3am, immediately filled with dread. I would lay there on my sweat drenched pillow taking a mental inventory of the night before. I would search my memory for details, with my hands shaking, head pounding, chest aching and wonder why? Why did I do it again? At what point in the evening did I decide to have that one drink too many?

Since the last holiday season was a huge reason I decided to give up alcohol all together before I really had a problem (One might think reading this that I obviously did have a problem, but I wasn’t so sure. I felt like I was just keeping up with the crowd) I’m spending a lot of time comparing this year to last. Last year was the first year I didn’t do Christmas cards in a very long time. I just couldn’t get it together in time to do it. When you’re spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking it makes it hard to have time for the other things in life.

This year I ordered my Christmas cards on Black Friday. I am so on top of it! Things I dreaded in the past like our advent calendar (where my kids have developed high expectations) and that mischievous elf that needs to move around every night, I’m totally looking forward to this year.

I love that my cider and eggnog will be a treat, unspoiled by the taste of liquor and I love that my kids can share whatever I’m drinking with me. I enjoy a nice kombucha in a pretty glass but I know that’s not what makes the evening perfect. It’s being present for all this amazing time I’m getting to make magical while my kids are still young. It’s long dark hours snuggled up on the couch in Christmas jammies with my family, watching our favorite holiday movies. It’s meditating on the sparkling lights on the tree and reading classic holiday stories to my kids. All those things are what makes an evening perfect. And I must add, waking up hangover free after a full night’s sleep never, ever gets old.

Now have more, authentic fun than before. I laugh harder, feel more joy, and I also experience my anxiety, disappointment and pain without numbing so I can actually process it and let it go.

It’s a glorious feeling to be free. Sobriety is the best gift I can give myself for Christmas. This year of self discovery and growth has been my best year yet. I have more self confidence, love and acceptance than I can ever remember having. This leads me to stand up for myself. I am no longer left feeling like a shrinking violet.

This isn’t to say it hasn’t been hard. Any major life change and habit change is difficult. At times it’s been so crushingly hard that all I could do was hide on the bathroom floor and text a friend or go to bed. Those days and feelings always ended and I learned that feeling bad isn’t wrong and it’s not necessarily an emergency. I don’t need to quickly cover it up. There’s a huge amount of people, within my friends and family and also within the greater recovery community online, that are available to help.

And you know what? I have yet to wake up at 3am full of self loathing and regret that I am sober.

I hope these holidays find you appreciating the small joys that this magical season can bring. Happy Holidays.

Disclaimer: I didn’t drink every day. I didn’t always drink excessively. I often had a glass of wine with dinner and that was it. But I too often engaged in “risky drinking” that left me feeling sick. Everyone has a different relationship with alcohol. I feel lucky that I ended mine before it was much harder to do so.

Pink Cloud

Recently, I was asked about my thoughts on the “Pink Cloud,” that feeling of euphoria some people feel after they quit drinking.

When I first quit drinking I felt like I had discovered this great big secret to happiness. I wanted to tell everyone I met, “I quit drinking and it’s amazing! You should try it!” But I quickly learned that other people do NOT want you to tell them how awesome it is to quit drinking. They are SO uncomfortable with your new found sober glow. People are either uncomfortable on your behalf, like you’ve just admitted to having a problem and that’s embarrassing for you and them. Or, they feel like you are holding up a mirror to them and judging their own drinking habits and they become quite defensive. So, I learned, probably by alienating a great many people, to mostly keep quiet about it, and instead I write about it here.

So, yes I did feel the Pink Cloud and I loved it! I think it peaked for me around 3 months, alcohol free. I’m almost 11 months now. I was just SO happy to be sober (still am). I think of the Pink Cloud as the honeymoon phase of sobriety. It just felt so good, not feeling bad. Now, thankfully, feeling good is my new normal.

Some people feel really let down when the Pink Cloud passes, like it was a fake. But I would hope that being alcohol free and all the benefits, become normal. It’s like the first rush of being in love. In the beginning it’s all butterflies and sunshine, and then that love grows into a normal everyday feeling. It’s not new and exciting anymore but it’s just as good, or even better, in a different, more stable way, if you can appreciate it.

My Pink Cloud dissipated when my Dad’s cancer quickly worsened and he passed away. I had to deal with all my grief without an easy out. There was no way for me to numb my pain. I had to move through each raw feeling as it hit me, process it and let it go. That was around 7 months sober for me. Now, 4 months later, I am so glad that I was present and able to go through each moment, awake, and also so grateful for my sister, who has handled everything beautifully, as she’s done my whole life.

So, don’t fear the passing of the Pink Cloud. Maybe it means that you are settling into your sobriety and you can start to feel more confident in your new relationship with yourself, being alcohol free. Maybe it means you’re getting a little bored and you need to seek out some new tools to help you refocus on gratitude. Who knows, what goes up must come down. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Did you experience any version of the Pink Cloud? I’d love to hear about it.