It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving and we just returned home to the midwest from a road trip to visit family in Colorado. The good news is, us parents and 2 teenage daughters survived 16 hours in the car together. Twice in one week. In our regular life we don’t spend so much time in such close quarters so it was actually kind of nice to be huddled up together and enjoying each others’ company.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving has apparently been labeled “Blackout Wednesday” because it is the biggest drinking night of the year. Some say it tops even New Years Eve. I can definitely relate to this. When I was in college, it was the best night of the year to party back in my hometown. When my kids were young, we put them to bed and hosted a neighborhood late night poker party. I have sat at a Thanksgiving table more than once looking at all the food and wondering how I was going to shake off my hangover and enjoy the offerings.
After a few alcohol-free experiments, I quit drinking for good 2 years ago. I have never felt better. At first, its daunting to think about how you will get through the holidays without the crutch of alcohol. It can feel like everyone over indulges during this time, almost like it is required to tolerate your family, celebrate, and socialize. In years past I have rolled through the holidays exhausted from one party to the next. I was just simply going through the motions, usually with a slight hangover, easily cured by “hair of the dog” day drinking at the next event. The holiday offers morning drinking for normal drinkers. Champagne in your orange juice, Bailey’s in your coffee, or even some Chardonnay is all acceptable before 10 am during the holidays.
I would arrive to an event and feel relieved to see the wine set up and the glasses poured upon arrival. It meant I wasn’t the only one who needed or wanted alcohol. Some of my parties discreetly had whiskey set next to the soda so you could add your own booze without judgement. I liked that too.
I was dragging myself through the holidays from one party to the next. I was always running on empty, trying to cure the hangover from the night before so I could retox with the party I was headed to. I was stressed out. I was angry. The holidays bring up so much grief, anxiety and sadness and alcohol added fuel to those feelings that I didn’t have time to process so I drank them down and put a smile on my face.
I was always trying to catch up with myself. Overeating to soak up the booze in my stomach. Staying in bed as long as possible each morning, saying I was “treating myself”. Taking the day (weeks) off my exercise routine. “The Holidays” is the perfect excuse for everything.
By the time New Year’s Day rolled around I was so exhausted, usually sick and always hungover it was so easy to say “I am never drinking again!”. “The Holidays” did me in. Even as a drinker, my body and mind could not handle day drinking and endless socializing for weeks on end.
Now that I have quit drinking I have a whole new perspective. My time off is spent nourishing myself and those around me. I prioritize my well being and not mindlessly, robotically, go through the motions of the holiday.
As with my recent trip to Colorado, I realized it is possible to stick to the routines and rituals that work for me, even when visiting family, or having a different schedule. I was able to continue to enjoy my routine of journaling, and reading a daily devotional each morning. This put me in the best space to appreciate my family. By addressing and clearing out negative emotions first thing in the morning, I was able to be more thoughtful and compassionate with my family, and myself throughout the day.
I moved my body for 30 minutes a day. Somedays that was locking myself in a room for a short yoga sequence, and some days that was a walk in the snow with my dog. Some days a family member joined me and some days I was alone. Fresh air and exercise was a great way to release emotions, and practice gratitude.
My diet was normal. I didn’t over indulge in anything. I enjoyed ice cream, pumpkin cheesecake, deep fried cheese curds, and candy. These treats all tasted delicious. I didn’t feel guilty for eating any of it. I didn’t have too much. I didn’t feel sick, too full, or guilty afterwards. I filled up on mostly fruits and vegetables the entire time. I also enjoyed my favorite dips with chips and all the other goodies as well. This was because I know what food makes me feel good mentally and physically. Overindulging in junk food is not considered a treat for me anymore. My perspective has changed. I used to shovel all the junk food in during the holidays as a reward. This left me feeling sluggish, guilty, and sick to my stomach. That is not a treat. Feeling nourished and taking pleasure in tastes is a treat.
I stuck my sleeping schedule. There was no “pushing through” or late nights. I simply went to bed when I was tired and looked forward to every morning. In holidays past, I would stay up past midnight to bond with someone over more drinks only to not remember any of our conversation when I finally rolled out of bed feeling terrible the next day. More times than I can count, I woke up in a panic of shame and regret that I over shared or said something that I didn't mean.
It is possible to go to bed when you are tired and wake up early without an alarm, even on vacation time.
I have returned home energized, because I allowed myself to relax. I enjoyed slow mornings and time off work. I connected with my family. I was present for all the special moments together. I enjoyed the tastes of Thanksgiving. I always had something to sip on too. Warm mulled alcohol free wine, sparkly alcohol-free champagne, hot peppermint tea, French roast coffee from my French Press, blueberry iced tea, spiced apple cider, and even a fizzy diet Dr. Pepper fountain soda on the drive.
If you tense up wondering how you will “get through'' The Holidays”, I want you to know there is another way. You can prioritize yourself. You can use the time off work to relax. You can feel energized and appreciative. It all starts with putting your needs first. You don’t have to be a martyr to your mother in law, your brother, or your oldest daughter. You can step away and take alone time as needed. You can stick to routines and rituals that work for you. You can be flexible about your schedule too and show compassion for anxious relatives trying to control situations, especially if the anxious relative is you.
The last 30 days is the best time to invest in yourself. If you want to start the New Year in the best possible condition, you can prepare right now by signing up for Ditched the Drink Jumpstart. “The Holidays” is the absolute best time to take a break from alcohol. You will learn to prioritize your own boundaries and self care. It is not easy but with my support, your head will hit the pillow every night full of pride in yourself. Is there any better way to start the new year than healthy, confident, and energized? I don’t think so.
This year I have signed up for two online self growth challenges, read two self help books in the last week, subscribed to online yoga. I am also challenging myself to eat healthy and stop complaining. It feels so much better to take life by the horns instead of letting life take me. Now, I am off to a Before the Madness Gong Bath Meditation, a new experience for me.
If you are struggling through your days, consider there might be another way to live in flow. For me that started with ditching the drink.