When It Feels Hard to be Sober During the Holidays

I had 6 days of company. I helped host a crowd of 15 and also hosted a crowd of 13. I had an open door and a week-long combination of family and friends passing through. Loved ones traveled to Illinois from Colorado, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. There were people aged six to 77. Three dogs. Beautiful chaos meticulously organized. Heartfelt gratitudes shared around a table. Turkey and brisket. Ham and carnitas. Donuts and pies. Chips and dips. Charcuterie boards that went on for days. A mix of Christmas tunes playing in the background. Silver bells. Football and more football on dueling wide screens. A big batch of chili. Dolly Parton at half time. Our first snow!


Gluten Free alternatives. A Wednesday night Poker Tournament. Afternoon naps. Sharing medical test results that were an answer to silent prayers. Client’s reaching out. People achieving new alcohol free milestones and ditching the drink. Staying sober. A Friday morning Euchre game. A houseful of my daughter’s college friends piling into our freshly painted basement. Noise. More noise. Excitement. A full home tour. Games. Who’s most likely to…? A restorative yoga class with my 15 year old baby. Holding hands whenever possible during the long hold stretches in the candlelight laying on the ground. The garbage that needs to be taken out. Again. Book recommendations passed around. Taking notes. A sweet sixteen surprise birthday party. A barky little dog.


Alone time in the sauna for just a hot minute. Literally. An attempt at self care and staying intentional. A Scrabble game. Papa won. My Ditched the Drink Insider Community Members reaching out to each other. I’m struggling, need help, says one member. Support pours in. I’ve been there. Me too, the others respond before I can get to it. More toilet paper for the powder room. A cute and silly Christmas movie watched in the dark. My whole family of origin and more in full recline on the couch. Feet up. A gift of homemade banana bread sitting on the counter tempting the clever but naughty dog. Another log on the fire. Alcohol free wine chilling, always ready for sipping and sharing. Slippers. Selfies. Twinkly lights.


The Golden Bachelor opinions. We’ve all got one. Another run to the store. Another run of the dishwasher. An actual run, the annual Turkey Trot. Coffee. Can I borrow another sweater?  Three grandpa’s sharing a laugh together across the room from me. I smile to have caught the moment. Home grown pumpkin from Nanna’s garden baked into pie by my oldest. Tucking in early. Beautiful tablescapes crafted with care. Meets my approval and appreciation as hoped for. Elementary school writing on place cards. My Auntie H title makes me smile. Staying up late waiting for the big kids to roll in. High schoolers raid the fridge for leftovers late at night, long after the kitchen has been cleaned and closed. My daughter’s best friend offers praises for cooking with a bang. A hot cup of tea. Help yourself. A hanging chandelier project for Papa in my Ditched the Drink Office Headquarters. Fit for a princess.


My 9 year old nephew is dancing in the kitchen. And in the living room. And then me too. Can’t help myself. He’s contagious, in the best way. I want to bottle him up and keep him with my whole heart. Long chats in the dark, cuddling with my oldest girl. She’s wise beyond her years. She is learning to be an adult and make her own decisions. I am so proud of her. I tell her so.


Sharing Christmas wish lists in whispers strategically. Virgin Bloody Mary’s with friends. Extra olives, extra spice. Extra laughs. Matching sweatshirts dubbed our uniforms. Coloring with the kids under blankets on the screened in porch with the fire table roaring. A package arrives. More barking from the dogs, acting as top security although nobody asked for it. A bowl of mixed nuts needs to be refilled. I’ll get it. Slow dog walks in the fresh air. Fresh flowers on every table. No alarm clock. This is my favorite song. Another package arrived. Tears in my eyes. Lump in my throat. Taking pictures in my mind. Remember this moment. Remember this feeling. Remember today. Right here, right now. The missing before anyone has left. Safe travels home. Hugs goodbye. Silence. Exhausted on all levels. Empty house, full heart.


This Thanksgiving, I was overwhelmed and bored. Triggered and grateful. I felt loved and annoyed. Resentful and appreciative. FOMO and JOMO. I am still processing and letting it settle. It takes effort to be sober during the holidays. It is not easy. Drinking through the holidays had its challenges too. 


One thing I did differently this year was not beat myself up for having unpleasant thoughts. I allowed myself to think and feel what I did without trying so hard to change it. The stuffing (not the stove top kind) has created a lot of suffering in my past. Not allowing myself to be who I am or demanding that I think and feel differently than I do, has never helped me. I recognized that hosting my family creates a perfect breeding ground for my perfectionism and people pleasing behaviors to amp up. This started in preparation for their visit. When I noticed an unpleasant thought over the past week, I didn’t attach to it. I acknowledged it and let it go. I let myself think about it and I let myself feel it. I affirmed myself instead of beating myself up for it. I stayed curious instead of defensive. I didn’t react by telling myself I was wrong for any of it. It was hard. I had to practice emotional maturity, resilience, and self control. These are muscles I’ve had to build through sobriety. They are still weak at times. Getting stronger. I am learning. I can be impulsive. The people around me can be impulsive too. I had to practice restraint. At times it felt  like an emotional outburst was brewing right beneath the surface. It took so much effort to stay with myself instead of explode. In some instances whatever anyone else did seemed wrong to me for I don’t know what reason. I don’t have it all figured out. Everything bothered me. I was like a live wire. I don’t have the right answers for many things. Still, I stayed with myself. I simply stayed with myself. I didn’t abandon myself. I didn’t drink. I didn’t tell myself I was wrong. I let myself be grouchy when I was grouchy. I let myself have an unpleasant thought without berating myself on top of it. I recognized the impermanence of thoughts and of absolutely everything including life itself. I didn’t believe everything that crossed my mind was true. I just let myself be myself. I accepted the thoughts I was having without trying to change them. This made all the difference. This is the measurement of my success this holiday. Staying beside myself in my own discomfort.     


As Brene Brown says, “We have a culture of fun, fast and easy. I’ve never achieved a single thing in my career or life comfortably”. There were times the past week wasn’t fun, fast, or easy. There was a moment or two where I craved a bit of a check out or a punch up for the fun of it. At times, I thought I wanted to be like everyone else, or even who I used to be. For one second, I wanted to go back in time. I thought about holidays past. It made me think about how much has changed since I quit drinking nearly six years ago. Some of it makes me sad. How did I get here? What happened? I don’t have all the answers to many big questions. I may never get them. Holidays tend to stir up the emotions, don’t they?


I managed through it and it feels like an achievement to have been fully alive, never dulled or numbed, through the holiday once again. There are no regrets and GUS (God, Universe, Spirit) gifted me with a spectacular end to the holiday weekend on Sunday night. 

I was completely spent and exhausted after my company left but I had previously agreed to Sunday night dinner with my sober girlfriends. A Friendsgiving of sorts, with none of us hosting. This required me to get up off the couch. I had to get ready, put on real clothes and hard pants, if you know what I mean. I had to find directions and parking. Not to mention it was dark and we had our first snow of the season on the ground. It was really hard to get up and out of the house.  My car needed gas. This felt like a huge inconvenience.

I considered skipping. They would understand, but I really, really wanted to see my friends. No one gets it like they get it. We swapped turkey for tapas and met at the cutest little place in Bucktown. We shared plates. We each ordered a mocktail, some of us went crazy and had two. We lingered for hours. The waiter came with our bill but one of us assertive ones, hooted out “dessert!”  to the relief of the rest of us. Then we lingered longer and enjoyed coffee and dessert too. Each person had a chance to share what was on their mind and heart. We were each caught in a safety net of love and understanding. Our sobriety connects us beyond words, an unspoken language of knowing. We’ve traveled together on our journeys and also literally traveled together too. We have started from here and are filling each other in on past details as we go along.    

The ending to our night was spectacular when we asked a random guy at the bar to take our picture. He turned around and recognized our only single gal in the group, calling her out. 

We screamed. 

She told us they used to party together. 

We screamed. 

She told him she was sober now. 

We screamed. 

She introduced us as her sober friends. 

We screamed. 

He said he was sober too. 

We lost our ever loving minds and screamed, clapped, cheered, jumped up and down. 

At least two of us peed our pants a little. 

He showed us his sober counter. 

311 days. 

We blew the roof of that restaurant with our screams of joy.

I never felt so happy. 

We skipped to our cars feeling that happy sober glow. 


If at any point during my holiday weekend I felt a little bored, or missing out, or nostalgic for alcohol…it was worth it to stay with myself. This serendipitous connection that ended the holiday weekend was everything. This got my blood pumping more than a drink ever will. Sober people in the wild. There’s nothing like it. I almost missed it because it was hard to get off my couch and park in Chicago. Being sober means I can show up anyway. What a treat to leave with more energy than I came with.

If I had to do the whole week over again, I wouldn't change a thing. To be sober is to be alive and experience the full spectrum of thoughts and emotions. It doesn't mean fun, fast and easy all the time but it does mean continual inner growth, deeper connection with self and others, stronger intuition, and awareness when a miracle is happening in front of you and full appreciation for it. 

Happy Holidays! I am offering 8-12 meetings a month for the next few months in my INSIDER Membership Community along with Masterclasses, and 24/7 connection on a mobile app. I hope you'll consider joining us here.


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