The Queen of Quality Street

THRIVING DURING AN ALCOHOL FREE CHRISTMAS

Let’s get something straight from the off: I’m not interested in just ‘surviving’ this Christmas with my sobriety intact at the end of it, dragging myself through it, kicking and screaming,  feeling hard done by, drowning in FOMO.  An alcohol-free Christmas is not a punishment for some imagined wrong-doing, it’s a choice.  A choice that makes me and everyone I love, feel better for it.  I don’t want to survive this Christmas, I want to thrive, confident that I have the tools to enjoy it, to love it. To love it like an eight year old loves it, for the sheer fact that it’s Christmas and it can be a special time of year. 

That said, let’s also get something else straight from the off: Christmas can be difficult at the best of times, especially when, if like me, this will be your first sober festive period – not exactly my first, I was definitely a sober toddler, but probably my first without getting drunk at some point since I was about fifteen.  Not drinking in general can be difficult at the best of times but especially so when we’re bombarded by marketing messages that Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Baileys in constant accompaniment. 

With these things in mind and the fact that 2020 has already been a terrible year without me adding a hangover-ridden December to round it off, I thought I’d compile some top tips. Things I’m actually going to do, to enjoy the festivities without alcohol.  If you are reading this and about to embark on an AF Christmas yourself, pat yourself on the back, for if you are reading this, it is because you value your own sobriety and remaining AF at this time of year is clearly important to you.  So what can we do to make sure we enjoy ourselves whilst all the time being armed against The Wine Witch?

  1. The Decision: Remaining AF throughout Christmas is my absolute non-negotiable:

When you quit drinking you can experience a sense of euphoria and your self-belief can sky-rocket.  Suddenly your life is full of possibilities and we tend to embark on a host of self-improvements with the new found confidence that we can achieve things: stop eating chocolate, quit sugar, train for a marathon, lose weight, get fit, anything seems possible, and anything is possible, quitting the booze is proof.  

The danger over the festive period, especially when our routines are upended, is that if we slip up in our ‘Get Fit’ or ‘Sugar Free’ endeavours, that we punish ourselves; we descend back into that ‘I’m a failure’ mode just because we’ve blown a tyre by eating some cake.  But, just because you blow a tyre on your car, doesn’t mean you have to then slash the other three.  Just because you have not worked out for a few days doesn’t mean you have to blow everything and push the ‘F-it’ button.  I’m as guilty of this kind of thinking as anyone, it’s classic all-or-nothing behaviour – the same behaviour that drove my drinking in the first place.  For me, not drinking has to be my absolute non-negotiable, even if that means I renege on other self-improvements I’ve made this year.  My priority is to enter January with my sobriety firmly intact (even if that means I have a stone to lose). 

So I CAN eat a whole tin of Celebrations, so long as I don’t drink, I can lie for three straight days on the sofa in a Netflix-induced stupor, eat an entire Christmas cake, scoff three Selection Boxes for breakfast, watch an entire afternoon of Channel 5’s Shittest Christmas Movies ever….all guilt free…so long as I DON’T DRINK. That’s my deal with myself. 

The reason I am saying this is guilt free, is that I’ve done some maths, some calculations to justify why I can become Queen of Quality Street this Christmas.  Here are three comparison stats based on what I would normally have consumed during a Christmas booze binge:*

*I would have consumed one of these stats on a binge, I never, that I recall, drank 2 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of Prosecco and 6 pints all in one session, my 40-something year old bladder would have given out way before my liver.

2 bottles of wine = 1250 calories // £20

6 pints of lager = 1300 calories  //  £24

2 bottles of Prosecco = 1150 calories  // £25

You don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that this is generally £22 per session and 1200 calories.  As food tends to be my booze exchange treat at Christmas, to give you some perspective, over the 12 days of Christmas, I could treat myself to sober gifts to the tune of £264 (and I will), or eat the calorific booze equivalent of 151 Freddo Frogs, or 13 per day (my chocolate of choice).  

No alcohol = my non negotiable. Choosing to spend the calorific or cash equivalent of my normal Christmas booze consumption on Freddos?…..at least I can make an informed, sober choice. 

2. I worry I won’t really enjoy myself without a drink, that Christmas is stressful and I will deserve a drink to help me relax and enjoy the festivities:

Will a drink help you to enjoy yourself?  Really?  If you have battled with your drink demon for long enough you know that the heady days of drinking without any consequence have gone forever.  You can never return to a cavalier attitude of thinking that you will just pick up your sobriety again in January as we all know it isn’t as easy as that.

When you think this way, that you can’t really enjoy yourself without a drink, I think it is merely your brain picking up on a myriad of marketing messages and false memories of glorious drunken Christmases that never, ever in reality existed.  What will happen is regret that you drank, sleepless nights, hangovers and a chip off your self worth.  A hell of a trade-off for a falsely romantic notion of a whisky by the fire.  

3. Schedule 10 minutes of battle time with your Wine Witch/Beer Monster/Drink Demon every morning:

I LOVE doing this.  Love it.

I like to personify my Wine Witch.  ‘She’ is a woman, She has wiry black hair, steely pale blue eyes, is a bit grubby and dishevelled and has a kind of mad stare (stay with me here guys…), however at the moment, She knows She is very much under threat and has slinked into some kind of sexy-Santa-Elf-Lady get-up and combed her barnet, and She quite alluringly tries to whisper sweet nothings about wine into my ear and tries to convince me I should be drinking at Christmas.  

Here is how I tackle her:

Each morning I schedule 10 minutes battle time.  Firstly, She is surprised that I have knocked for her rather than the usual other way around, She then appears and acts as both a bully and defence of wine counsel all at the same time.  I calmly dismantle her arguments and always, without exception, win the argument.  

Like all spineless bullies, The Wine Witch rarely hunts alone, She’s in cahoots with Worry Woman so I have a few minutes with her too, she tries to slay me with my worries but I think them through, prioritise anything I can actively change and discard the rest.  When Wine Witch and Worry Woman come-a-calling later in the day, they are quite easily disposed of: we’ve had our arguments today, I know the answers and I can confidently tell us all that I don’t have time for this now, I’ll see you again tomorrow.

The imaginary battles between myself and a wild haired witch currently dressed as a Coca Cola foxy poster girl may sound borderline insane, but try this, it works.   Have 10 minutes ‘Worry time’ each day, it leaves no room for negotiation later in the day as the arguments have already been debated. 

4. Use Coronavirus to your advantage:

Now, firstly, I’m a LOOOOOONG way off suggesting that anything positive can be gained from the pandemic.  But….

But, if you have been invited to an event, a gathering, a party and you really don’t want to go as you’re worried it could be too much of a test of your sobriety then there is currently a perfectly legitimate response: 

“As a responsible citizen of the world, I will not be attending your ‘do’ as it contravenes the rules of Tier 1/2/3…” (delete as appropriate)

Or

“I will not be attending your ‘do’ as I am self-isolating” (you don’t have to lie and say you’re isolating due to Covid, just because the host has inadvertently deduced that conclusion, isn’t your problem). 

5. Feeling sorry for myself is a no-no: embrace your inner eight year old*.

I had a conversation this morning with my eight year old niece.  She’s dairy intolerant meaning that chocolate is a no-no for her.  Did she once mention that she’s sad that she can’t eat chocolate at Christmas?  Did she once mention that she looks longingly at her little brother’s advent calendar every morning, filled with disappointment and sorrow?  Does she worry that she’ll be forced to go a to Christmas party where there is chocolate so she avoids those events at all costs?  Does she need her mum monitoring her every move in case she surreptitiously troughs a bag of Maltesers? Of course not!  Never once has she moaned about it.  If anything she wears it as a badge of honour, celebrates her difference, and I love the way her friends rally around her in protection whenever chocolate is introduced to a room.  She is beyond excited of course, because it is Christmas, and she instinctively knows that Christmas is about more than just chocolate. 

*Disclaimer, I said ‘embrace your INNER eight year old, do not embrace an eight year old, especially if you don’t know them, aside of Covid risk it could land you in all kinds of trouble.

6. Make some special AF drinks:

The debate rages amongst problem drinkers over the use of AF ‘drinks’ with often used phrases popping up such as “Non-alcoholic drinks are for non-alcoholics”, well the truth is that only you can make the decision whether they are for you or not.  For some they are a trigger so steer clear, but for me, they are a must.  

I’ve invested in a range of AF ‘spirits’ and some new fancy glassware.  For me, it was often the anticipation of drinking rather than the actual act of drinking that excited me: the ritual of choosing a wine, using a nice glass, feeling like it was special.  For me, a craving can be satisfied with a special AF beverage served with ice, fruit and nibbles.  There are loads of recipes out there for you to try if you think this is for you.  Only you can decide.

7. Keep a Gratitude List:

OK, confession: Gratitude Lists were for me, a bit of what I interpreted as the ‘namby pamby’ part of sobriety, I never really understood why they would work or why anyone would bother.  The likelihood of me committing to ‘doing gratitude’ was about as likely as me becoming a Vegan. Until I did some investigation….and started doing them:

When you are trapped in the cycle of drinking (or even worse, the cycle of moderation), you have this constant jukebox of negativity playing on a loop in your head.  The negative thoughts can come with all the predictability of a well-played album:

Track One: You’re a Loser

Track Two: You’ll never succeed at this

Track Three: You’ll never be good at anything

…and on it plays

I started to practice gratitude under the umbrella of ‘Things I’ve Heard Other People Do That Are Good For Them’ and ended up changing it slightly, to less of a gratitude list, than ‘3 Things I’ve Done Well Today’.  When the head jukebox has only ever stocked negative tunes, these start to inject some positive thoughts and self-congratulation into your membranes.  It starts to undo the constant negativity by reprogramming the brain in positivity.  Try it.  It works. 

8. Become a Christmas Girl Guide/Scout: Be Prepared for Anything:

Like every good Girl Guide, be prepared.  I’d say be prepared for anything during any Christmas, but your first sober, Covid Christmas?  Be prepared….FOR ANYTHING!

Be prepared for events that you CHOOSE to attend: if you have to go to a boozy event, feel free to take your own drinks.  If the get together is at a pub, call them in advance and ask what AF drinks they have.  Trust me on this one, any publican worth their salt will nowadays have a decent range of AF drinks.  

Use visualisation: your brain, for all it’s amazingly wonderful complexity, is easily fooled.  It can struggle to differentiate between a real memory and a powerful visualisation (I recently watched a documentary about recalled accounts of people during the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks, people totally convinced they had witnessed the event and who recounted minute details of what they had seen, yet their actual physical location at the time of the attack would have made those memories impossible.  The brain had mish-mashed news reports alongside their lived experience to construct actual memories).  If I have to attend a boozy event, I visualise everything, from what I’m wearing, to who will be there, who will be most likely to encourage me to drink, what I will say….and in my visualisation, as in real life, if it gets too much, I leave, in my car (which in my visualisation is an Aston Martin….I didn’t say you can’t have fun with this technique). 

Be Realistic: be realistic about what you can and can’t do and be prepared.  Sad as it sounds, at the moment I can’t enjoy listening to music, as it has a tendency to create some mad party scene in my head which then leads to me craving a drink.  I hope things will change soon where this is concerned.  I also know that when I have an AF drink, in a fancy glass, I struggle with any glass that has a stem, again this can act as a trigger, so I have invested in alternative glassware, I’m prepared.  Nowadays I’m all about the crystal tumbler.  

Be prepared for cravings: I expect to get a craving at some point over Christmas.  But I now see cravings in a different light: I find a craving is just an invocation of a memory, a false memory of some imagined idyllic Christmas past.  My 25 year boozy Christmas subconscious bombarding me with very selective falsities.  I’ve learned however, that cravings are like waves, they build and build but they inevitably, without exception, always crash.  The trick is learning to surf them, witness them for what they are and ride them out.  A craving is just a thought, and a thought can not, by its own volition, prepare a Mulled Wine and force it down your gullet.  A craving is never satisfied with a drink, a drink just creates another craving for another drink. 

Above all, be prepared to enjoy yourself.  Without guilt.  A sober Christmas is not a punishment, it’s an opportunity but you’ll only achieve that if you genuinely believe it.  Invest in the power of belief, retrain your thoughts, create your own Christmas bible….belief in Jesus is what has kept this whole Christmas thing going for the last 2000 years….just sayin’ 

Happy Christmas x

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