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Sober New Beginnings and Dry January

It's not easy to make plans for sobriety in the midst of holiday revelry, is it?

Temptation and overindulgence have been a part of humankind's story since its infancy. From mythical gods who were depicted as reveling in gluttony or inebriation to ancient festivals celebrated with bacchanalias, the human desire for "more than enough" has always been with us. Whether it's holiday baking or holiday drinking, abundance has become the virtue and abstinence the vice. Unfortunately, moderation seems to be more difficult for some than others when it comes to food and drink.

The Spirit(s) of the Season

The stereotypical "holiday office party” invites sanctioned carousing and blurred boundaries. Family get-togethers often seem to be events that encourage toasts to the good times for some families and reasons to be “halfway sideways” to simply tolerate the togetherness for others. The iconic symbols of a joyous holiday season include boozy fruitcakes, spirited fruit bowls, Santa-bedecked wine bottles, buttered rum toddies, rounded out by the traditional champagne toast on New Year’s Eve followed by a dose of the “hair of the dog” to begin the first day of the new year. There’s pressure to get into the holiday spirit from all corners and there is often unspoken social pressure in addition to friendly encouragement to indulge in spirits at the holidays, as well.

Celebrating with a mug of spiked wassail as the snow falls gently outside creates a poetic image of holiday joy. Decked out in a hot new “LBD” as you sip champagne as the clock strikes midnight can be a blast, too. It’s not the individual “photo-op moments” that spell disaster, it’s when the champagne toast or mulled wine are just one of many “shots” that day. When you can’t say “no” to a second glass, it’s especially hard to say “no” to the first once the holidays have arrived. When a person is trying to move from “okay, just one” to “just say no” the holidays can present a seemingly insurmountable set of obstacles that are made up of well-meaning friends, family drama, or simply too many parties or even television commercials or programs in which drinking is presented as the norm and sobriety is offstage like an unwelcome guest.

"Cutting Back" or "Cutting Out"?

If you are trying to cut back on your drinking, the holidays may be the time when you may realize that “cutting back” is more difficult than “cutting out” your drinking. The alcohol seems to flow more freely and open bar parties may show up on your calendar. If you are finding that the “just one” has become “just one more” which leads to “one too many,” it’s likely time to say, “No more.” Sobriety is a work in progress, but one that can require constant vigilance for many, especially when situations that involve alcohol grow more frequent. Cutting back on calories is challenging in the season of abundance and celebration, just as cutting back on alcohol can be. Commitment to your own health and well-being should come before all things; hurt feelings of a host whose drink or second helping you’ve refused should be a secondary concern to protecting your own health – and, in many cases, your reputation.

Chances are, You have a Problem...

If saying “no” has grown too challenging of late, then that may be taken as a warning that you may have a problem with alcohol. If you’re already thinking about that second round, just as the first round is being poured, chances are you have a problem. If seeing folks sipping your drink of choice in television shows, commercials, or in the movies gets your fingers itching for a glass, chances are you have a problem. If you have friends with whom the only shared activity is drinking, and you spend a lot of time with them, chances are you have a problem. If you have friends with whom you feel you have to be buzzed to even enjoy spending time with them, chances are you have a problem. If you find yourself thinking about the level of the bottles in your liquor cabinet and deciding if you want to return to the same liquor store you were at two days ago in order to replenish your stock, chances are you have a problem. If you love the holidays (from St. Patrick's Day to Memorial Day to New Year's Day and every holiday in between) mainly because of the many opportunities they provide to have a drink and celebrate without the fear of recrimination, chances are you have a problem.

A Season of Sobriety?

Although the holidays and the cold winter days may seem to be a good excuse to delay steps towards sobriety, you may want to think again. The days are harsh now. But days without alcohol will be harsh, too. Why delay the pain that may accompany early days of sobriety? If you’re going to curse the snow, the ice, the bitter cold, why not suffer the withdrawal from alcohol at the same time? That way, when the weather warms up and spring arrives, you’ll be stone sober and able to fully appreciate the seasonal shift. Many people reinforce their daily sobriety with a daily non-alcoholic treat – whether it’s a piece of rich, decadent chocolate, a second helping of a favorite food, or a fizzy, virgin specialty beverage – and this can be your new winter tradition. Which will take you into spring, summer, fall, and back again to the bitter cold of winter. With hard work and resolve, you will be in a new emotional place where the seasonal joys are appreciated for what they represent, not for the boozy haze that they once may have offered.

Finding True Joy

Sober new beginnings are not necessarily easy – at the holidays or at any time of the year. Changing the way that you have manifested “holiday joy” or “family togetherness” isn’t an easy task. However, the “new you” that new patterns will yield can be the gift to yourself that will last throughout the year.