This week’s blog is written by Club Soda member, and author of the Soberism in the City blog, Louise.
Have yourself a merry sober Christmas, let your heart be light. From now on, your troubles will be out of sight…
I’m boycotting Christmas the year so may not be the best person to be pontificating about a sober festive season. In my defense, I did two sober Christmases in 2004 and 2005 during, “the AA years” – the nomenclature for that era of my addictive history. To enlighten you on the joys of a sober holiday period, I will be drawing on my experiences of my sober Christmases as well as many, many pissed ones. These include a (first thing) Christmas morning tequila shot with my sister followed by an instantaneous, simultaneous barf down the toilet. Sisterly bonding at its best, what were we thinking? And discovering grandad had got to the point of wolfing down whisky secretly in his pyjamas before getting up.
The Christmas boycott 2018
I believe that Christmas should be relegated to the frequency of the World Cup. It’s expensive and wasteful and should be cut back. Plus, it forces you to get pissed with family. Much that I love mine, the last three years myself and my best mate (who lives in a hippy truck on a farm) have spent Xmas together. We have both struggled with drink (and drugs) over the years, habits morphing with the trends and times. Our three Christmases were characterised by pissed cooking and burnt forearms. Little memory of the meal we’d slaved and wobbled over. His dad died quite quickly from lung cancer this spring. He needs to be with his mum. So, as the famalam aren’t used to my presence anyway, and no one will spend the first months of 2019 mortally wounded by my rejection, I’ve decided to treat it as a normal day. Bah humbug I hear you cry, why would you do that?
The Christmas wastefulness
Plastic for starters (the boozy and sober bits are coming, bear with me). Our planet can’t cope with the mahoosive quantities we buy each child in our lives. The earth gets choked with packaging by Boxing Day. Then the made-in-China plastic tat is quickly superseded by more plastic crap. Plus, all this want has created virtual robots out of the human beings manufacturing it all for us. Families get themselves in debt over this time of year. We know that money problems can cause intimate partner disharmony which may lead to depression, anxiety and problem drink and drug use.
We’re allowing our kids to be brainwashed into believing stuff = happiness. Society also lets the alcohol industry brainwash us into thinking alcohol is magic juice that solves all our problems, makes us attractive and turns us into the life and soul of any situation. It does not do that. It made me a poor-quality friend, a weary, melancholy bore and narrowed my interests. My mind was like a laser beam focused on the acquisition and necking of Sauvignon Blanc. This was to the exclusion of all else by the time I realised enough was enough. The energy and effort it took to ensure that I kept my head above water stifled my potential and kept me stuck.
The Americanisation of autumn
The commercialisation of Christmas is nothing new. But, as an outside observer with no kids by choice, and aunty to the most beautiful 5 and 7-year-old on the planet (I know, biased…), I’m sure it’s reached out of control, uber-consumption proportions. It’s happened to Halloween too. The growth of plastic, orange crap on the shelves is mushrooming each year. Our kids’ squirts of anticipatory dopamine programmed early as they salivate over sweets from strangers. Shortly after, once they’ve gorged on sweet stuff around bonfires, they’re writing their Christmas wish lists. The need for these items of plastic fun lodged into their brains between their favourite TV programmes.
I can’t help thinking that we’re blindly stacking up problems for the little ones we love. We’re ‘treating’ them into excessive desire early. Their little neural pathways morphing towards addictive behaviour through the learning that stimulates neuroplasticity (reconfiguration of neurons in response to learning). I certainly have a propensity towards addictive behaviour. But, I don’t think it happened to me in response to sweets or plastic crap. We had a packet of rich tea biscuits a week which were a treat and two at a time max. Sometimes we got a Texan Bar (well it was the late 70s/early 80s). But I did see A LOT of family drinking. I have Social Learning Theory and ‘modelling’ to thank for following in the drunken footsteps of my family.
It’ll be boozy this (1980s) Christmas…
Me and my cousins eventually realised that the early afternoon Christmas nap that all the adults had was not due to the soporific qualities of turkey. It escapes you when you’re young that the stuff in their glasses does this. You know it’s secret juice that you aren’t allow much of, but you’ve no idea of the potency. I wouldn’t have known my whisky from my eggnog in terms of percentage ABV and how quickly, and in what quantity, it can put you to sleep. Before we were allowed to partake, I loved to take sips of it once everyone was comatose. We were also given the stuff by a barely conscious grandad. His judgement had gone out of the window due to the decreasing level of blood in his alcohol stream.
As we got older, we progressed to being allowed to drink. I remember one Christmas, and I hope to god we were well into our teens by this point, when my cousin, my sister and I were bought a bottle of Cinzano each. This stuff is 15% ABV. No one supervised us, so we must have been 14/15 years old. Either that or the adults were all pissed anyway and forgot about us. I don’t think it was a deliberate case of, “Yeah, let’s get the kids pissed.” Anyway, we went up into my bedroom and necked it. I can’t remember if we were given, or advised of, mixers. I remember lying on my bed with the room spinning after having a drunken pillow fight and using the bed as a trampoline. I passed out and missed the pigs in blankets that year, I think.
What I got from all the social conditioning of our drunken family Christmases, and other occasions which were many and frequent, was that booze made you fun. We’ve never been one of those families where someone gets drunk and lamps someone. No one gets all melancholy and drags up a load of issues they have with another family member. This is probably because we’re all repressed, but that’s a whole other story. Needless to say, I’m in therapy…
So, booze got everyone mucking about and laughing and jolly. This infectious atmosphere made these extended family occasions a relief from the day to day grind of nuclear family life. But what I didn’t realise during my childhood was that all the excess that ended in snoozes meant hangovers. And hangovers meant irritability, a lack of patience and snappiness. So, whilst the boozy sessions were fun to be around, perhaps the fall out is why I was a jumpy, nervous child. I grew up to have a massive hole where security and peace should be. I filled it with booze and drugs.
The delights of two sober Christmases
In April 2004, I went to AA and had 2 sober Christmases. Madly for atheist me, I went to midnight mass in 2004. During my 2 years and 3 months in AA, I never did manage to find a higher power, despite a frantic effort. I’ve decided we have the power instead. As that fairy, or whatever she is, says to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.” That’s been my sober mantra since June 12th, 2018. But, during the two years that I was conditioned to believe I was powerless, I did have a couple of nice Christmases. So here is a list of 10 things that were good about them:
- I looked great Christmas morning – Okay, so I was 13 years younger, but my skin was no longer ravaged by my two to three bottle of wine a day habit. My eyes were bright and the whites weren’t red. My face wasn’t bloated anymore.
- There was no sick on the bedroom floor – I once woke from a spinny, drunk sleep, leaned over the edge of the bed in my parents’ spare room, imagined a sick bucket that wasn’t there and vomited on a lovely rug that had to be binned.
- I did not urinate somewhere other than the loo – I have drunkenly urinated in a wardrobe, a laundry basket, under the seat cushion of an armchair and in an oven (top oven, lift down door, it was on, it was hot, I sat on it and don’t remember. It wasn’t until I woke up a few hours later that I realised I had burnt legs).
- I didn’t have a hangover opening presents – I did not try to delay everyone else’s fun by dragging my heels exiting from the sweaty pit of drunk fug where I had slept… badly.
- I was helpful – Christmas 2004 my mum called me, “My Christmas Fairy.” Cooking for loads of people, I was at her side organising and chopping. She really appreciated it. She did douse the Christmas pudding with brandy that year, so I couldn’t eat it. Neither could anyone else for that matter because she lit it before taking the plastic holly decoration off the top. Plastic melted into the pud rendering it inedible.
- I was entertaining – I spoke to my elders. I played hostess with the mostess, checking drinks and topping them up. Offering round Ferrero Roche like a servant at the Ambassador’s reception. I got a game of charades started. When I was drunk, I sat there expecting to be waited on.
- I did not slip into an alcohol-induced coma before Christmas dinner – we have it late afternoon traditionally. This is a mistake we make every year as most of the family are drunk when they eat it and can barely remember it. And/or they’re full of other crap they’ve scoffed all day. All that effort wasted. I could appreciate it and savour the flavour. Satiated at the end, I didn’t need the boozy, plastic infused Christmas pud (see point 5).
- I remembered Flash Gordon – I was not watching TV through half-shut eyes and seeing double.
- I did the washing up with vigour and not moaning with a frowning face – although it still pisses me right off that the men in our family are just allowed to duck out of it. It’s 2018, you cavemen. When we were quite young, my mum thought it was hilarious to include a tea towel, scrubbing brush and bottle of washing up liquid wrapped up in Christmas paper for us three girl cousins to open (the fourth is male). Gender stereotyping instilled in us from a young age. It was funny though…
- I went to bed rather than pass out somewhere uncomfortable – one boozy year, I woke up face down under the dining table at 2am.
So, although I’m ignoring Christmas this year, there’ll be more to come. And you can bet your ass I’ll be sober for them. What started as a ‘must give up for 30-day stint’ on 12th June 2018, changed to ‘gotta give up for life’. This was after reading Catherine Gray’s “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” – she put my head on a page and I couldn’t un-see it after I read it. I also started poking around on the Club Soda website and this helped strengthen my resolve. The Facebook group and then my first Club Soda meet up have helped me see that there is so much more to life than booze. So, if sober is for life and not just October/January (think puppies and Christmas), don’t let the season of excess chip away at your resolve. You’re worth it.