I Spent My First Sober Christmas Alone. It Was The Best One I Ever Had.

"I was discharged after an eight-day admission for detox, and my first priority was getting through my upcoming holiday without any alcohol."
Helen Camacaro via Getty Images

In November 2019, I began what I hoped would be my fourth and final detox from alcohol. Having been caught up in the cycle of detox, relapse and repeat for several years I had grown tired. “This is my last chance to get sober for good,” I promised myself.

During my hospital admission, I naturally spent the time thinking about my future and the next steps in my recovery.

We hope that you will be on the mend by Christmas so you can come over for lunch with the family like you normally do,” I overheard a loved one say to their relative in the cubicle next to me. At that very moment, the thought of Christmas filled me with dread.

The reality is, alcoholism makes you more and more insular and I was desperately clinging on to the few people I had left. Knowing I was going to be spending Christmas alone for the first time felt like a punishment.

The previous Christmas Eve, I had been in the same hospital for a prolonged mental health crisis. While there’s no question my drinking significantly exacerbated my mental state, at that time I wasn’t in a position to consider sobriety.

When I had been discharged that earlier Christmas Day, I went home and slept through the day. This had become routine: I would be kept overnight and discharged the following day after being seen by a psychiatric nurse. I woke up at about 7 p.m. to drink just enough to prevent having withdrawals and went back to bed. Truth be told, I didn’t remember anything between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was the longest I’d ever blacked out.

This time around, I was discharged after an eight-day admission for detox, and my first priority was getting through my upcoming holiday without any alcohol.

Two days before Christmas Day, I decided my strategy was to treat it like any other day but make it extra special. I bought a chicken to roast, vegetables and an extra nice dessert.

Because I was no longer drinking alcohol, my biggest dilemma was what I should drink. So I bought fizzy grape juice ― like wine but without the alcohol. Every time I felt my anxieties rise about the big day, I told myself: “It’s only a day and it will be over before you know it!”

What surprised me is that no one really asked what I was doing for Christmas, which actually made it easier. In previous years, before my epic relapse, I was invited to my friend’s house, an affluent French chap. His mother would come over from Paris. He’d cook pheasant and all the trimmings ― very posh. However, this year, he and his mother were going to Switzerland for a skiing trip, leaving me out in the cold.

In my teens and 20s, I’d go to my dad’s, which would usually involve him being drunk and passing out in the afternoon — not something I wanted to be around when I became sober.

What I’d realized is that there was no “right way” to do Christmas. That was where a lot of the pressure came from — the traditions, the presents, the goodwill and the expectations that come with it.

On the big day itself, I decided to do exactly what I wanted to do. I’d earned it after all the work I’d put into my sobriety the previous few weeks. I cooked my roast chicken with unconventional herbs and spices, had my gluten free dessert and sparkling grape juice. I allowed myself to watch rubbish TV, which was mostly repeats and films I’d seen many times.

Unlike Christmases gone by, I didn’t have to get up to go anywhere or even get dressed. My anxieties were eased by knowing there was no “peopling” involved. There were no awkward conversations around the dinner table with relatives I only see at Christmas, big birthdays or funerals. Nor did I have to down a bottle of wine to ensure there was enough alcohol in my system to get me through the day. This was my Christmas and I did it my way; it turned out to be bliss.

Many people might think the idea of spending Christmas on their own sounds lonely and unappealing. But what I learned is that being distant from family in recent years has forced me to become more self-sufficient and independent, and more resilient as a result. This has benefited me every other day of the year and Christmas Day is no different.

Looking back, I think my drinking was a symptom of unresolved trauma passed down over the generations. The only way of breaking the pattern was tackling that trauma head on; it seemed my elder family members were never able to do the same.

For the first time ever, I felt liberated from the ball and chain of my alcoholism. If this was what Christmas was all about, I’d be happy if it was Christmas every day.

Now coming up to my third Christmas sober, I’m glad to say I’m in a far better place than I was three years ago. I’ll be spending the festive season alone again this year and thankfully, it’s no big deal.

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