A few Christmas cocktails here, a glass or two of Prosecco there, a bottle of wine to go with the festive feast: it can be all too easy to let alcohol take over at this time of year. Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas.com, explains why she’s spending Christmas 2019 without alcohol, and shares first-hand advice for anyone who wants to navigate the season sober too.
The last office Christmas party I ever attended resulted in huge personal embarrassment and a major dose of fear.
As was the case with any big social occasion back in my drinking days, I’d embarked upon the night with the intention of consuming only bottled lager (wine always went to my head a lot faster), keeping the volume to a minimum and interspersing with water. And, as usual, all those plans went straight out of the window as soon as I’d got the first drink inside me.
I soon shifted my attention to wine – a lot of wine – and as the evening progressed, I increasingly began to act in a way that was massively out of character: flirtatious, loud and obviously drunk, falling all over the place and slurring my words.
When I woke up in the morning, I had virtually no recollection of getting home, and felt utterly petrified by the thought of what I’d done and said in front of my colleagues. I wanted to hide away at home and never face the office again – but of course, I had to go to work.
It turned out that I’d flirted rather outrageously with an office intern almost half my age and been driven home by a workmate who’d considered it necessary to carry me into my apartment block and lay me in the recovery position on my settee.
As I always did when I was a drinker, I attempted to laugh the whole night off, pretending I’d become unusually drunk and oh, how funny it was at Christmas to end up in such a state! But inside I was dying. I knew I couldn’t control my alcohol consumption and had never seemed to have the elusive ‘off-switch’ like others did.
I was so ashamed of the way I acted when drunk and yet I couldn’t quite accept that I was a ‘problem drinker’, at least not sufficiently bad to warrant quitting the booze entirely.
A few months later while at home alone one night, I drank a lot, again not intending to consume quite so much but finding that the capacity to recognise when I’d had enough simply wasn’t present.
I woke up in a hospital bed, having been taken there in an ambulance by someone who found me lying on the street vomiting, close to where I lived. I was horrified and vowed never to drink alcohol again.
That was almost six years ago, and I stuck to my promise. I have been sober ever since.
The first 18 months after quitting drinking were tough, emotionally and socially. I was never physically addicted to alcohol so had no problems with withdrawals or physical cravings, but I found it immeasurably hard being in all sorts of situations without my old crutch to lean on for a quick blast of fake confidence.
The first Christmas as a non-drinker was particularly horrible. I felt truly aggrieved that I was no longer able to go out partying as I always had, getting glammed up for festive soirées and letting my hair down.
Of course, the reality for me was that I regularly drank far too much and ended up hating myself because of the way I acted at social events. But with the rose-tinted glasses firmly in place, I just felt as though I was missing out on all the fun.
I couldn’t wait for January to arrive so I could blend in with everyone else and focus on normal life once more.
As the next few months passed by, however, I began to find my feet with living an alcohol-free life. I started to love the weekends spent free from hangovers and self-recriminations, no longer having to cringe as I examined my phone to see what inappropriate text messages may have been sent during the drunken early hours.
I looked a million times better with brighter eyes and clearer skin. My bank balance was a lot healthier too, and I soon calculated (with a fair amount of shock) that I’d routinely been spending around £400 every month on booze, taxis, takeaways, and all the other things associated with the party lifestyle.
By the time the next Christmas rolled around, I was feeling much happier to be not drinking alcohol anymore. I felt the most confident I’d ever felt in my adult years, and the freedom I’d discovered in being fully in control of my actions all the time amounted to me finally beginning to like myself.
This was something of a novelty, as for years I had beat myself up over all the stupid things I’d done when drunk, and had always had incredibly low self-worth as a result.
I ordered some nice non-alcoholic drinks, spent money on a new outfit, had my hair and nails done, and no longer felt as though I had to stay inside and avoid all the parties.
I focused on my children and family, baked a lot of lovely Christmas treats, and found pleasure in all the little things that make the festive season so special.
The focus had moved away from getting hammered and on to all the things in my life that I was so grateful for. I remember midway through that Christmas Day in 2012, catching myself and thinking, ‘wow, I’m really happy’.
As I approach my sixth alcohol-free Christmas, I no longer feel as though I’m missing out on anything. When I look back on the person I was as a drinker, I barely recognise her as me.
Stopping drinking gave me back my pride and self-esteem.
I love the fact that I am now totally present all the time for my family and friends, as opposed to being the embarrassing, out-of-control woman I once was.
Alcohol free Christmas: how to ditch the booze this festive season
If you’re planning to go alcohol-free this Christmas, or are currently struggling with the idea of spending the season sober, here’s some key advice from Lucy Rocca on navigating the festivities minus the booze, and having a wonderful time while you’re at it.
1. Don’t buy into the idea that you’re missing out. Reverse the thinking and concentrate on all the things you’ll be gaining, like lasting happy memories, more energy, and looking fabulous as a result of quality sleep and no hangovers.
2. Find a non-alcoholic drink that you love and that feels a bit special. When everyone else is downing the Prosecco you don’t want to be nursing a glass of water. I love experimenting with mocktails, and online company DryDrinker has a huge range of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks.
3. Go for a walk or a run on Christmas Day morning. When you don’t drink, there are no days ruined by monstrous hangovers, which means you can fit in some extra exercise. Physical activity releases endorphins, helping you to feel happy, energised and ready for the day ahead. Plus, if you find Christmas Day a bit hectic then exercise is also a brilliant stress buster.
4. Treat yourself to a gorgeous new outfit and enjoy pampering yourself on Christmas Morning. We’re often led to believe that alcohol is an integral part of social events, but all the people I know who no longer drink have discovered that they feel far more empowered now that they’re no longer getting sloshed and muddling through the days with hangovers.
5. Remember that Christmas is really about family and spending time with loved ones. Somehow, the season has been hijacked over recent decades by alcohol. So if you are going to do Christmas booze-free this year, then plough your efforts into making it a really magical time. I love spending money on fairy lights and special presents, baking cakes, and cooking lovely food for my family and friends.
6. If you are struggling to cope without alcohol this festive season, there is a lot of help and support available online. Soberistas.com has thousands of members who support one another throughout the whole year, and it’s packed full of inspirational articles to help you stay focused.
If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from alcohol addiction, you can find support here.
This article was originally published in December 2016
Images: Unsplash, iStock, courtesy of author