I quit drinking 10 years ago and STILL feel the pressure to drink alcohol at this time of year. I know I have a lot of triggers that are personal to me around Christmas, such as painful memories of the aftermath of my divorce, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy and not belonging, and having to share custody of my daughter over the holidays.
Christmas, for lots of us, serves as an acute reminder of all the things we regret in our lives; the broken friendships, lost loved ones, wrong turns we took that resulted in heartache or emotional distress.
And Christmas is also a time of great financial pressure, and one of pushing ourselves hard to be a domestic goddess a la Nigella Lawson: the presents must be wrapped to perfection, the festive meal worthy of a double page feature in Good Housekeeping magazine, the atmosphere reminiscent of It's A Wonderful Life... and all of it rests on our shoulders. Slaving away in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and scrubbing carrots at 5am on the 25th is only the first stage of the battle; by lunchtime we are exhausted, and no doubt lots of us are, by that point, feeling irritated, fed up and carrying more than a bit of resentment.
Is it any wonder then that sober intentions go flying out of the window, along with all the Christmas idealism?
Christmas Connections is the title of this blog for a couple of reasons: it's a reference to the emotional associations etched into our brains, the connections we've created over the years between December and certain feelings (usually negative); and it's also a reminder that, in order to combat the struggle around drinking alcohol that we inevitably face during the festive season, we must maintain and nurture connections with the people we love and who love us - the ones with whom we can be our relaxed, authentic selves.
Feeling as though you are the only person in the world who can't moderate his or her alcohol consumption and must therefore not drink, is a surefire way to increase the stress and anxiety we can experience in sobriety. Keeping feelings hidden inside intensifies them, and means we are not open to different perspectives, helpful advice or a shoulder to cry on. So, connection with people who understand how you feel is crucial. Plus, the simple knowledge that you are not the only person to experience this pain is a comfort - recognising our common humanity is reassuring and soothing, and helps diminish the intensity of emotional turbulence.
It can also help to identify those Christmas connections you have established during your life; do you feel anxiety because of previous difficult relationships and how they impacted on Christmas? Are there memories of an unhappy childhood or bereavement that occurred at this time of year? Are the emotions you feel connected to your battle with alcohol or other drugs? Are you holding tension in your body because you subconsciously recognise the inevitable struggle you are about to enter into - the fight to stay alcohol-free when all around you people are drinking like fish?
Knowing what is behind those feelings is half the battle won. The other half is won by learning and putting into practice self-care tools such as human connection, acceptance, gratitude, sober treats and engaging in the 'real' meaning of Christmas - love, forgiveness and compassion (that means towards yourself, as well as to others).