Christmas 2013 : Sober

Well. Here we are again. I wrote about Christmas last year, and looking back at that post makes me feel sad. I HATED this time of year and was absolutely frantic, trying to keep myself as busy as I could. This time of year will always be filled with bad memories, tears and pain. I accepted that many years ago. I held onto those feelings as some sort of badge I could wave to distance myself from, basically everything and act like a total asshole.

Just one year on, and following way too many deaths, I have come to realise that this is not exactly a helpful approach to be taking and in no way mirrors what I am like as a person. Why should I continue to make myself miserable, and repeat the patterns of so many years before?! I'm not a sadist. I'm not selfish. I don't enjoy being seen as 'ill' and behaving like some sort of martyr. Some do, but I would much rather make progress towards the positive than continue to engage in those behaviours.

A few years from now, we hope to have children and I absolutely refuse to inflict the pain of my past on them. These are practice runs, with Lily and hopefully next year we will have a doggy friend, or kitty cat, in our little family. We're still not terribly sure which would be better for Lily, and given her interactions with the neighborhood ginger tom that comes by every day we are more hopeful that we can introduce another cat into the house. Time will tell!

Alex has come from such a loving and normal family, and Christmas is always a time for the family to gather and enjoy being together. That in itself is still a long way off being something I will understand, but I guess I can be thankful that on a social level I know how to behave and staying sober is a huge part of that. As a child, I learned very early on that mirroring others can be literally life-saving, so I guess on some level I am still using those 'skills' to not stick out or make other people feel awkward.

2013 has been a year of change, so it's only right that I continue to follow that path. I have no doubt that those friends that I have lost are guiding me in the right direction, towards normality and happiness. I have come to realise that I need to continue to make changes, and no amount of external support is going to make me do that. I can talk it out with therapists, nurses, social workers, doctors, whoever, but talking the talk is absolutely nothing if you're not doing it.

So this Christmas, I took my first step. We got a Christmas tree, and decorated our house. Tiny steps to some, but this is a pretty big one for me. It's acknowledging the time of year, and almost celebrating it by hanging decorations up and such. The truth is, I love decorating. I love the colours, the chance to be creative and express some sort of wordless emotion(s) if that makes any sort of sense!?

Last year I focused on baking and food in general to keep myself 'safe', and this year is more of the same; only this time I am hoping to show that having a sober Christmas and/or New Year celebration isn't impossible, or boring, or an exercise in futility. Of course, I'm still going to be baking and all that good stuff, not because it's a distraction, but because I really do enjoy it and I love feeding people! Perhaps if my education falls on it's arse I could be a chef...

I have been working on making a product directory of the best low or non-alcoholic drinks out there today, so my fellow non-drinkers can feel like they're enjoying the same 'luxury' as their drinking counterparts. I will release my initial reviews on Monday, in time for you to go get those last-minute bits and pieces you forgot in the main shop.

Last year, it was really hard to stay away from alcohol. The cravings were vicious and emotions were raw. This year, I have so much to lose. I still crave Jack Daniels. I still want that escape. However, you can't run forever. At some point, you have to man up and deal. I have started to deal with my past. It happened and I can't change that. As an addict, all it takes is one drop of that magical chemical compound to hit your brain before all hell breaks loose once again.

I've said this time and time again. Never underestimate the power of addiction and how your brain has been hard-wired to scream MORE at the first sniff of whatever hits that dompanergic button. Dopamine tells your brain to remember and want more and more and more. Once an addict gets sober, their body has recovered but the mind is frozen. All it takes is one drink, or a single hit, and it will be awoken and be in the exact same stage as you were prior to detoxing. This is when overdose and death occurs. Your brain is telling you that you can instantly go back to your 'usual' intake, whereas your body has not got the tolerance anymore, so you will OD very easily.

Addiction doesn't happen overnight. It takes months upon months of consistent use to end up with a physical dependency. It takes years to change your thoughts, and you will never be able to process that substance in the same way again. Once you get sober, stay sober. Don't fool yourself into thinking you can handle it, and a few won't do any harm. Trust me when I say, it will spiral before you even know what's happened.

If you need to stay away from people or places to keep yourself on the straight and narrow, then so be it. For me, I can't go to my mothers house or really speak to her much at all. It's a glaring trigger and although she knows I find it hard to be there, she probably doesn't know exactly why. So, if you need to 'avoid' certain situations to keep yourself safe during these early stages of sobriety, then so be it. It doesn't make you a bad mum, dad, brother, sister, etc.... Your family - hopefully! - want what is best for you and will respect your decisions and feelings.

Addicts spend a lot of time making everyone else in their lives happy. It is absolutely not selfish or bad to take some time for yourself, to look after your mental health. I really do still struggle with this one, but as this is only my second sober Christmas it's still very early days in the grand scheme of things. I'm 26 and only just starting to live my life, but I am an adult and have the right, and ability, to say no and use my voice. If people don't like my opinion, that's not my fault. Of course, I'm not being overtly rude and horrible to people, god no, that's not my nature at all. I'm far too empathic for my own good. But don't be in a situation that triggers you. Not all avoidance is bad. If I hadn't kept myself away from social events, noise, family, any sort of stress in that first crucial year, I'm almost certain I wouldn't be in this position today.

Another vital factor is to not put so much emphasis on 'Christmas'. It's just another day in the calender. It's a day when people gather and eat too much, exchange gifts and try to be social. You can't choose your family. We all know this. It's a very socially awkward occasion, because the chances are you're mixing with people you wouldn't choose to in everyday life. Personality clashes are probably exploding in every house. Alcohol will fuel that fire to the nth degree. Don't make a difficult situation worse by using alcohol. Those inner monologues you have about those annoying relatives will become external statements and then the shit really will hit the fan!

Look after yourself. Be kind to your loved ones, whoever they are. Make sure the children have a Christmas that leaves them going to bed happy and exhausted! Little ones are such a good deflection from drama. I spent many a Boxing Day gathering playing babysitter to children at my Grandparents house - and loving it, I do have to say. 

Enlist in the support of a trusted friend if you're really serious about keeping yourself off the drink. If you find yourself alone, don't be scared. It's perfectly ok to be on your own, if that's what feels safest for you. I still don't know at this stage what I will be doing Christmas Day. There are so many charities open and there to talk to. If things are in a really dark place, take yourself to hospital. At this time of year, all the doctors and nurses are expecting mental health presentations to increase so they won't be caught off-guard and unprepared to manage the situation.

I am also going to offer up my own email as a line of support to anyone that needs it during this holiday period; more for sobriety support but if you find yourself needing someone you 'know' to talk to about anything that's causing you distress, I will be here to help. There isn't much I haven't experienced on some level at this stage in my life - sad as it is. But again, turning negatives into positives, it's given me some sort of ability to help others. 

I hope this Christmas is a peaceful one for you all.

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