Holidays are made for alcohol. I don’t need to tell you that. In any holiday movie, most of the characters are seen pushing back more than a few drinks. Hell, even in It’s a Wonderful Life, good ol’ George Bailey, the sweetest, most generous guy in town, sidles up to the local bar for a drink or two.
Drinking and holidays far too often feel like they go hand-in-hand. Then, throw in the dysfunctional family aspect, and a beverage feels even more appropriate. Oh, all the times I reached for a fourth or fifth glass of wine just to make it through my aunt’s political rants that don’t align with my own! I still don’t know if all that heavy consumption was me trying to numb myself or pass the hell out right there at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Whatever the reason, it seemed the only way to be excused without insulting anyone.
But this year, that won’t be the case. This year, wine won’t be my go-to—or even an option. Instead of drinking enough wine so I can pass out in my mashed potatoes, I actually might have to pull out the acting skills and feign falling asleep in my mashed potatoes, without having alcohol to blame.
This year is going to be my first holiday season sober and, to be quite honest, I’m scared as fuck.
I’m not scared in the way you get scared that E.T. won’t escape Earth and get back to his planet at the end of the movie, or the kind of scared you get whenever your partner says, “We need to talk.” I’m scared in that I have no idea, no fucking clue, how to act like a sober person in holiday-related social situations.
I have a hard enough time socializing with my drinking friends when I’m sober, now I’m supposed to take that stress and anxiety to a whole new level and try it out with coworkers and extended family members I only see once a year? And during a midterm election year? Not to mention, I’m single again after a vicious breakup in August so, of course, the longevity of my eggs and empty uterus will take up at least 10 minutes of the dinnertime conversation.
The First Few (Bad) Ideas
At first, I thought I’d try to make this a group effort. I suggested that Thanksgiving, which will be at my parents’ house this year, could be a dry Thanksgiving. But that seemed unfair. Just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I’m in the position to tell other people that they can’t drink—no matter how sloppy and belligerent they’re likely to become.
Then, I thought I’d skip town for the holidays. I spent the last two Thanksgivings in Rome, so why not do that again? Last year, I only had one glass of wine for the whole week I was there! I left Italy patting myself on the back and only answering to people who called me “Heroine Chatel,” because to get through a week in Roma with only one glass of red wine does make for one hell of a hero. At least in my book.
But then I realized I couldn’t do that either. I couldn’t leave my parents alone with the other family members for the third year in a row and I sure as hell couldn’t fly off somewhere for Christmas, leaving them without their favorite daughter (me!) who is equal parts charming and annoying.
Instead, I decided to do the only thing that seemed the most feasible, less expensive, and least selfish: I’d stay in the country, partake in holiday activities, and not dictate to others what they can and can’t drink. The latter being the biggest challenge, as I’ve found sober me likes to judge non-sober people, as if I’ve cornered the market on self-control—which I haven’t, because I’d probably sell any one of my extended family members for a bottle of proper French wine.
Actually, I’d sell any one of them just because… but I’m sure you see my point.
The Actual (Better) Plan
I’ve set a game plan in motion.
I have taken into consideration my weaknesses—and there are many. I have taken into consideration situations and people which might trigger those weaknesses even more—again, there are many.
I will keep appearances at holiday parties and the gatherings my friends host short. I figure I can successfully go a full hour before caving and reaching for the champagne, which is really quite a feat when you’re the only sober person in the room.
I will request that religion and politics not be discussed at the family holiday dinners. If my aunt wants to talk about all the “wonderful” things Trump has done, she can do so either before or after dinner and, ideally, on the back porch with my Republican cousin and his “gifts from God,” so the rest of us are spared.
I’m also going to do something that will be the most difficult of all: I’m going to admit that I have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and will not be partaking for that reason.
Although it’s one thing to write about this unhealthy relationship, one that my parents and close friends are aware of even if some of them don’t agree with this assessment of myself, my extended family and acquaintances don’t know. In fact, I’m pretty sure my aunt and cousins don’t even know what my career is, the fact that I’ve written about this unhealthy relationship before, or even where I live these days.
I may not always believe that honesty is the best policy, but I think in this particular case, there’s no other way around it. I have to be upfront. I have to be honest with myself and with them. And, if I get a question—or five or 10—I have to answer them. You can’t exactly drop a bomb and walk away without explaining or clarifying. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be fun, and it certainly won’t be a conversation I even want to have, but this is my plan. If I want to get through this holiday season without a drop of alcohol touching my lips, I have to be totally honest with myself and others. I’m not suggesting my extended family will do their best to help, but having it out there will make me self-conscious enough to not even consider indulging. No one likes a hypocrite; especially one who spent half the meal judging the drinkers around her.
I’m not suggesting I’ve come up with a foolproof plan. I’m not even suggesting it will be remotely easy. But what I am suggesting is that I’m going to give it 100 percent. Personally, that’s all I can do. If I create unrealistic expectations for myself, then I’m bound to fail. So, if I keep things “doable”, come January 1, I might be able to pat myself on my back and only answer to “Heroine Chatel” again.