Day 53 - Holiday Debrief

Surviving my first holiday sober in almost 20 years...

C-Suite Sobriety

1/7/2022 5 min read

Its taken some time to work up the courage to face a blank piece of paper again. The holidays were not easy on me, but not entirely for the reasons you might think. Yes, of course the Holiday Season is one gigantic invitation for boozing at all times of the day and for all reasons… wine at a holiday luncheon, tipsy white elephant gift exchanges with the ladies, candlelight champagne shopping, family brewery outings, corporate gifts consisting of single malts... and then there is the stress of family and holiday drama that many of us get through with the help of a slow and stream of something with more than 8% alcohol.

I had prepared myself for all of these temptations, with tools like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, habit awareness and building (read Atomic Habits by James Clear – amazing book)…I was prepared to be uncomfortable in social settings and start to live in my unnumbed skin. And I have to say – I performed remarkably well – with not one slip up or close call.

I’ve been nervous about writing because of the emotional turmoil I have felt these last few weeks. This is a blog dedicated to my sobriety journey, and not to family drama or trauma, but I do feel that are inextricably linked in many ways.

First, I should note that for the last 53 days, I have felt like a raw nerve. I tell my husband that, and when I get that quizzical look in return I know he doesn’t quite understand what I mean. The best way to describe it to the uninitiated – can you imagine what it would feel like if you just had a tooth drilled and they had not yet capped it – just exposed nerve endings waiting to be triggered. The slightest air (hot or cold), water, breath, touch… everything can be felt in the most intense and excruciating way. That’s kind of what I feel like right now, like my skin is crawling with raw nerves and the slightest movement or stimulus can trigger intense and extreme feelings.

As a bundle of raw nerves, I probably should have known that it was a horrible idea to put myself into an environment where every painful stimulation you could imagine would be waiting for me. But, as the good daughter (with self-induced amnesia and masochistic tendencies), I shlepped the family down to my parents’ house for the holidays. I could write stories for days about the insanity of the trip, but that wouldn’t be productive or helpful to myself or you, my readers. But, I will focus on a few key incidences that are directly related to addiction, recovery, and all of the things in between that come with a complicated family relationship.

You see, my mother told me very early on that if I ever became an addict (drugs or alcohol), then don’t ever bother coming home ever again – she didn’t want a relationship. I’m not sure what prompted her repeated assurances to us at such young ages (I think I first heard this at the age of 9), but it was a constant reminder that being an ‘addict’ was a choice and one that she would not accept. Likewise, she never accepted my disorder with eating, and to this day thinks it was something I made up and never actually “suffered” from. Perhaps I took my pain and addictive tendency and put it towards food and eating because I hadn’t been threatened to be excommunicated if I suffered with that ailment – little did I know that there was no grace waiting for me there.

Knowing that “addiction” was not an acceptable state of being for my mother, upon my arrival this holiday season I very casually let everyone know that I was not drinking for health reasons. Given my past drinking practices, this was highly suspect and I don’t think anyone quite believed me (certainly not after the first night). The offers of drinks came hard and fast, at all hours of the day and in every possible way. Morning baileys in your coffee Chris? How about a mimosa with brunch? Gin and tonic before dinner, you seem like you need to relax! It was constant – and the more politely I declined the more frequent the offers came. Of course, before when I would have baileys in my coffee or drink before 12 p.m. I would get judgmental looks and snarky comments – but now it was as if I had taken away a weapon and she was not at all happy about that. My Christmas gifts were all wine or alcohol themed, yet I accepted with grace and a polite thank you.

At one point, when my Father had not spent anytime with my family despite our making the trip down and taking time off from our jobs, my mother suggested that I take my family to a local city for a day trip. When I asked whether we would all go, she said no and when I pushed back, expressing our desire to spend time with the family (that is why we came after all) and being disappointed in my father’s unwillingness to take time from work (he is his own boss, so no excuse), the explosion happened. Words like “selfish” and “self-centered” and “bitch” and “unhappy” and accusations of “never smiling” and being “miserable” were lobbed in my direction. I didn’t fight back, I just wanted to run away.

There is a whole book of material here, but what I want to focus on are those last comments about never smiling and being miserable. It is true, that I smiled a bit less on the trip. And perhaps it may seem that I was miserable because I wasn’t drunk and being silly and giving everyone something to laugh at. But I was me. My insides were matching my outsides and that made her very uncomfortable. I was content, I was patient with my children, I was trying my best to be genuine and authentic but not so much so that my parents would become annoyed and angry that I turned out differently than they had hoped.

If you go on this journey, be prepared for people to miss the “old you” – not because you were more fun or a better dancer or the life of the party or a better friend – but because of what the old you did for them. Usually this happens with friends, but it can also happen with those that are supposed to love you the most fiercely and unconditionally.

Glennon Doyle has a great quote in her new book – “A woman becomes a responsible parent when she stops being an obedient daughter.”

I think she gets it right – but I also think that its bigger than that. A woman becomes her true self, when she stops being an obedient daughter. As crazy as it sounds, I think that my mother enjoyed my unhealthy relationship with alcohol because it was a weakness she could exploit and something that she had on me – an area of her life where she succeeded more than me (moderation). The comments about my red nose or the broken blood vessels in my skin were not out of love or care, they were made to sting and subjugate.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.