Top 10 alcohol free reasons to love Christmas

It really is the most wonderful time of the year!

I have loved Christmas since I was a tiny girl, and now that I am a slightly bigger girl, my love is unchanged and can now go unchecked!

For so long Christmas included vast quantities of booze and for so long, without my realising it, alcohol was marring the magnificence of the festive season.

I thought Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without prosecco or gin and tonic, but really? I can assure you that as the small girl loving Christmas all the way up to 15 years old, alcohol had nothing to do with it that love!

And as I happily found out, when I quit drinking nearly 20 months ago, Christmas is still Christmas without the booze, and it really is the most wonderful time of the year!

So here for you now, in whatever stage of your life journey you are in, are my top 10 alcohol free reasons to love Christmas.

10) Community spirit

Although there is a lot of bad press about grumpy shoppers and fights over the last broccoli (yes, I have seen this!) there is also a huge feeling of coming together to celebrate. People feel more connected, as you do when you are in something together, and they start to feel more community minded, more generous and more aware of their fortunes compared to some people’s misfortunes.

Not surprising really, religious or not (and I have serious misgivings about the effect of religion), the message in nearly all religions is love, gratitude and looking after those less fortunate. Fitting then, that the will to look after others and be part of a community becomes more apparent in the build up to one of the biggest Christian festivals.

As most of us realise in our sober journey, community is the thing that eventually helps us to quit. People are more willing to chat, smile and be friendly at Christmas, so get smiling and chatting!

Being a part of a community is a magical feeing so grab onto it this Christmas time and just try to join in the alcohol-free community events!     

9) Giving 

Giving is a wonderful thing. Not only for the person who receives but for the person who does the giving. Who doesn’t feel warm and cosy inside knowing that they have made someone else happy by something they have done?

I love choosing presents that I know will make those I love happy. I choose them thinking about how they’ll use it, how much they will enjoy it, and loving the pleasure it will give them.

I love that there are far more ways to give back at Christmas, local charity boxes, food donations (horrible that we need so many of these) and many other ways of giving, become more apparent.

But it doesn’t have to be anything physical. Giving a smile to someone might make their day. Taking the time to say hello might make all the difference. Reaching out to someone struggling could mean everything for that person.

I read on my local community Facebook group a message from a man who has been homeless (now he has thankfully found a room), saying how grateful he was for all the people who had stopped to chat, buy him a drink or food and see how they could help. It is awesome that, in a world that can be so materialistic and so self-focused, this desire to help is still there.

Give yourself this Christmas, you might change someone’s future.

8) Togetherness

Whether we all complain about family, arguments and stress at Christmas time, there is still something wonderful about coming together and being together. It doesn’t have to be biological family, sometimes friends and the community you chose can be the family that is really good for you.

But coming together with the people you love, who love and support you is the most incredible feeling. This point is worth considering. Many people drink at Christmas to ‘get through’ family events of parties etc. If you are really coming together with the people who have your back, you shouldn’t need a drink to ‘get through it’. So if this is you’re reason for alcohol this Christmas, it might be worth reassessing the health of those relationships and considering what you could do in the new year to either improve those relationships or move away from them. Remember, you don’t HAVE to do anything, but in your sober life, you do HAVE to look after yourself.

For me, I adore decorating the house with my family, and I ruined it for years by drinking prosecco while doing it. I’d decorate but then I’d drink and become anxious, short tempered, stroppy and upset. Talk about ways to lose the joy! Now we decorate at the start of December and it is pure joy (topped off by watching Arthur Christmas!)

I also find that I can now bake with the children and make festive things without getting totally stressed out by it! Win win as far as I can tell

7) Dressing up  

I for one adore dressing up! I have a cupboard full of evening dresses, sequins, and diamante jewellery. I think I should have been a princess!  

I love that at Christmas everyone makes an effort. Whether it’s a Christmas jumper, Christmas hat, some Christmas earrings or a full on sequin party dress with matching shoes!

I got into the mindset that dressing up was only something I could do when I was drinking or going out somewhere (also usually involved drinking). I still find it hard to find dressy uppy occasions that aren’t party related, so Christmas is a fabulous excuse to dress up for a WHOLE MONTH!

6) The world sparkles

Not just the trees and sequin dresses sparkle at Christmas!

I love the frost that settles on the pavements or grass and sparkles like crystals in the moonlight. I love the frosty mist that hangs over the fields as I return from night shift. I love the clear cold air on a winter evening that is almost painful to breath in. If we’re very very lucky, there is the crunch and sparkle of freshly fallen snow (even if it only lasts a few hours!)

I have a tree at the bottom of my road that loses all its leaves in the winter but keeps its red apples. These apples are then covered in a crisscross of frosty flakes. I am amazed every time I walk past by what is basically a naturally decorated Christmas tree.

5) Music

OMG the music!!

I mean what would Christmas be without music?

Christmas carols are my favourite. I go to as many Christmas carol events as I can find in my town, and usually drag the reluctant boys to all of them! We sing carols in churches, outside the local windmills, in the street, at home, in halls – anywhere I can! I was brought up singing the descant to most of the carols so every time I think I can get away with it I belt out the tops notes, however squeaky they might sound!

There I nothing that warms my heart more than watching my boys in their various Christmas services, concerts and plays. Even when half the children are out of tune and off time, their enthusiasm makes up for it. The older, super cool boys, even soften a bit when singing at Christmas. The toddlers are just too cute for words!

The Baby started December very grumpy with me as I wouldn’t play ‘his music’ in the car (little tyrant toddler anyone?!). But I couldn’t possibly miss out of the first playing of Fairytale of New York, the belting out of ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’ or the shrieking top notes of ‘All I want for Christmas’. I love that the radio starts small and as Christmas gets closer, they play more and more Christmas songs. The baby has just about accepted it, 12 days in, and has even give his own rendition of ‘Jingle bells’ and ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’ as we drive.

My latest discovery, or rather My Love’s discovery, was last year during my first sober Christmas. We were embracing Hygge (cosiness) big time and he found videos on YouTube of crackling fireplaces, extremely effective despite how that may sound! Some of them have gentle Christmas Jazz playing over the top of the crackling logs. There is nothing cosier than snuggling under a warm blanket, by the light of the Christmas tree, some candles and the YouTube fire, with gentle Christmas Jazz playing. Try it, I promise it is wonderful and absolutely does not require alcohol!  

4) Christmas Smells

I don’t care if these smells are real or artificially created by candles, it still works!

Real Christmas trees, which I don’t have at the minute as they aren’t very child friendly, smell amazing! So, I fully appreciate this smell with the real trees at my parents’ and sister’s house.

My favourite candle is the cinnamon Yankie Candle, as cinnamon is the most Christmassy smell.

Ginger bread smells, mince pie smells, baking smells, spiced coffee….mmm, just can’t get enough! It best when you have been outside in the freezing cold and you walk into your house to be hit by a wall of warmth and Christmas smells.

3) Foodie

Smells and taste are so intrinsically linked that it’s almost impossible to write separately about these!

My first Greggs mince pie of the year is an occasion, and My Love scours the Greggs shops waiting for the first batch to come out – he really is amazing!

Coffee, hot chocolate, chai tea, My Love’s random collection of spicy Christmas teas – all so delicious.

Spiced cakes, gingerbread Christmas trees and chocolate. So hard to walk into the shop at the end of the street and not be tempted by some of their festive treats. Christmas is not a time for restraint! 

It is a time for sharing food (not alcohol!) and the choices are fabulous! Every December we make a special trip to M&S and buy a meal to share with all their Christmassy bits like smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, bread, cheese and salad.

Don’t even get me started on the stews, vegetables, soups, breads and roasts that I crave at this time of year!

2) Cosy

I was so worried about my first sober winter, as I am affected badly by seasonal affective disorder and I worried that it might tip me back into drinking. With the help of Hygge, I had an amazing winter! This year I had forgotten my tactics for last year and the SAD hit me badly because it was unexpected! But more on that in a future post.

Hygge is the Danish concept of cosiness. It’s about being together with people you love, doing things together, sharing food together, lighting candles, mood lighting, and warmth. Things that would be needed to survive a Danish winter!

For me it was everything mentioned above but also watching good films, taking time to read books, having a warm bath before bed and doing some Yoga by candle light in the evening.

Cosiness is an act of self-love and self-care because you are taking the time to do things that make you feel amazing and rejuvenate you so you can deal with the long cold dark winter.

Bring on the fluffy PJs, slippers and tea!

For more on being Hygge have a look at the book that saved me during my first sober winter!

1) Let there be light!

Oh, the lights, the colour, the magic!

In this cold dark season, what could possibly be better than warming it up with colourful bright pretty lights?

I have always loved walking or driving around when it’s dark and enjoying the decorations.  Whether it is the lights on the houses or the trees on the street, the lights in town, the Christmas market lights or the glimpses on lights and Christmas trees in the windows of houses. It seems that more people are embracing the decoration of the outside of their houses and I thoroughly approve! (maybe not the inflatable Santas though!

I decorate our house to the max and it is the best feeling walking home from the bus or shop and seeing all warm colourful lights through the front window. I feel so insanely grateful for my home and family when I see it.

I have a multicoloured warm lights Christmas tree (don’t like the harsh LED bulbs that are most easily available – too cold!) so I have to seriously search for the ones I want which makes them more special! We have candles, pretty candles holders, fairy lights in all the house plants, beautiful wooden and German themed decorations. Everything we have has been bought with a special memory attached. My Christmas tree is full of decorations that my mother has bought me. She buys me one a year and the boys think they are the most precious ornaments and take great care of them (well maybe not The Baby!

To conclude

As you may be able to tell, Christmas is my favourite time of year! I spoilt it for so long with alcohol and I am happy that I will never do that again.

There are so many reasons to love Christmas that have nothing to do with alcohol.

Find the reasons that you love Christmas, try some of the things above, decide what you want from your festive time and focus on that – forget what you normally do, or what you are expected to do – find what you love and do that!

At Christmas the world sparkles and so can you.  

Sober Birthday Reflections

Birthday tray

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear mee-ee, Happy Birthday to me!

I can’t tell you the number of times I had the conversation with myself where I said 2012 will be the year, 2013 will be the year, 2014 and onwards ad nauseam. Every year I’d say that was it, next birthday and Christmas I would be sober and happy. My goodness, the number of times I was disappointed.

But incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully, here I am! I am 38 years old today, and this is my second sober birthday. Second birthday that I will not have a drink since 16? 17?

And am I happy? Hell yes! Stressed, exhausted and dealing with a lot, but a damn sight happier than I ever was drinking.

My first sober birthday

So, on my first sober birthday, I enjoyed it, but it also felt weird. I’d never had a sober birthday as an adult, so I didn’t really know what to do! To me, birthdays were about glitz and glamour – and therefore, to my alcohol mind – prosecco. My mind told me that I couldn’t dress up and be all bling without going out, but going out partying without alcohol also didn’t seem fun (I’m so glad I am now past this idea now, see my first sober rave for more on the joys or partying sober). My Love and I met dancing, but we hadn’t really danced since the birth of The Baby, so I didn’t have that dressing up excuse either.

What had got me through the winter to that point was being Hygge. Briefly, Hygge is the Danish concept of cosiness and togetherness.  So, I didn’t dress up and I went with Hygge. I had an Indian take away at my sister’s house with all those I love, and watched Strictly Come Dancing, which I also love.

Although it was lovely, deep down I was also disappointed, and worried that my sober self and my glamorous self couldn’t co-exist. Although that birthday I wasn’t feeling miserable because my fat, alcohol soaked and Chinese take away stuffed self was so far part from the beautiful, athletic, glamourous people dancing on strictly, I was still feeling a little resentful that my life was worlds apart from it.

I want now to have a look at what has change in the last year and what I need to learn from it.

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Less anxious

Most importantly I have continued to be less anxious. This was the biggest thing for me. One of the reasons I used to think I needed a drink was to deal with my anxiety. By the time I was 6 months sober I realised how completely mad that idea was! Alcohol was the thing that was creating most of my anxiety, and by 6 months I was basically anxiety free – how good does that sound?! I have been slightly more anxious recently but with very good reasons (more on that later) and it’s nowhere near as debilitating and alcohol anxiety.

Emotions

These, however, have not disappeared! But they are much less roller coaster and, usually, they are manageable.

We have had a really bad year with multiple bereavements to cancer and it has had a massive impact on our family and ability to cope with day to day living. This definitely made me question many things in my life, but it also reduced my ability to accept the now. This is bizarre, as surely if anything would make you appreciate the now, it’s loss; but it threw me straight back to into frustration. Carpe Diem raised its head and when I couldn’t do the things I want to do – read books, sing, dance, travel, art etc due to work and family commitments, I was just massively frustrated! This is something I’m going to work on in the New Year – 2020 will be all about gratitude (see How to practice gratitude) and living in the now (see How to build a life you do not want to escape from)

This year also taught me that some months, I suffer really badly with PMS and some months are better. This is better than it sounds. Although the months I do suffer, can be all the way from ovulation to period and I seem to lose all control of my emotions, it is not as often as I thought it was. Maybe 1 in 4, so I am very grateful for this new knowledge about myself, as it makes those really bad months easier to deal with.

The other things that has hit really badly this year is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I think all my Hygge-ness and exercise last year made this much better, but due to circumstances, the Hygge-ness and exercise have not been so prominent so I have felt it’s affects. SAD hits me at about 4pm, a busy time when it’s dark and everyone goes home and closes their curtains to hibernate, and lasts until about 8pm, funnily enough the exact time that I always felt the need to drink! I am trying to work out how to deal with SAD and hopefully next year can write some advice for you. Things I am trying are more exercise, St John’s Wort, a Light Therapy lamp, walking in the few bits of sunshine and keeping busy at times when it’s bad – I’ll let you know!

Keeping busy

There is more than one side to keeping busy.

The Good

I love being busy and doing things.

Evenings have been a revelation, especially summer evenings. I have been out for summer evening cycles, summer evening walks, summer evening picnics. I have been amazed by stunning sunsets in all seasons and how they change the look of all the normal things around you. I have also loved the number of other people still out in the evenings, walking their dogs or sitting by the river. I missed so much when I was drinking every evening.

I attended my first sober rave – and loved it completely! (see What is a sober rave like?)

I went to my first big music festival with all the children – and even survived the rain! (see Greenman Festival – Sober!)

I went to the theatre and cinema lots – the best being the Rocky Horror Show – although I wasn’t quite brave enough to dress up – next year I absolutely will!

I’ve started dancing again once a week with My Love and I am remembering how much I love all things dancing.

I have walked in Derbyshire, visited the seaside town that I want to move to, camped in Wales and had weekend trips to London, York, Birmingham, Sheffield, Lincoln, Hull, Newcastle and Edinburgh 

The Bad

I have tried to do too much, and I have spent a fortune!

The Ugly

I have neglected my self-care and felt the effects.

Health and Self-Care

My enthusiasm for my new sober life and my desire to get on with living it have come back to bite me a little bit. I felt somehow invincible when I stopped drinking and realised it was forever. I was flipping superwoman to have overcome this enormous, life changing hurdle and now anything was possible.

I started this blog because I want to get my story out there to help others who were in the same position I had been in. I wanted them to know not to give up, that they really could get sober and be happy. I had no idea how little I knew about computers and how insanely time-consuming writing a blog is!

I still wanted to work as a nurse and went into children’s intensive care nursing, working shifts in any random pattern that the hospital saw fit to give me.

I wanted to home-school The Bot who started Year 7 in September, as I thought that would be better than watching him struggle and feel defeated for another 7 years, so I started in September.

And among all of this I wanted to keep up yoga and exercise, look after my 3 children and household, support My Love through his studies, control The Bear’s diabetes, get up in the night to check blood sugars and look after sick children, cook well, eat well, stay positive and focused on  the now, meditate, write gratitude journals and read the odd book, not to mention respond to the 18 millions emails, letters, appointments and school needs that NEVER SEEM TO END!

Needless to add I’ve struggled emotionally – especially with SAD, had far more colds and chesty illnesses that usual, slept terribly, not done yoga for a while, injured myself exercising and look pretty rubbish! I am also still pretty reliant on sugar and my daily coffee.

On the upside, I still do not want to ever drink again, I no longer rely diet coke and I am the slimmest I have been in years without much additional effort.

Money

I don’t necessarily see this as good or bad. I have loved everything I have spend money on so I don’t really mind that I have spent too much and have a curb it a bit. One thing everyone always said was how much money you would save when you stopped drinking. Yes, I have not spent £25+ a week on booze but I have spent it on the cinema, theatre, meals out, coffee and cake, books and activities. Well worth it I’d say!

Self-Acceptance

This year has taught me so much about myself and I have come to accept things about myself that I hadn’t expected.

Without even realising it, I have had ingrained thoughts and beliefs that I have never challenged because they are too deeply rooted. Uncovering these has been so freeing. 

Walking through a garden centre this summer, I saw a quote that read ‘Not all who wander are lost’. It really hit home because I had always thought there was some flaw in me that made me feel such wanderlust and that if I could just fix me, it would go away and I would be as I am ‘supposed’ to be – settled, stable, secure.  I was so struck that I phoned My Love quickly to tell him what I’d discovered – I could be a wanderer and not fatally flawed. I then carried on chatting about our move to the seaside in a few years and how I thought I’d settle by the sea, and he said ‘Why do you need to settle anywhere?’ OMG!! Thunderbolt 2 in one afternoon! Ingrained expectations again – why do I need to settle? Surely you don’t ever have to settle anywhere if you don’t want to?

So this year I have realised the following:

I am a wanderer.

I do not have to ‘settle’ anywhere if I don’t want to.

I do not have to work for anyone, plans are fully afoot now to head down the self-employed route.

If I want a new job every two years, so what?

Mortgages scare the bejesus out of me. I will wait until I am ready before I even consider one.

What’s so freeing about all of this is I can now start making my life fit me, rather than fit what my life ‘should’ be.

Side note: I still don’t have a tattoo because I can’t yet bring myself to upset my mother that much but hey ho, some things just aren’t worth fighting for!!

My second sober birthday

My birthday was actually yesterday, so I can reflect a little on how it went. I have always loved my birthday and always looked forward to it, but also often ended up crying (alcohol related) and disappointment (also alcohol related). This year my birthday was on a Monday, so I went all out for a 3 days off work extended celebration! I put the Christmas decorations up with the boys on Saturday and we had a delicious meal with my parents in the evening before watching Strictly Come Dancing.   On Sunday, My Love and I drove to the Birmingham Christmas Market with The Baby, ate delicious food and bought a German Christmas decoration that I have always wanted, ending the day with the soppy Christmas romance, The Holiday. On Monday I had a shopping trip with my mother, played with make-up, bought each other presents and drank far too many coffees, before watching the best Christmas film ever, Arthur Christmas, with my boys.

I loved every bit of it, and even when things didn’t go to plan, it didn’t ruin everything and leave me weeping in a corner (as previous alcohol fuelled birthdays would have done), I just changed plans and I was flipping go with flow!

Still learning

What I have learnt most from one birthday to another, is how much I am still learning. I am still only 19 months into my new sober life and there is a lot to discover about me – things that I was probably trying to hide from for all those alcohol years.

I am not writing because I have all the answers, I am writing because I can help show you How to quit drinking and to give you hope that the life you want is possible.

I am so grateful to this learning, because it makes my feel braver and more able to make changes that enable me to choose my life, my path and my destiny.