12/28/2011 05:13 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2012

Sober for the Holidays: How It Changed My New Year's -- And My Life

My first sober Christmas, I was 24, and I navigated every holiday party and family gathering with high anxiety, blurting out "Ginger ale!" in answer to any and all questions. It was only a few weeks earlier that I'd sat in my therapist's office, examining the wreckage of a few relationships, family visits, social gatherings and other moments sullied by my own drinking. I was pretty sure this was the worst possible time of year to quit. What would I do at end-of-year work parties, or on the Friday after Thanksgiving when hometown friends got smashed together, or on that booziest holiday of all, New Year's Eve? Questions like these haunted me as I nervously dodged alcohol left and right, avoiding spiked eggnog and re-gifting bottles of wine like I was playing some Sonoma Valley version of hot potato.

Slowly, though, through a lot of practice over the years, not drinking during the holidays began to feel just like not drinking the rest of the year: normal. My anxiety about it lessened, my self-pity abated, and I found that I didn't need a proverbial lampshade on my head to enjoy myself. I'm still struck by occasional pangs of envy (whipped cream flavored Smirnoff? How did I miss out on this?), but I know from experience that it's absolutely possible to enjoy the holidays sober.