12/29/2014 10:57 am ET Updated Feb 28, 2015

Early Sobriety Holiday Joy? Oy

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I'm not going to lie: The holiday season in early sobriety was hard. But is this news? I mean, I've heard it said that alcoholism is a three-fold disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

I should make it clear up front that I am not a winter person. I am a summer. Second on that list is spring, followed by fall. Winter doesn't even rate. The short days and nearly midday darkness make it feel like my serotonin drops a good 20 percent for a lot of December and January. Oh and I feel incredibly cold when it's anywhere below 65 degrees.

Second Time Around

Though I originally got sober in May of 2000, I had a one-night sojourn from sobriety in late November of that year which all started because I'd begun to theorize that perhaps alcoholism and addiction were not the same thing. I suddenly saw clearly that I was merely a cocaine addict who, sure, liked her pills too. But alcohol? I could take it or leave it, I thought, neglecting to remember that I never left it and that my sole previous attempt to quit all substances had been a 10-day period where I talked incessantly about how I wasn't drinking and didn't actually count benzos and opiates as substances.

And so, on Nov. 17 -- roughly 6.5 months sober -- I went out for a glass of wine. Success! I drank that and congratulated myself on being right when all those rehab people had been wrong. Such a victory merited some celebrating and so I continued on with my night -- a night that ended at 10 the next morning with me having consumed two bottles of wine and 4.5 hits of Ecstasy.

No, Nov. 18 was not a good day. And because of grace or luck or something I can't even begin to understand, I had no desire to repeat what had happened. I briefly toyed with the idea of not telling anyone, keeping that old sobriety date and just plunging ahead. But I spoke to a friend from rehab, told him what I'd done and when he confessed that he'd been smoking pot but was going to start his sobriety over, I decided to do the same. I went to a meeting that night and identified as a newcomer -- something I hadn't really done earlier that spring.

All this means that I was officially getting sober right before Thanksgiving that year. At the time, both my brother and stepsister were living in San Diego and my mom and stepdad came up with this idea that they should drive down from the Bay Area in an RV and we should all meet up at my brother's. It was a cute idea -- except that it was sub-zero in that RV and we all ended up sleeping on my brother's floor, wishing we were spending the holiday anywhere else.

Though my sobriety wasn't much of a conversation piece, it lurked beneath the surface. My mom and stepdad knew less about sobriety and addiction than I did, which is to say that they knew absolutely nothing. But it clearly made them nervous. Though it had been obvious for the previous few years that there had been something wrong with me, giving it a name -- particularly as scary-sounding a name as addiction -- made the solution, I think, seem worse than the problem.

And Then There's Jolly Saint Nick

In an effort to be supportive, my mom announced that Christmas holiday -- when we all gathered at the Bay Area home I'd grown up in -- that she wouldn't drink that week either. It was a sweet gesture that made me astoundingly uncomfortable, mostly because I wanted my sobriety to slip beneath everyone's radar. Also, my mom has never been a drinker; I have never once seen her drunk and she happily forgoes alcohol almost all the time. She was making a statement to support me. But I remember gazing at her Diet Coke and wishing she would just pound wine like the rest of them did.

See, my stepdad's family loved to drink. His kids and their families drank and drank. They did it well, too -- no sloppy speeches, no DUIs, nothing that made alcohol seem anything but lovely. They drank good wine, relished their good wine and consumed a ton of it.

That holiday dinner felt endless.

And it was sort of endless, too. The main thing I think sober people realize when they go to dinner parties is that dinner takes forever if you're with heavy drinkers.

Luckily, I smoked at the time and so I had a reason to repeatedly escape to the front garden, lighting up Camel Lights, still feeling like I had some edge as I blew out smoke and fantasized about everyone wrapping it up and going home. The worst part was that I loved my stepdad's family -- they were charming and happy and wholly unlike my original extended family. It's pretty easy to not drink when you're around awful people drinking, especially if those awful people end up acting like fools (even easier if they're clutching toilet bowls and/or crying). But being around people you genuinely like, all of whom are having a wonderful time and seemingly growing closer while you're feeling left out in the cold, smoking Camel Lights? Not so easy.

One's Too Many, a Thousand's Not Enough

But I came to realize something important that year: I didn't really want to have a glass of Cabernet and make small talk. I wanted that glass, followed by some vodka shots from the liquor cabinet, followed by some frantic calls to whomever I still knew in the Bay Area who might know someone who might have some coke. I wanted obliteration, not casual two- or three- or even four-glass chitchat. And so I played the tape; enough experience had taught me that those just-one-drink nights tended to end with me snorting that much anticipated line and then feeling immediate shame and regret. Sometimes they ended with me tossing the coke in the trash, then fishing it out, then tossing it in the dumpster, then fishing that out, then flushing it, then calling the dealer and feeling not only like the world's most horrible person but also indulgent and wasteful. I saw then that though I had lost the privilege of joining this big, happy family in their wine-infused holiday cheer, I had never really wanted that anyway.

I still don't love the holidays, but not getting to drink doesn't factor into it. We all have our high and low points in the year and sobriety certainly doesn't promise that it will make all the low points high. I do the best I can and honestly, sometimes the best is wonderful. This year? I'd actually say I'm having quite a lovely holiday season.

And hey, summer's only six months away.

This post originally appeared on AfterPartyChat


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