Holidays in Sobriety: Learning to Be Comfortable at a Party
Celebrations and holidays in sobriety weren't times I looked forward to in early sobriety. But this Fourth of July, the breeze was light, the sun was warm and the company was full of laughter, conversations, and joy. To be able to celebrate a holiday sober filled me with gratitude. A holiday in sobriety in which I felt really good was something to celebrate.
Social Anxieties Make Holidays in Sobriety Difficult
I never looked forward to being at any social parties when I first was sober. I didn’t know how to be sober. I didn’t know how to engage in conversations and feel at ease with people. Who was I without a drink in hand or something to help me loosen up around people?
I found a recent study at ScienceDaily.com that looked into why people continue to drink, despite negative consequences.1 Ask any alcoholic or addict and they will come up with many reasons. I also looked at celebrations, especially holidays, as a reason for it to be acceptable if I drank. I didn’t need a reason to drink privately, but this way I didn’t have to hide the drinking, it was normal, accepted, and most people would be doing it. I wouldn’t stand out, I would fit in.
According to participants in the study, boosts of courage, chattiness and other social benefits of drinking outweigh its harms, which they generally did not consider as strong deterrents.
This is the entire reason I loved to drink at social engagements, and why I struggled in sobriety. I never found it easy to engage with people, and often would feel uncomfortable, left out, and silently judged (The Meaning of Courage, Anxiety and You). Of course, this was all within my own anxieties, and not based on the realities of the situation.
I considered the benefits from the drinking over every consequence. I would be able to deal with the consequences later but needed to live in the now, I told myself. Or I convinced myself it would be different this time, which shows rationalization, a psychological defense mechanism.
Current Alcohol Intervention Programs Miss the Social Anxiety Mark
I think the social element of drinking is why it is so hard to reach college students. They don’t see negative consequences, or are able to rationalize the future will be different. Alcohol is also extremely normalized in college settings; relying on parties, binge drinking, etc.
Diane Logan, lead author and a UW clinical psychology graduate student involved in the aforementioned study, said the study
. . . suggests a risk reduction approach by helping people reduce their drinking such that they still get some of the positive effects while avoiding many of the negative and recommends training exercises to increase social skills in the absence of alcohol.
I think having lessons in social skills without alcohol would have been extremely useful, especially in early in sobriety. We have to in essence, re-learn or learn for the first time new tools on how to exist and be social in society.
I think college intervention programs that focus on the “negative consequences” are never going to work, are a waste of money, and have not actually proven to be helpful. We need to come up with new ways to approach this topic, and I think we need to also de-normalize binge drinking. We need to talk about how binge drinking is not normal, versus accepting it is a “college” rite of passage.
I think we also need to focus on alcohol’s positive effects, and why college students (and all people) are drinking, and then maybe we can address areas, such as social skills, communication, and other training that could help address this issue. Normalcy of drinking in society is a huge problem not only for college binge drinkers, but those who are trying to get sober, or are in sobriety.
Why Is Holiday Sobriety Not the Norm?
I think it is important to address the normalcy and prevalence of drinking in society. Normalcy seems to be a theme in drinking, whether in college, at parties, or national holidays. Staying sober is hard, especially when a lot of our culture is surrounded by holidays and celebrations where alcohol (and food) is a common and normal part of the “experience.”
I was able to go to celebrations in early recovery and stay sober because I always had allies in place, however I wouldn’t say I easily enjoyed them, especially in the first year of sobriety.
It Takes Time to be Comfortable at Parties in Sobriety
I honestly have seen this huge transformation in my sobriety. From wishing I could be a normal drinker, to being uncomfortable at parties, and now towards the radical self acceptance that makes drinking no longer an experience I need, nor want in social settings.
Being in recovery from eating disorders and being sober is a tremendous gift in my life. My heart feels full of gratitude, my belly feels warm, and I feel a sense of peace. I no longer look to alcohol or food to be a substitute or way to try to fit in or control my surroundings. I am able to be at peace in any surrounding because I am at peace within myself; I accept and embrace all of who I am.
1 University of Washington. (2011, July 6). Rose-colored beer goggles: Some drinkers believe social benefits of heavy drinking outweigh harms. Retrieved November 22, 2017, from ScienceDaily.com.
Sebelius, K. (2011, July 7). Holidays in Sobriety: Learning to Be Comfortable at a Party, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, January 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2011/07/holidays-in-sobriety
Author: Kendra Sebelius
Thanks for sharing. Makes me hopeful knowing I'm not the only one dealing with the multiple issues. I've managed to get the drinking, smoking and cutting stopped with support from NA, AA, SmartRecovery, 16Step and other groups, but the ED is still a daily (sometimes hourly) battle. Any help you can offer on that ? Counseling and OA aren't doing it for me...
GBless :) m
Thank you Marcella for sharing your voice! I know the eating disorder is often harder for many, because with drinking, smoking or cutting we can cut cold turkey and be abstinent. With food - we have to eat to survive. It takes time, patience, hard work, support, treatment, etc. Don't ever give up, you are not alone, and recovery is possible. We all have our own journey and it takes time. If you are on Twitter, follow me and connect with other recovery warriors! Support is a huge part of recovery and it's important to realize we aren't alone in our struggles.