I am sitting here and watching the “Great British Baking Show Holiday” on Netflix with my wife. It’s one of our favorite shows and it’s just delightful. This special season brings back some of the old competitors from different seasons and they participate in the same format of challenges but with the added theme of “Holiday.” As we were watching one of the episodes, in the signature challenge (the first challenge of the episode), 3 out of the 4 bakers used alcohol in their bakes. The comments from the judges were, “Wow, it’s delightfully boozy” or “You really know the way to our hearts.”
My immediate thought as I’m watching this take place is… “Mmm… that sounds delicious. Wait… Shit. I can’t eat that.”
It’s that time of year. Cue Bill Nighy singing, “I feel it in my fingers. I feel it my toes. Booze is all around me. The chance of relapse grows.”
There’s alcohol in the desserts. There’s alcohol at every holiday meal. There’s stress. There’s changing of schedules. There’s traveling. And for whatever reason, 90% of the people in your life, who are not around you daily, will completely forget you’re sober.
So, without being too presumptuous or coming across as a know-it-all, I’d like to give a few suggestions to four areas:
To the potential alcoholic, to the person in recovery, to the family of someone in recovery, and the church.
To the potential Alcoholic:
- If you are wondering if you are an alcoholic, come talk to me or talk to someone who is in recovery. I promise that I will not judge you. I promise that nothing that you say to me will surprise me. I have seen impacts of alcohol on a very personal level and I know the joy of drinking and the tragedy of addiction. But, if you’re wondering, the only way to find out is to start asking questions.
To the person in recovery:
- Take care of your sobriety. To put it frankly, your sobriety is the most important thing this season (and always). Without it, you are not alive. Your sobriety must come first. Before the holiday parties that you’re expected to attend. Before the family gatherings where everything is spiked and unmarked.
- Go to the meeting. The minute you say to yourself, “I don’t need to go to my meeting today (or this week)” is the day you will somehow find yourself sitting at the bar and drinking the Jameson that you dreamt about 2 weeks ago. Go to the meeting.
- Make sure that you are held accountable. Don’t be around alcohol alone. Tell your spouse, partner, friend, and sponsor about what’s going on in your life. Talk to them before you attend these holiday parties. At all costs, do not attend one of these parties solo. Bring your partner or a friend who knows your situation and supports your sobriety.
- Do not be afraid to leave. If the party or environment is not safe or does not feel comfortable, it’s more than okay to leave. Your sobriety is what matters most.
To the family of someone in recovery:
(I want to write this section delicately. I write as the alcoholic and what I find beneficial from family members. All families operate in their own ways and alcohol is not everyone’s problem.)
- Whenever possible, if alcohol doesn’t need to be around, don’t bring it. Studies have shown that one of the biggest predicators to long term sobriety is living in a substance-free environment. If you can support your loved one by creating an alcohol-free holiday, it may just mean the world to them and their sobriety.
- Have a game plan. Develop a game plan with your loved one in a healthy situation to keep a healthy setting. Develop an exit strategy from a party if it’s getting too uncomfortable. Make sure you have some back-up non-alcoholic beverages if the host of a party forgets to provide them. If worse comes to worse, and they have a drink, who do they want you to call? Their sponsor, their partner, etc.?
- Hold your loved one accountable. If you are actively a part of your loved one’s sobriety, hold them accountable by ensuring that they are staying safe this season and ask how you can support them. But, if you have not been a part of their recovery, please don’t suggest things (although it could be nice if you ask how to support them).
- Let them leave. Do not be upset with your loved one if they need to leave for their own peace of mind or safety. Alcoholism and triggers hit us in different ways and at different times. It is not always bad for me to be around wine at a dinner table. But sometimes the smell of Cabernet hits me in the wrong way and I find myself feeling particularly vulnerable. Allowing me to step away at that moment to talk to my supports or to breathe fresh air can be lifesaving.
To the Church:
(When I’m feeling strict)
- Leave the alcohol at home for your holiday events. Our role is not to be hottest party in the city. Our role is not to have the best cocktail hour. We are supposed to be a sanctuary for all people to feel welcome. If I come to your Christmas party and all that’s available is copious amounts of alcohol and people insisting that I drink it, I will either feel completely unwelcome and unsafe, or I will relapse. My sobriety and my life are not worth your fun and I will not return to your event.
(When I’m feeling less strict)
- If you must have alcohol at your events, please mark it. Do not have spiked eggnog in a punch bowl that is not marked.
- Please provide non-alcoholic options and provide as many if not more options than alcohol options. If you have wine, beer, spiked eggnog, and spiked apple cider, please have soda, juice, tea, and coffee for someone in recovery.
Finally, to the person or family who is currently experiencing the devastation of addiction and/or alcoholism, I am here for you, and I am always praying for you. This season can bring out the worst in addictive behavior.
For the family experiencing alcoholism, I am so sorry for the impacts that this storm causes in your life. But, know this: you do not have to sit by and accept it. If you have an uncle who always gets drunk and makes inappropriate comments or “ruins the party”, you do not have to tolerate it or laugh it off as a holiday tradition. You do not have to attend the holiday event where they are present. You do not have to invite them if you are hosting. You do not have to put your life on hold to cater to or enable the alcoholic. You don’t even have to encourage them to get help, although that’s a brave choice should you decide to do so. I know that these decisions are not easy, but neither is living in fear. Know that you are not alone. I love you and I am praying for you.
For the alcoholic who is struggling, please know that there is hope for you. I have seen it in my own life and I have seen it in the lives of so many who have made it through the steps. There is another way to live and I would be happy to share it with you.
May your Christmas be Merry and Dry!
*If you have any questions regarding alcoholism, there are so many resources out there. Here are a few links that can help:
For more information on if you may have a problem:
If someone in your family may have a problem:
Supporting someone in recovery:
Powerful stuff. “Thank you” sounds trite, but your words, and your willingness to share this aspect of yourself, are deeply appreciated.