‘I’m dreading Christmas – it will be my first without alcohol since my teens’

Tell Me About It: ‘I have kept a low social profile this year to avoid temptations, so at Christmas it will be impossible’

PROBLEM: I am dreading Christmas this year, as I have been off drink since February this year and am determined to stay sober. But this will be the first Christmas without alcohol that I have faced since my teens, and I am now in my late 40s. I am determined to do it, but just thinking of it is a nightmare.

I have kept a low social profile this year to avoid temptations, so at Christmas it will be impossible to keep to this and the yearly parties will be full of people I won’t have met during the year. As it is I have had many difficult moments explaining my no-alcohol status, but I fear these get-togethers and the pressures and temptations I will constantly face.

I will be going away with my partner on St Stephen’s Day for a week, but it’s the run-up I dread.

ADVICE: Well done on staying off drink for so long and on your determination to make it through Christmas without alcohol. What comes across clearly is the pressure you feel will be put on you to drink and this is a sad reflection on our society if this is still the case. There should be no need for you to explain to work colleagues your reasons for not drinking and it might be worth resisting this – a simple “no, thank you” is worth trying.

The danger is that when we give an explanation that is not quite the truth people have a sense of this and they ask questions or continue to investigate and, in the end, it is unsatisfactory for everyone. An example of this is when we tell someone that we cannot make an event because we have no babysitter and the other person goes to great lengths to sort it out for us when in reality we just don’t want to go at all. If you have to explain at all, say as little as needed and stay as close to the truth as you can – it is better to speak the truth pleasantly than to speak pleasant untruths. The challenge is that you may feel some shame over your past drinking and your need to avoid alcohol, which causes you to shrink away from engagement with others. Shame makes us want to hide as we fear that people will discover our weaknesses or our failures.

The continual effort of not exposing ourselves keeps the thing we wish to hide big in our minds and hearts. Shame does not lessen with time – just think of blushing when someone reminds you of an event in your past when you came across as stupid – so hoping it will disappear by itself is not a good strategy. Instead, owning it and naming it robs it of all its power and has the added advantage that those people listening to you can also release their own experiences of shameful failure and everyone gets relief.

This must not be done indiscriminately but should be done with those people deserving of your trust, but with time and experience you can enlarge this circle of disclosure and you will find your confidence grows with each attempt at openness. Breaking the habit of drinking is one of the hardest things to do and you have been successful. You should be applauded and supported in the same manner that someone who has taken on running a marathon has – all that determination and dedication with the end result of getting to the aim of making it over the line after the tough journey. Do not let acquaintances push you off your hard-won achievement and be clear that they do not make you do anything, it is always you who chose what you do.

Moreover, you are not alone in your endeavour, you have a partner and friends (I assume) who have not only supported you in not drinking but who have benefited from having you sober in their lives. Use them now and discuss and plan how they can help you with the festive season. Perhaps someone can come with you to events or call you at a certain time to insist you leave or even say publicly how great it is that there is no pressure to drink any more in Ireland (it might stretch people to act this out). If someone tries to shame you into drinking it is likely their need to have confirmation of their own actions and you do not need to supply this affirmation. A quiet and confidant “no” might offer them a pause and plant a seed of possibility for them in their own relationship with alcohol.

Plan some lovely events for yourself in the run-up to Christmas so that enjoyment and satisfaction pepper the pressure moments.

Above all have faith in your determination and trust in your capacity for success.