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Jen’s Christmas Story: Drinking vs Alcohol-free

In this blog Jen compares her last Christmas drinking to her first Christmas alcohol-free.

My last drinking-Christmas

Before I went alcohol-free, pretty much every Christmas in my adult life was a free pass to day-drink and get drunk.

My last drinking Christmas did not work out so well. It was 8pm on Christmas day. The kids were in bed and I had entered the slurring stage.

My phone rang and my brother’s name popped up on the screen.

‘Shit!’, I thought.

‘I can’t speak to him now. It’s only 11am in South Africa. He’ll be completely sober and will hear how drunk I am!’.

So, I let the phone ring out, following up with some lame excuse via text about why it would be better for us to chat the next day.

He was not impressed.

When I did speak to him the next day, all hungover and ashamed, he told me how disappointed he was that I hadn’t made the effort to connect with him on Christmas day. I completely agreed with him. I was disappointed in myself. Horrified that I’d chosen not to connect with my brother, who I love dearly and miss so much, on an important holiday like Christmas.

What I realised on boxing day 2018, was that the actions of drunk-Jen did not align with the values of Jen-in-her-right-mind. What I know now is that one of my top three personal values is family happiness and that connecting with my family overseas regularly (and ESPECIALLY on special occasions) is really, really, important to me. My alcohol-free-self knows this and acts in line with it. My drinking-self on the other hand, prioritises alcohol over my personal values.

Being alcohol-free now, I consistently prioritise and honour my personal values. I have standing weekly video calls with both my parents and my in-laws, and regular standing calls with my brothers. I’ve also programmed everyone’s birthdays into my phone, so I don’t forget them, which is something I was guilty of when I was drinking. Sobriety has allowed me to show up as a better sister and daughter (not to mention mum, friend, colleague etc.!) which has improved the quality of my relationships with the people that matter to me most.

My first Christmas without alcohol

Ten months into my alcohol-free journey I flew back to South Africa to spend the holidays with my family. The previous Christmas episode with my brother, coupled with the clarity that comes from being AF made me realise just how important it is to me to spend quality in-person time with my family.

I distinctly remember the novelty of being at the airport and feeling free from all the thinking about drinking that used to haunt me.

In my drinking days, if it wasn’t too early, I’d knock a glass of wine or sparkling back before getting on the plane. Justifying it because it was the start of a holiday and I was about to take three flights over 24 hours with two young kids. Once on the plane, I’d be silently cursing the air hostess for taking an eternity with the drinks trolley, pained by the miniscule wine bottles, and towing back and forth about whether to push the call attendant button and ask for another one.

When I arrived in Cape Town, I was amazed that despite not sleeping for god knows how long, I felt fine. I’d always blamed jetlag for not feeling great when touching down in Cape Town from Australia, but clearly it was less about the jetlag and more about the wine.

I spent the next five glorious days at my brother’s farm with my family. We bonded over early morning tea and rusks, runs on the mountain, bush drives, river swims, kiddy discos on the lawn, delicious food, mocktails to knock your socks off, and late afternoon chats under shady trees.

Not once were any of these beautiful times tainted by thoughts of drinking.

When can we start? Will they judge me if I suggest we start now? Is it too soon to top up? How many have I had? How many have they had? Drink faster so I can have another one without looking bad! Am I slurring?

What a gift to have a clear mind, free from the alcohol chatter. To hardly touch my phone. To go to sleep early. To wake up refreshed. To exercise and sweat in the sun, then dive into the river. To eat, to laugh, to nap, to hug. To feel joyfully alive.

My family hadn’t seen me in person since I stopped drinking, and most of them, at some point during the holiday, asked how I was feeling about being around others drinking.

The answer I gave them was the honest truth. I was loving NOT drinking so much that when the sundowners or the wine at dinner came out, it didn’t bother me in the least. I wasn’t craving alcohol, and I didn’t want to drink when others around me were drinking.

A year before, I had no idea that it was possible to get this place. But when you do the work in sobriety and focus on the incredible things you add to your life when you detract alcohol from it, sobriety truly becomes the magic that you hear about.

My first alcohol-free Christmas left me feeling rested, loved, happier and healthier than when I arrived. This was in stark contrast to the year before when the Christmas holiday left me feeling exhausted, sick, bloated, and ashamed of myself.

I loved everything about alcohol-free Christmas’ now, and I know that you can too!

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