25th November 2018 Catherine Burbridge
Coping with Christmas when you’re worried about your drinking
There’s no escaping the Christmas build up as November fades. Invites are beginning to trickle in and suddenly people are demanding our time, Christmas deposits and menu choices. Adverts everywhere, let us know how Christmas should be. We’re on countdown to the big day so we can all have a really good time; except sometimes we don’t. We go through it anyway because its Christmas. Before you know it, the big day is here and its all been a bit of an exhaustive blur. Whatever Christmas means to you; good, bad, love it, hate it - the build up to Christmas can be incredibly difficult when you’re worried about your drinking.
This blog isn’t intended to be medical advice – it’s just sharing some of the things I’ve observed over time as a counsellor who works primarily with people who find alcohol difficult. These are strategies I’ve seen clients implement or consider as they begin to develop a more positive relationship with alcohol. It’s a challenge to make changes to alcohol consumption and how you view its place in your world. You don’t have to do it all at once. Once a problem feels niggly or severe enough to seek help, it might feel overwhelming knowing what to do/think or ask next.
If you’re worried about your drinking, I hope these few ideas might help as you prepare for the festive season ahead. Choose what feels possible. You don’t have to do everything or anything. Pick what feels manageable and focus on that. Another day you might focus on something else. In time, perhaps more of these things will feel do-able. A first step is after-all a first step. Everyone has the right to choose when, if and how they drink. Perhaps then Christmas will be more what you need it to be.
Choose your Christmas celebrations
It’s tempting to accept every Christmas invite you receive; or act on every spontaneous trip down the pub. Some, you’ll be really excited about; others, not so much. Think about the people you really do want to spend quality time with? Do you feel at ease, accepted and part of the group or do you feel remote and uncomfortable? Do you find you drink more than you’d like on those occasions and by the end of December you’re feeling past yourself - is it worth it? What ultimately does it cost you? (by this I mean, how negatively does it make you feel/think/act?) Choice feels so much better than should and is an acknowledgement that you want to be kinder to yourself.
It’s not selfish to assess whether you want to do something. If you find you usually avoid an event, group or person the rest of the year there’s usually a good reason for that. Forcing yourself to engage just because its Christmas is not a comfortable place to be. Choosing your celebration and knowing your reasons why, means you are thinking about how you feel and perhaps committing to small changes. I can’t guarantee it will always make a difference (there are some things we can’t seem to get out of) but perhaps you’ll have a much nicer time knowing where you stand. You’ll make better memories and Christmas becomes more manageable. You still worry about your drinking but perhaps you’ll feel more secure and have strategies at your fingertips when you really need them.
Beware the round
How often have you received the gift of a drink and realised it’s a surprise double or a huge glass of wine? After a few rounds, were you surprised at the end of the night how wasted you were and how often it feels like that happens? Its lovely that someone wants to buy you a drink and there’s a certain pleasure in being able to buy a drink back. It is Christmas after-all. There seems to be an assumption that all problems go away because its Christmas, that personal resolve or restraint don’t apply. That can be incredibly challenging if you resolve to be sober or are managing your drinking carefully. Try thinking about how much you’d like to drink? A goal that feels comfortable and manageable for the night out you’ve planned.
It all depends where you think you are in terms of consumption. If you drink heavily, you might decide one drink less would be manageable or you pick a single measure over a double. Even the smallest reduction in alcohol is meaningful and can feel positive. If you drink less as a rule but sometimes get caught out, the number of drinks you’re comfortable with might be lower. You may decide something like 2 drinks is perfect for you that night. My key message here is; its ok to skip a round or ask for a non-alcoholic drink. You don’t have to keep up with everyone else or do what you normally do! There is something really empowering in feeling comfortable with your choices and owning how you let your hair down.
Don’t forget your regular self-care
If you struggle with a mental health issue or life circumstances, you might already have strategies for self-care. You don’t have to let any of those things go just because its Christmas. This is the time to reinforce and prioritise the things you usually do. This includes saying no to things which are too much, feel risky or compromise your sense of comfort and personal boundaries. Acknowledge your struggle, give yourself permission to maintain what you already do and do it as many times as you need to. If you’re unsure what self-care means. Points 1 and 2 are examples of self-care; knowing your boundaries, recognising things that don’t feel good, stating your preference, and allowing yourself to act in a way which supports what you need. This is a great start when you’re feeling pressure about your drinking. We’re not going to suddenly develop the “best ever” routine of self-care in the 6 weeks before Christmas; but we can focus on two important things we take for granted that could make the run up easier.
Late nights and drinking interfere with our regular sleeping routine. How often have you been so exhausted or anxious before Christmas Day that you’re asleep or ill before the queen’s speech and you miss Christmas anyway? Plan quiet nights so you can catch up on lost sleep and take naps when you need them. Try to build up quality sleep before your chosen celebration and have an early night after.
Food is either brilliant or awful during the festive season and its not always within your control. Food slows down the absorption of alcohol and helps you pace yourself. Try to eat before you start drinking or if it feels better to wait, drink with your meal. If you’re unsure whether food is included, make sure you eat something at home so you’re ready for the night ahead. It can’t hurt to have an emergency snack stash in your pocket either.
There’s a reason self-compassion is last on the list. Inevitably it’s the last thing we think of. Doing, is often easier than “being” (that’s why the first steps I mention are practical as well as thought provoking). We do criticism and judgement very easily. Being compassionate is much trickier. It takes time, patience and practice yet it doesn’t have to be complicated. You’ve got this far reading this, so you may now have an idea which night out is just your thing. An example of self-compassion at this point is to;
Plan your exit.
Think about how a night out ends for you? Is there a point where memory ceases and when you wake, you’re way out of your comfort zone? Once home, is the day after a thing of horror? What would it be like to make a plan that supports your compassionate self and minimises personal harm? Sit with that a moment. It feels like respite and relief. Decide when you want to leave and plan to make that happen. Its notoriously difficult to find a taxi at Christmas and scheduled public transport is less frequent. Book your taxi way in advance, organise a lift, know when the last train is. Plan to leave knowing you have a safe route home before your personal point of no return. If it goes wrong, it goes wrong. Tomorrow is another day, allow inner kindness to nurture you as you try again.
Finally, if its too much to cope with on your own, find someone you can talk to. If you’d like to know more about counselling to explore your worries around alcohol, please get in touch at www.mytherapypartnership.co.uk
Catherine Burbridge, My Therapy Partnership © 2018
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