A different way to celebrate

By: Laura McWilliams, Industry Health

I made a resolution on new year’s of this year that I actually kept. It was: every holiday, every time. What that meant for me was giving time and money and attention to celebrating every holiday, something I have not always followed through on in the past. I have always wanted to celebrate every holiday, but there was a lot of things standing in my way- lack of time, lack of energy, not being able to plan in advance and follow through, and even the shame of wanting to celebrate holidays that other people didn’t like or that were uncool. What this amounted to in my life was that I knew I was a kind, generous person who loved giving gifts and cooking meals for parties, but most of the time I didn’t do those things. And then felt guilty afterward. That sucks, you know? But there is a lot more to it than just showing up at a party. Families and relationships are complicated, life really is busy and expensive. It can feel really vulnerable to buy someone a birthday present because it’s a way of saying I care about you a lot. Which is not something we (I) am used to saying.

Over the years I have been in so many situations where celebrating a holiday meant choosing what to drink and getting more fucked up than usual. Right? I still can’t quite do the math on that one, it’s how we, as a society, celebrate lots of holidays, by getting as drunk as possible. Where did this come from? Why is the ideal to wake up after a holiday feeling like you are going to die? The tradition of drinking to celebrate stems from a time when booze would be a special treat, something that really was so rare or expensive that Christmas was the only time you got to have it. And then you had one drink. We are such an over consuming culture, it’s out of control just like everything else. Is getting wasted really still a form of celebration if you already do it several times a week? Once a week? I don’t know. This was one of the ways that I knew my drinking was different from other people’s- if you think drinking is celebratory, you don’t do it as much as I did. The appeal of holiday drinking for heavy drinkers, of course, is company. All of the normal days, you drink heavily by yourself. On holidays, other people drink heavily as well. I guess that is a celebration in itself, in some twisted way. It is very different to drink with other people then it is to drink alone, I don’t want to say it was more fun, because that doesn’t seem like quite the right word. It’s less scary. It’s less lonely. But it is more or less the same old thing as always.

I think about this idea of overconsumption a lot in terms of food- nothing is really special anymore. We have so much choice and availability, year round, of any food we can ever want. It’s cheap and abundant. What is even celebratory any more? If you overindulge on a regular basis, wouldn’t it be more special to go without? These days, I almost can’t take how my body feels after having dessert. Sugar hangover! I am becoming such a hangover wimp. I cannot even fathom returning to a life of feeling like shit, especially on days that I think are special. Suffering through holidays is a thing of the past for me. So, cheers to all of the folks pushing their carts full of wine through the checkout at whole foods ( seriously, cheers! Remember last post how I told you that no one cares what you drink? I include myself in that statement. I don’t care what you drink. I’ll be in bed!) they can have it. I want the calm feeling that comes from not anxiously filling my glass, being able to sit and really connect with people, giving my focus and my energy to making celebrations that are special because of the people involved.

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving in a way I never have before, by staying home with my boyfriend, Chipp,  barbecuing a steak and watching Stranger Things. People tell me every year how they spend the holidays this way and I am always split feeling jealous and kind of sorry for them. Because on the one hand, that sounds awesome, but on the other hand, you can do that any day of the year. Why waste a holiday sitting around? Especially a holiday that is completely centered around cooking awesome food or a holiday where you get to give people presents and get presents. Also, I have never been in a relationship where I was special enough to be the only person around for a holiday. Holidays are spent with family, right? But if you make family with another person, then you can celebrate right there. It’s a concept I am familiar with, but have never actually seen in action. I certainly know couples, especially couples who have kids, who spend holidays at home with their family, just the two or three of them. I guess I have never felt worthy of doing this. Like, it wouldn’t be special enough if there wasn’t a lot of people around. I guess that’s the social media, visible life thing- if you celebrate a holiday and no one sees you do it, does it count?

I think a part of this is that I always felt I had something to make up for. That I knew I didn’t call enough, or visit enough, or act like I should, even though no one knew that. There was one year that I worked till 7pm at Whole Foods in Portland, drove 6 hours up to Whidbey Island to celebrate Christmas and then drove back that night and went to work the next morning. What is that about?! Skipping it just didn’t seem like an option. The safety and familiarity of family on that day at that time for me was just too important. I was terrified and depressed about how I would spend the holiday if I didn’t go. It’s just one day, but it’s one day that carries a lot of weight.

Every part of my life has changed in sobriety, but the need to have people around me has changed the most dramatically. Like, I am enough. Most of the time. I still get the urge to invite everyone to everything, but I don’t anymore. I am happy with alone time and one on one time. It used to be that when I invited people to events and they would tell me that they were just going to stay home and relax because they were tired, or didn’t have a lot of money, or whatever, I would be baffled. There are people going out and doing something and you are going to miss it? How can that possibly be your choice?! I soooo get it now. Allowing for small amounts of really high quality friend and family and social time makes it more special, and allows me to give the time to it that it deserves. Instead of running myself ragged trying to fit it all in, to reach the required levels of participation that I assume other people expect of me ( they don’t ) I plan these things on my own terms. It’s better for everyone that way.

If it’s your first holidays without drinking, know that you are on the path to something fantastic. It’s different, no doubt about that, but it will be great in the long run. I have gained so much self esteem and self power from setting holiday boundaries for myself and being able to celebrate each and every one the way that I want to. This is a power that you can give yourself. If you remain in complete control of your faculties, you have so many options. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. The ability to choose a shorter time at parties and celebrations is something that I cherish. I no longer dread going to things, because I know I am not going to be stuck there all night.  The time I do spend, I spend intentionally, and I connect with the people around me in an honest manner. Oh, and the food. I appreciate the food tenfold.

Stop to think:

What parts of holiday celebrations have you shed, or reduced now that you don’t drink? What parts have you kept around? Are there new activities or traditions that you have been able to adopt?

Do you enjoy holiday parties the same or even more, knowing that you have the option to escape? Do you find yourself wanting to stay home and have a low key celebration?

Laura McwilliamsComment