Why I’m celebrating my fourth Christmas sober – and how you can too

I actually had to sit and pause for a moment after writing the title of this. Fourth sober Christmas. It feels quite surreal. If you’d told me a few years ago that I would be sailing into the festive season without a single thought of alcohol featuring in any way, I would never have believed you.

I loved Christmastime simply for the fact it gave me a legitimate reason to drink whenever I wanted. It was the one time of year that my drinking wasn’t too different to everyone else’s. I didn’t have to hide it or restrict myself or worry about my drinking because absolutely everyone was doing it – all the time! Neighbourhood, get-togethers, work parties, school picnics, gym Christmas party, hell, we even had a boozy catch-up down the local dog park for the dogs … which I don’t even remember leaving.

Sarah Rusbatch (inset) is a coach for people experiencing problems with “grey area drinking”.Credit:Getty Images/Supplied

It felt like it was the one time of year that even the lightweight, part-time drinkers let their hair down and embraced the festive season with gusto, drink in hand and without much thought of hangovers, responsibilities or early morning runs.

My last boozy Christmas was 2018, was when my drinking was at its highest. I remember that day, consuming drink after drink after drink, seeking giddy oblivion, craving a high that would not come. In hindsight, my body was tired and tolerant after a really alcohol-fuelled lead-up to the big day and I think it had just had enough. Boxing Day I felt anxious, flat and nauseous. But it didn’t stop me starting drinking from lunchtime, just because… well, it was Boxing Day.

In April 2019 I decided to finally remove alcohol from my life.

Christmases look so much better now, and here are five reflections about why I am so grateful for that decision and learnings that might help you too.

1. Feeling present, grateful, clear-headed and proud on Christmas Day are feelings I would never again want to trade for a hangover. There is no drink out there that would be worth trading in for these feelings. Having my kids jump on my head at 5am squealing with excitement on Christmas morning fills me with such enormous gratitude for my sober life that it’s hard to put into words. Previous years I silently wished them away. I was always hungover on Christmas morning. Now I embrace and cherish every single moment of their pure and unfiltered delight. It’s priceless.

2. I recognise that alcohol marketing and advertising is extreme at this time of year and all the images make it look oh so refreshing and enticing, while not a single image gets shared of the hangovers, the vomiting, the shame. The anxiety about what we may or may not have said at the work Christmas party. We still have so far to go in society for it to become acceptable to not drink at Christmastime. It is so intrinsically linked in our culture. We buy our teachers bottles of wine, we drink champagne at breakfast, we stock up from the shops with cases and cases of everything we think we will need with fear of running out. I read recently that we drink up to double the amount that is normal in December! It shows me how far I’ve come when I see an image of a chilled bottle of prosecco and it has no more appeal than an overflowing ashtray. My neural pathways are well and truly changed.

3. A sober Christmas is so liberating. There is something so empowering about going against the cogs in the machine that is Big Alcohol and their incessant marketing, and proving to yourself and those around you that you absolutely don’t need alcohol in your hand to enjoy Christmas. It’s all about mindset. If we go into it thinking “Oh, this is going to be shit,” then guess what? It probably will be. But if we go into it focusing on all the positives of a sober Christmas – such little stress, more energy, mental clarity, feeling more prepared, being present with your loved ones, feeling a child like joy for what you’re experiencing and treating yourself to treats, lovely food and connection makes for such a different experience. It’s your choice which mindset you adapt. I know which one I prefer.

4. You don’t have to go to ALL the things. It’s OK to say no! We feel so much pressure at this time of year to attend everything, catch up with people just because it’s Christmas, we feel exhausted and overwhelmed and stressed. And most of the time we don’t even want to do the thing. So here’s my advice. If it’s not a “hell yes”, then it’s a “hell no”. I’ve said no to more things this year than ever before. I’m choosing who I want to spend time with, what activities I want to do and how I want to feel. And you have full permission to do the same. I’ve cancelled a lunch next week because I looked at my diary and just knew it was one thing too many. I’ve swapped it for an hour of reflexology. I know my nervous system will thank me!

5. Never underestimate the power of the basics to get you through the festive season. Time and time again I come back to these four things and honestly, when I was drinking, none of these featured for me. Sleep – we know that alcohol absolutely ruins our sleep, even just a couple of glasses. No one feels good after a crap sleep. I absolutely treasure getting into bed after a night out, knowing I’ve had a great time and I won’t be hungover in the morning. Movement – prioritising exercise is absolutely essential for me and especially at this time of year. Again, when I was hungover it was so easy to skip a run or a class. Now it’s a non-negotiable and my mental and physical health reap the rewards of this. Nutrition – yes, of course I indulge at this time of year. But not in the way I did when I was drinking. I still make sure I’m eating really well, and then I add the extras on top. This means my mental wellbeing stays strong. And finally stress management – I used to think Sancerre was self care. Now I know that is so far from the truth. Self-care for me looks like saunas, meditation, yoga, cold showers, music, dog walks at the beach, catch-ups with brilliant friends, a great book, cuddles with the kids and so much more.

So for any of you heading into your first sober Christmas, I hope this has helped.

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