Surviving Sobriety in the Winter

Sobriety is difficult any time of the year, no doubt. Here’s what helps me.

Ahhhh. Spring and summer season. Backyard barbecues and beach trips seem so much more fun with a little intoxicating beverage.

In fall, there’s nothing more relaxing than coming home from work and sitting on the porch watching the leaves fall with a glass of wine…or two…or five.

But there’s something about winter, about dark cold nights, family gatherings and tons of social functions, that makes you want to down alcohol faster than it can get in your hands.

It’s January, and we’re fully in the throes of winter. Thank goodness the holiday season is over, at least, so that we won’t have to worry about telling Karen we can’t make it to her Christmas open house, where wine is flowing like the Serengeti.

And New Years is over, so we can pat ourselves on the back for being sober through that fiasco, too.

But now there’s something far worse:

The Super Bowl.

The most important season of all right now where Budweiser is concerned.

Many people host Super Bowl parties, and I don’t know about you, but parties were usually where I drank most, and not because I was trying to have fun.

I drank a lot because I had social anxiety.

My family of origin was hard enough to deal with, but when I got married and received and automatic, overnight, brand new family, the anxiety was sometimes too much to sort through.

But being around a group of people not related to me? Far worse. At least with family I knew they would criticize and judge me but still love me. Friends and acquaintances might decide they didn’t want anything to do with me at all.

When I decided to get sober, I told myself the only way this time could be different was if I was willing to let go of all self-hatred. I needed to learn to love and accept my past, make peace with it, and let go of it so that I could focus on the present.

You see, I’d learned long ago that what had kept me in my chains was the narrative in my head, spinning like a record, repeating phrases like this:

your childhood was broken, and you are, too

you can’t accomplish anything you think you can

other women are prettier than you, nicer than you and more talented than you

give up believing you’re ever going to fix this

you’ve done too much in your past to ever be whole again

All of these words meant the same thing:

You are not valued, loved, or accepted.

Listen, I had all kinds of proof to back this up. A crappy childhood, parents who didn’t really have an interest in me and my life at all, a string of past lovers who had all let me down, broken friendships, failed attempts to fix myself, an inherent feeling that I wasn’t “chosen” by God and was simply a vessel of His wrath.

I was telling myself “the truth” because I thought it was “the truth.” And the more I heard “the truth,” the more I wanted to drink it away.

If I was going to get sober, I was going to stop those thoughts the minute they flew into my head.

Let me tell you, stopping thoughts is EXCRUCIATING. There is no good way to do it. We think so many hundreds of thousands of thoughts per day. I was CONSTANTLY reframing my thoughts.

I still do, in fact. Every day, I take my thoughts captive, when necessary (and it’s necessary less and less these days), and I place a new thought where the old thought used to be.

Enjoying family time is so much better sober!

Here’s the thing, folks. We can’t lie to ourselves. Using toxic positivity is just as bad as being trapped by negative thinking.

So I don’t replace my thoughts with: you’re perfect! you’re parents are awesome! you can do anything! because none of that is true.

Instead, I tell myself this:

your childhood included some awful parts, but there were some good parts, too

you can’t accomplish anything, but you can accomplish what you know you can do

other women are prettier than you, nicer than you and more talented than you–but they’re not you

you don’t have to fix anything

if you’re breathing, you still have new opportunities in the present

You are valued, loved and accepted.

I’ll admit, in the winter months, when there is so much time spent around family, which can cause anxiety, so many opportunities to drink at festivities, and much more time spent alone in the cold, dark evenings, reflecting–which we all know can go south–staying sober can be quite the task.

What’s helped me most during these times is to practice doing activities I love: journaling my thoughts, expressing my gratitude, walking my dogs, cooking and baking, and drinking a nice cup of tea before soaking in a warm bath.

I hang out with people I love, let go of anxiety attached to socializing by telling myself that no one is watching me as much as I think they are, and spend time thinking of good memories from childhood.

Sober Traveling!

Most importantly, because I am a Jesus-follower, I spend time reading his words, and those of His apostles, such as Paul, who said,

 We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5b, NIV

I am accountable to my own thoughts and my own actions. You are, too.

And though it’s hard to make it through each season of sobriety, remembering why you started and practicing acts of self-love can help tremendously in the long days.

One day, many years from now, you’ll look back and not even know the person you used to be.

And you’ll be deeply in love with the person you are today.

I promise.

See you soon,


2 thoughts on “Surviving Sobriety in the Winter

  1. Stuart Danker Post author

    My personal method to reduce unwanted thoughts is to have as little idle time as possible. Sure, it may be tiring, but it feels good to not ruminate or be troubled by what’s in my head, cravings or not. Great post. Thanks for sharing!



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