Thanksgiving, Christmas and Holidays. Alcohol Explained 2 – Definitive Drinking Occasions


Firstly apologies for being so quiet recently, I have been working on Alcohol Explained 2 which is now substantially complete. The current intention is that when it is released it will be free on Kindle for 5 days so watch out for updates in respect of this. Just to mention you do not need to buy a Kindle to read the book on Kindle, you just need to download the Kindle App.

To give a taster, below is a chapter from the book which gives a method of approaching those definitive drinking occasions (like Thanksgiving, holidays / vacations and Christmas); those occasions that we really can’t imagine going through, let alone enjoying, without a drink in hand. I thought it was particularly pertinent with Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching but also because there was a post recently in the Alcohol Explained facebook group from someone who has just booked an all-inclusive holiday.

The chapter does build on some concepts covered off earlier in the book so it may not make perfect sense out of context, but hopefully, it will be of some use until Alcohol Explained 2 is available.

When you quit drinking you need to prepare in advance for any occasion you think is going to be a challenge. There’s no point just turning up and keeping your fingers crossed, in the early days at least you need to run through the occasion in your mind before you get there so you are prepared and ready. In the same way that you need to start seeing drinking, drinkers and yourself in a different (and frankly more realistic) way, so you also need to see those occasions that you always believed you would never be able to go through not drinking in a new light.

When you identify these situations take a three-stage approach to dealing with them. Firstly, you need to identify how you have idolised drinking in that situation and how much of that image is false. Secondly, you need to identify the true pleasure in the event (after all if the only pleasure is in the drinking then you may as well lock yourself away on your own and drink). Thirdly and finally, you need to recognise how in reality alcohol will detract from the inherent pleasure in the event in question.

We are all different and although the chemical, physiological and psychological factors that make up our drinking are all very similar we all have different lives and will have different situations that we consider will be a problem. It is not possible for me to predict and cover off every situation every reader will encounter and strip it of the alcohol-soaked hype, but what I can do is give you a few of my own and show you how I now view them. These are situations that, during my drinking years, I could never have believed I could go through, let alone enjoy, without drinking. I can show you how I used to see them and how I see them now. This will hopefully give you the tools which you can translate into whichever situations you think you may need to do a bit of preparation for.

One of the most obvious ones, and I think this is true for many people, is going on holiday. When I go on holiday with my family we always go all inclusive (meaning all the food and drinks are included) so there is as much alcohol as you could want all included in the price.

This is how I used to see holidays when I was drinking: they are a time to drink uninhibited, in fact not just the holiday but the travelling as well. I used to find flying stressful, all the panic to get there, lugging suitcases around then going from hectic to bored as you wait impatiently and with increasing irritation in the crowded airport to board (a phrase that was used a lot in the British Army always used to spring to mind; hurry up and wait’).

people moving fast through airport

Then when you do finally board the plane you are stuck in horribly cramped conditions desperately waiting to get off. Then finally landing, feeling uncomfortable, tired and restless, then more waiting to get off and get through passport control, waiting for the luggage, then more lugging suitcases and hot uncomfortable coaches or taxis. The only thing that made the journey even remotely enjoyable was having a few drinks at the airport, a few more on the plane, then finally arriving to hit the bar and recuperate from the horrible journey with a few liveners.

Then the actual holiday. I would imagine waking up probably a bit hungover but who cares? A spot of breakfast, half an hour or so for that to go down, then it was perfectly acceptable to get a cold beer at the bar and lie around slowly sipping it, with a book or just relaxing and chatting. Long lazy mornings, long lazy afternoons, chatting, snoozing, reading, relaxing. Then later in the afternoon up for a shower and to dress for dinner, a nice cocktail or two with dinner, then sitting out for the evening, enjoying the warmth and the view with a drink in hand.

There may be a few days of sight-seeing, of exploring exotic, ancient cities, following meandering alleyways and going into local bars to drink ice cold drinks.

In all honesty, how could anyone go on holiday, not drink, and expect to have even half as good a time as if they were drinking?

This is how I see holidays now:

Firstly it came as a huge surprise to me to find that I don’t actually hate flying. We leave nice and early for the airport so it’s not really stressful getting there. Suitcases have wheels these days, so getting them from point A to point B is virtually effortless. We drop our bags off, go through security, find somewhere nice to eat, and after a relaxed meal, it’s usually about time to head to the gate for boarding. Then it’s a few hours on a plane, which I actually don’t mind at all now. I always feel like I never get enough time to just sit and read or write, which is exactly what I get when I’m on a plane (part of this book was written on a flight). When we land I feel happy, excited and ready to go. I don’t feel restless or groggy or irritated. I’m bright, energetic and excited. I enjoy the coach or taxi journey, sitting there looking out the window. Even the journey back home is much the same. It’s nice to be getting back and settling back into the normal routine. We usually plan to have a takeaway (takeout) when we’ve got home and unpacked which is something to look forward to. So why is there this huge change?

This is one of the little aspects of not drinking that never occurred to me to expect. You expect to wake up without a hangover, you expect to feel better and perhaps to lose some weight, but no one ever says ‘flying is so much less stressful’. I really wasn’t expecting it, after all, flying is a grind whether you’re drinking or not isn’t it? Turns out, for me at least, that is isn’t!

I was never a regular drinker, I was a binge drinker, but for me, my holidays started the moment I left work so whenever I was flying I was drinking the day before. So whenever I flew I had a night’s drinking behind me.

Woman in plane suffer with stress headache

It made things look irritating, the queues, the crowds, the people. It made me restless which made waiting at the airport and sitting on the plane very uncomfortable and made time pass a lot more slowly. It accelerated my heart which made moving suitcases a grind instead of a breeze and of course I would drink at the airport and on the plane, so by the time I got off I would be half hungover; hot, restless, tired and irritable. I have none of those things now and it only dawned on me several years after quitting drinking how much better travelling is when you are sober. So there’s another unexpected benefit from quitting drinking; stress-free flying!

As for the actual holiday, is the idyllic description I gave above an accurate representation of a drinking holiday? Clearly not, and as ever it is the idea and not the reality that is attractive. So, for example, the description I give above misses out the waking up in the middle of the night feeling tired but being unable to sleep. It also misses out the waking up feeling exhausted and anxious. Also missing is the feeling of lethargy and effort it takes to get up and move around. The frustrated uncomfortable feeling of constantly overeating. The feeling of being overweight and out of shape. The regular arguments and bickering.

Let’s now move to the second stage of our three-stage approach and see what pleasure there is in holidays without alcohol, or what you gain from being on holiday not drinking. No hangovers obviously. Waking up rested and fresh and excited to start the day is an obvious one. But what is less obvious is just feeling good all day. You already feel well-rested and positive and happy, you don’t need a drink to feel that way. You can sit, and chat, and read, and snooze (just as if you were drinking). But you can also get up and go for a walk, or a run, or play with the kids, or head to the gym for a bit. Watch other drinkers. Are they happy and chatty before they’ve had a drink? Or course not. They need a drink to get there, and even then they are lethargic and sedentary. See the alcoholic drinks for what they are; lots of refined sugar (which is itself a poison) mixed with a drug. When you see other drinkers sat there with their drinks imagine their hearts hammering away in their chests in direct response to the drug they’ve taken and how this makes them feel heavy and exhausted. Think of that anxious, insecure feeling that is slowly building up as their brain desperately tries to counter the depressive effects of the alcohol. Never take your sobriety for granted. It’s all too easy to quit drinking and, because the benefits of sobriety come back over a few days or weeks and because you have them all the time, take them as the norm and forget how drinking robbed you of them. The feeling of sobriety is the feeling of not being exhausted, of not being irritable, of not being anxious and lethargic. All of these things very soon become your norm. Never, ever, take them for granted, and think about them every time you see someone drinking. And I’m not just talking about problem drinkers or heavy drinkers. Every drinker who ever lived sacrificed far more to the false idol that is alcohol than they ever got in return.

Some people say we shouldn’t criticise drinkers, that we are the ones with the problem, not them. They should be left to enjoy themselves and not miss out because of our issues. Let me be quite clear here, I would never say any of these things to a drinker (unless of course, I was assisting them in becoming free). This is just how I perceive them. It is the reality of drinking as I see it and it is this perspective that has given me my freedom. I had two goals when writing these books. One was to tell the truth about alcohol as I see it. The second was to provide some tools to people to enable them to retake control of their lives from alcohol. It was never my intention to tell half-truths and lies to enable people to continue taking a drug. When I look at drinkers this is what I see and frankly, it seems to me to be a far more accurate picture than that portrayed by society generally and by the drinkers themselves. Freedom is reliant on seeing alcohol as it really is and seeing drinkers as they really are is part and parcel of that. If you are uncomfortable then as ever it is your prerogative to disregard what I am saying, but you do need to think about what your goal is. Is it to see the truth and regain control of your life? Or to continue to buy into the nonsense that caused you so many problems in the first place?

Going back to holidays though I also have children. For me being on holiday gives me an opportunity to spend some time with them. Children require patience and energy, two things alcohol robs you of. Remember the lady who emailed me to say that what was worrying her was that usually on holiday she’d start drinking around 3 pm and from then until dinner was also her ‘silly time’ with the kids, a time she would play with them and mess around being stilly with them?

dad playing in the sand with kids at the beach

It wasn’t until I read this that I realised I was doing what I say not to do a few paragraphs up, which is to never take for granted what your sobriety has given you. Until she sent me that email I didn’t realise that even though I don’t drink on holiday I still have silly time with my two boys. But mine isn’t 3 pm until dinner time, it runs approximately from the very second we all wake up and runs until the time we all collapse into bed (except perhaps for an hour or so after lunch).

I have now been on holiday numerous times not drinking. I know every time that I go that It would be the easiest thing in the world to go to the bar and order a couple of drinks. But I know that even though the withdrawal from two drinks would be minor it would be there. It would be an unpleasant, anxious feeling and suddenly I wouldn’t be enjoying the holiday or enjoying playing with my sons, or enjoying my book or enjoying going for a walk, all I’d be thinking about was when I could have that next drink so I could get rid of that unpleasant feeling so I could then get on with enjoying my holiday. I wouldn’t be enjoying myself because the usual stresses and strains of everyday life that are still there even when on holiday would suddenly be worrying me more and more and my ability to enjoy the holiday would drop away. I’d be having to keep drinking just to maintain the level of mental resilience I have all the time now that I’m not drinking. That would lead to a lack of sleep, anxiousness and lethargy. And that of course is the third stage of our three-stage approach; how alcohol actually removes genuine pleasure from the event.

Holidays are different when you aren’t drinking and they are far better. They are a mix of quality sleep, reading, eating, chatting, charging around, seeing things, playing around and relaxing. This is opposed to then you are drinking when holidays are all about, well, drinking. About sitting around relieving the withdrawal. And of course, going home feeling more wiped out than when you went.

Another event that causes people concern when they stop drinking is Christmas. Again let me tell you how I saw Christmas when I was drinking, and how I see it now.

My view of Christmas when I was drinking was the ‘mistletoe and wine’ Christmas. Mulled wine, raring fires, time with friends and family, a Christmas meal with red wine, champagne for breakfast, and when the day was over cuddling up on the sofa with a drink.

The reality, of course, was very different. Lying awake for large chunks of the night before is never the best start to any day. The first few drinks were always a pleasure (but only because they were dulling the tiredness and remedying the chemical imbalance caused by the previous drinks), but after a few hours drinking, and a huge meal, the rest of the day would be spent asleep. Arguments were fairly commonplace, as they are I think for many people over Christmas.

I always loved Christmas as a child, it was such a magical and wonderful time of year. As I got older it became a drinking day, a day where you could drink as much as you liked so I loved it for that reason. When I stopped drinking I found a third way to love Christmas.

Christmas is a day off work, it’s a day when you can either stay in all day with the family or go to someone else’s house and enjoy their hospitality. You have lots of nice food, time with friends and family, a few presents, and maybe even a film. What’s not to like?

Remember that every single alcoholic drink that is drunk over Christmas will result in disturbed sleep, a corresponding feeling of anxiety, and the poisoning of a human body. And these are the effects experienced by the people having just one drink (and there are precious few of those).

people looking sad with santa hats on

As the number of drinks an individual drinks on each occasion increases so do the ill effects, moving from disturbed sleep into full-blown insomnia and the resulting exhaustion and lethargy over the following days, moving from anxiety into increasing worry and fear and eventually into full-blown depression, and from almost imperceptible poisoning into full-blown hangover, nausea, and headaches. And of course, other effects then come into play, as our emotional wiring short circuits we end up with the arguments, tears, anger and, for many, physical violence. Money being spent that many cannot really afford. Health being eroded and seriously damaged.

Every child hit, or shouted out, or reduced to tears because their parents were either drunk or hungover, every argument that took place that wouldn’t otherwise have taken place and has been caused by tiredness and anxiety that exists only because of the previous drinking, every drunken fight, every drunken arrest. Every drunken argument that kicks off, all the domestic violence. Every person who unwittingly drinks too much and loses every shred of dignity.

The reason I love Christmas now is because it is a time to spend with my family, to see my children enjoy the magic that I used to enjoy when I was their age. To know I am passing on a little of the wonder and true magic that is still left in the world to my children. It’s a time to spend time in the warm with friends, a time to be as free from arguments and anger and tears as it is possible to get with a young family. A time to be as happy as it is possible to be, bearing mind the usual stresses and worries of everyday life. A time for nice food and warmth and company. This is as close to the idea of the utopian Christmas as it is possible to get and it won’t be because of alcohol that I experience it, in fact, it will only be possible because alcohol no longer factors in my life; if it did then this wouldn’t be what I could expect from Christmas, what I would be looking forward to would be more tiredness, arguments, hangovers and anxiety.

Another occasion for people is shows, concerts or sporting events. So the ideal is sitting there with a drink really enjoying the event. So how is that false? Well, the event organisers never want people intoxicated, it causes no end of problems for them. One of the main ways they discourage heavy drinking is to slow the flow of drinks by cutting back on bar staff (which also saves them money). I have been to many shows, concerts and sporting events drinking. Invariably I miss half of it because I am queuing at the bar or trying to get to the toilet. The part of the show I do see I’m usually not paying attention to because I’m either thinking about how I’ll get my next drink or waiting for the break-in considerable discomfort because I need the toilet. The event is either spent wanting to have a drink or, if you can get a steady enough supply, forgetting most of what you are watching in any event. The pleasure in the occasion that alcohol robs you of is enjoying the actual event at all!

I hope I have managed to approach these definitive drinking occasions and how you need to start seeing them differently. Remember that it is a three-stage process. Firstly recognising that what you are imagining is in some significant ways false. Secondly, identify the pleasure in the occasion that is there even if there is no alcohol. Thirdly to think of the pleasure that alcohol would in fact remove from the occasion.

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9 Responses

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this brilliant stuff, even when you clearly have a very busy family/work life….it all makes so much sense and I find it invaluable….I am still trying to get to the best place, haltingly albeit, but every time I read what you have written, it sinks in a little bit more

  2. Thank you, this is really helpful and I will continue to keep this in mind over the Christmas period. It is so easy to see alcohol as a golden glow rather than the dark cloud it so often ends up being.

  3. I’ve a double whammy. All inclusive Xmas holiday let’s see how good their mocktails are ! I’ve been sober all year after a horrible argument at new year brought on by booze. This was such a positive well timed reinforcement x

  4. I’m nearly up to 11 months (a year on 28th Dec) and am loving my new life. It feels weirdly easy to not drink now and I wake up grateful and excited every day. People keep asking me if I’ll celebrate a year by having a drink. They seem to assume I can’t wait. I wonder if they’d ask me if I was going to celebrate by having a fag if I’d given up smoking! That’s how ridiculous it feels to me – they really don’t get it. And maybe I didn’t. In the early days it felt like this was an endurance race that I had to get through for 12 months to prove to myself I could do a year. Then I was ‘allowed’ to have a drink and maybe drink occasionally. But my mind has totally changed. I feel I would no more take a drink than I would a shot of heroin! (I should add I’ve never taken a harder drug than alcohol.) I’m even slightly scared of drink now! I just don’t want it in my body. And on the subject of your post William, you are totally right – high days and holidays, weddings and work nights out are so much better sober. Especially, work nights out, not least because you can leave and drive home when you want and leave them all to it – then wake up feeling grateful the next morning, knowing they’re probably lying in beds wasting the day feeling hellish. But back to holidays. You are right – these are the best days of the year, so you want to feel your best in order to enjoy them as much as you can and make the very most of them. What I really got on here to say was thank you again for your posts – I love the reinforcement they give me. Cant wait for AE2. And yes, you’ve reminded me not to take sobriety for granted. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  5. This is extremely helpful, William. Thank you so much. You hit the nail on the head every time. Looking forward to reading your new book.

  6. Great post, very good reminder how alcohol offers nothing to an occasion. Good reminder on not taking sobriety for granted , the bad hangovers, the lethargy why would anyone want to go back to that.
    Looking forward to the new book!

  7. Wonderful, true and a much needed reminder for me.
    My sincere gratitude ?? . You are truly saving lives, a modern day superhero ?‍♀️ Pow ?!

  8. Really educational, and loving at the same time.. You are a great writer, and understand your audience very well. I am at 4 1/2 months. I too prefer to have just time with myself not drinking, and taking time to reflect on how drinking isn’t nearly as much fun as it is made out to either. It is something, I will never ever do again. It is a tough decision but it was what needed to be done!
    I am happy..

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

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Alcohol Explained

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