It's not an easy question to answer, of course. The short response is this: no harder than it is any other time of year.
I'm grateful that at least today, now, I can be around people who are drinking and not feel uncomfortable. It wasn't always like this. I got sober in August, and so I was about four months sober when I hit my first holiday season. The holidays didn't seem harder - it was hard all the time and the holidays didn't feel any different.
I braced myself, that first December, because I thought it would be really difficult. I thought everyone would notice that I'm not drinking. I thought I would feel like an outsider - what would I talk about? What would I do with my hands? Will Christmas feel really boring without a drink, like baseball games do?
It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, perhaps in part because my expectations were really, really low. What I felt around people who were drinking was a sort of longing, a kind of jealousy, like watching your ex-lover dancing with his new girlfriend at a party. Even though you know your ex is bad for you, and you're mostly glad he's gone, it is still hard to watch.
I knew that I didn't really want to drink. I didn't really want to not drink, either, but I wasn't willing to risk losing everything. Looking back on it, what I was feeling was grief, a sense of loss. I missed my steadfast companion, the one who was always there for me but who turned on me in the end. I mourned the loss of the ability to drink like a normal person. I didn't want to be a drunk, I wanted to be able to have one or two, like everyone else. Thankfully I had the gift of desperation - I knew in my heart that one was impossible. It was actually easier to have none than to have one.
It is better now, today. I have tools I can use if I'm feeling uncomfortable. I have people I can call. I always have an escape plan when I go to a party - if I start to feel weird, I leave. In many ways I have a better time than I ever did when I was drinking, because I'm not obsessed with whether there is enough alcohol, whether anyone is noticing how much I'm drinking. I am able to have real conversations, meet new people, and be present for everything. If I start to feel jealous, or odd, I picture the next morning when I'll wake up rested, refreshed and hangover-free.
I also realize that most people really don't care if I'm drinking or not. In early sobriety, standing there with my glass of club soda, I felt as though I had a siren on my head screaming "Look at her! She can't drink!!" On the odd occasion where someone is pressuring me to have a drink (c'mon! loosen up! One won't hurt!) I don't offer excuses or reasons - I just smile politely and continue to say "No, thanks." Sometimes I see people who seem uncomfortable that I'm not drinking. I remember being that way, too. In the throes of my drinking anyone who could stand there with a soda smiling and having fun made me very afraid, because they made me think about my drinking.
I have gratitude, too. I hope I never lose the ability to appreciate how much richer my life is now. I have moments of pure frustration that I can't have one freaking glass of wine to relax: after a long hard day with the kids, at the end of a snowy day in front of a roaring fire or having a romantic dinner with my husband. Those moments come and go quickly now. I have learned to embrace them, to forgive myself for having those thoughts, because in their wake my gratitude increases. Today I have choices; alcohol doesn't call all the shots anymore. I heard a great quote the other day: "I'd rather be sober wishing I could have a drink, than drunk and wishing I could get sober".
I was riding in the car with Finn this morning when he said, "Momma, Christmas is a time for fun and family, right?"
"What about presents?"
"Of course presents, but that is just one day. The fun part lasts longer," he replied.
Note to self, I thought: Christmas is just a day, and the fun part lasts longer.