New Year’s Eve Panic in Recovery? Fagettaboutit.

celebrating holidays sober

I remember the New Year’s Eve of 19… was it ’84? It was like a lot of other New Year’s Eves I’d celebrated. A feeling of excitement. A new party to go to. New people to check out. A sense of desperation to do something significant and way out. And that could only mean one thing in my life at that time: Getting as fucked up as possible.

That year, I did indeed have the inside scoop on a new party. And I did have the requisite bottle of champagne. My best friend was going to come with me. The problem was, I only had one nugget of coke for the whole damn night.

She knew of some other possibilities, a bar was hosting live music, another party across town. We couldn’t decide where to go. Which place would be the coolest? Where would we meet the most intriguing people, who would nonetheless be not any more fascinating than us? Where would we have the best chance of looking cool, in case the perfect person happened to see us at just the right moment?

We wanted to keep our options open. We didn’t commit to any one plan. We decided to check them all out, from the car, driving around Cambridge and Somerville with a bottle of champagne. We didn’t want to blow our only blow before deciding which party or bar to go to. We wanted to position ourselves well for the high. I’m guessing we smoked a joint in there somewhere, too.

This kind of thinking was…not a way of thinking back then. It was reality. Common sense. Of course you wanted to get fucked up on New Year’s Eve. Of course you wanted to be in the coolest place. Of course you did your best to maximize your high.  Of course you couldn’t decide which of several promising scenes to check out.

So we drove around all night peering into places, parking for a while and moving on to the next possibility. I know without remembering, but just because I’d done it so many times before, that I was too high to even consider getting out of the car and facing a party.

Inevitably, midnight came around and there we were, in the car, with the rock and the unopened champagne, having done nothing but drive around.

In the end, we went back to my place on Broadway, chopped up the rock, snorted it, opened the champagne and somewhat sadly wished each other a Happy New Year. But the truth is, I was relieved. We’d done the coke, smoked the smoke, drunk the bubbly, and that was really all that I wanted.

celebrating holisdays sober

That was all that I ever wanted.

When I think about advising a newly recovering person how to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, my thought always goes back to that night. Like so many lows in my using, there was almost nothing to observe from the outside. All the real corrosion and soul-deadening happened on the inside, where not even I could see.

Because, really, it would have been a lot easier to get high if my friend hadn’t been there. I wouldn’t have had to go through the charade of going out. I could have had the whole chunk to myself. I have to admit that I had those thoughts. And as soon as I do, it helps me remember how I never want drugs to come between me and my decency again.

So, if you’re not using and you’re new to this, you’re several steps ahead of where I was that New Year’s Eve, and you know more than I did. And for that matter, not that comparisons are great, but just think of the miserable folks who are going to be celebrating by getting fucked up who, like me, aren’t going to be improved one iota, not in character, and not in circumstance from getting high.

So, yes, the obvious stuff: Don’t take any drugs. (I include alcohol in the definition of “drugs.”) And be sure to give that the full significance it deserves, because it’s a big deal.

And about that terrible, anxious feeling/thought/impulse that you have to do something special because it’s a special occasion and because every single person in the world but you seems to be raising a glass?

There are two ways to look at holidays like New Year’s Eve, and either one will get you through with flying colors. (Any day you don’t use is a banner day, remember?

Take the opportunity to decide how you want to celebrate holidays now that you’re in recovery.

Take some time to think about this, to journal about it, and to talk to others who don’t get fucked up as a matter of course. (I’m talking about normal people, who can be great teachers of what it looks like to conduct yourself without being driven by a compulsion.)

Think about what the occasion really means to you. If you decide it’s significant, here are some suggestions for enjoying it clean. Try to incorporate the elements that make it special for you. If you like sparkles, throw sparkles in your hair. If you like getting dressed up, get dressed up. Just because you’re clean doesn’t mean you have to be in mourning. Turn up the lights!

Some suggestions:

  • Stay home and cook a nice meal. Watch a movie or a series on TV/ Internet, go to bed after making a wish on a star, provided it’s a clear night.
  • Go out during the day and do something festive, like having a nice lunch and a movie, or ice skating, or walking on the beach.
  • Hole up with a good book and drink hot chocolate.
  • Get together with a group of recovering friends and play games and have snacks.

If you decide it doesn’t mean anything to you, or you just aren’t in a good space to celebrate, don’t.

  • Treat it just like any other day. This one’s especially helpful if you’re feeling fragile and/or craving.
  • Focus on doing all your self-care, maintenance, personal, physical and interpersonal work that you do every other day.
  • Make sure you have 3 good meals and drink plenty of water.
  • Only be alone if you’re feeling comfortable in your own skin.
  • If you’re feeling squirrelly, be with a friend. If no one’s available, check out an online meeting.  

Above all remember: It’s just one day.

Today is the day before New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow, my partner and I are going to drive about an hour to attend a program a friend of ours (who’s also in recovery) is putting on in celebration of the end of 2017. We’re staying overnight with our friend and planning to have a nice breakfast with her and her partner on New Year’s morning.

Minus the event to go to, just having the breakfast on New Year’s morning would be enough of a celebration for me.

Here’s what my story should tell you, and if it doesn’t, I’ll explain:

  • The longer into this journey of recovery you go, the more the people around you are healthy and wholesome to be around.
  • The healthier you are, the less you need to make a big deal out of every blip and tangle life comes up with.
  • And the less you’ll be around people who try to make you feel guilty for taking care of yourself,  no matter how uncomfortable it makes them.
  • And lastly, simplicity really is the best medicine when it comes to soothing the obsessive-compulsive-black-and-white-immediate-gratification tendencies of the addict’s brain.

Whether or not you celebrate, I wish you a healthy and happy new year. And if you want a star to wish on, I’ve included one for you at the end of this post.

See you in about a week!

Lots of love,


celibrating holidays sober

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