new year’s eve

Looking Ahead To A Sober New Year

Now that we’ve had a Merry Christmas, let’s look ahead to the start of a sober New Year: the last day of this year and the first few hours of 2013.  Back in The Day, we used to call New Year’s Eve “Amateur Night.” Be that as it may, there is no question that December 31st and the early hours of the following year are the premier venues for chemically-enhanced “fun.”

Traditionally, on New Year’s Eve the rules are loosened up a bit and behavior that would be looked at askance (at best) on other occasions is tolerated and even encouraged. That being the case, it’s a minefield for people in recovery, especially newcomers. So we here at Sunrise Detox thought we’d share some of the strategies that have helped us have a sober new year, year after year.

First of all, we heartily recommend the alkathons that are held at recovery clubs, meeting halls and some treatment centers. These are usually a string of meetings throughout the day — often for 24 hours — on occasions deemed especially hazardous to us recovering folks. Not infrequently they include a dinner at some point, but they always include fellowship and the assurance that it’s really possible to have fun on holidays with our brain chemistry intact. NA has similar meeting marathons, and perhaps other fellowships do as well. These are almost always open meetings, and addicts of all stripes are welcome.

We don’t recommend private or public celebrations outside the rooms for the first couple of years at least, but if we feel we must expose ourselves to temptation, there are a few safeguards that we must not bypass:

  1. Always go to a meeting first, or plan on one afterward — and keep the commitment.
  2. Always take another sober person along to share the merriment. (It's more fun watching drunks when you have a sober companion.)
  3. Always make provision for your own transportation. If you’re riding with someone, have enough money for cab fare if needed. One of you might not make it through the night.
  4. Arrive late and leave early.
  5. Always have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. It keeps well-meaning revelers from pestering you to let them get you a drink.
  6. Always prepare your own drinks, or watch closely as they are prepared.  Even if you say you aren't drinking, some well-meaning bartender or friend may decide you need  a snort to loosen you up.  You don't know how you would react to a mouthful of alcohol.  Don't take the chance.
  7. Always watch your drink. Never set it down and turn your back. You might confuse it with someone else’s when you reach for it, or someone may have added a little surprise. Pocket flasks, roofies and other equipment are not uncommon on New Year’s Eve.
  8. If you do accidentally take a swallow of booze, or think you may have ingested a drug, leave immediately!!!  Alcohol and other drugs make us stupid.  You need to get to a place where your have fewer harmful decisions to make.
  9. Always have an agreement with your sober companion that if either party is uncomfortable both will leave immediately. You are there to support each other, not to hang out until someone finds a hookup.
  10. Always stick together unless someone relapses. If that happens, the sober person needs to get out of Dodge. It’s not your job to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. You’re not that powerful. If you were able to keep someone else from drinking or drugging, your buddy wouldn’t have relapsed. It’s not your responsibility. Get to a safe place and call someone in the program.
  11. Mind your own business!  Don't lecture others about their drinking.  It wastes your time, and it annoys the drinker.  Be an example, not a pain in the butt.
  12. Don’t forget the meeting afterward, even it it’s just a couple of drunks or druggies in a coffee shop. It’s the best way to keep our primary purpose in mind.

With a little planning, it’s possible to have a safe, happy and sober New Year. Don’t let some silly nostalgic idea that you have to be messed up to have fun cause you to blow it. Trust us — it won’t be fun when you wake up in 2013.

If you do wake up.

Amateur Night

Sunset 2011

I was outside snapping this photo with my phone, and remembered it was New Year’s Eve, and thus the last sunset of 2011. That got me to thinking about how it would have been, “back in the day.”

I’d have been getting tuned up for the evening by now, slightly tipsy (to the extent that I wasn’t permanently tipsy, there at the end), and making jokes about “amateur night.”  That’s what we called New Year’s Eve, referring to all the drunks who couldn’t handle their liquor, and how dangerous it was to be on the road when they were rushing around looking for that last party where they could ring in the new.  That didn’t stop us from getting drunk, we just stayed home.

Drinking surrounds celebrations in our Western traditions.  I guess other traditions have their own ways of mood-altering to celebrate, and certainly we Westerners have a variety of recreational chemicals to hasten us on our way to “happiness,” but in our society alcohol is overwhelmingly the drug of choice.  We take to heart Ben Franklin’s declaration that “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” and on New Year’s Eve we don’t hesitate to travel other roads to happiness as well.

And you know what?  That’s OK for most of us.  The fact of the matter is that roughly 80% of folks don’t even want to get drunk when they drink.  They get the buzz, relax a little, and then just…stop drinking for the evening.  Those are the folks who walk away from a half-full glass of wine, an unfinished beer, and leave people like me a bit mystified and just the least bit annoyed.  At most any celebration that isn’t held in a bar, eighty out of a hundred of the guests will drink that way, or won’t drink at all.

The rest of us — well, we don’t fare so well.  One of the prime indications of a booze problem is getting more intoxicated than we intend to.  Another is the ability to drink “amateurs” under the table.  Both of those danger signs are well-known.  Despite that, I managed to remain happily unaware for about twenty-odd years.  But that was then.  These days I don’t worry about things like that.  I know that as long as I keep my head in the right place and do the things that have helped me stay sober over the years, I’ll be safe and happy this New Year’s Eve.

As long as I stay off the road, that is.  It’s Amateur Night, but now it’s the other pros that I worry about.

Should you be worried about your use of alcohol (and, perhaps, other drugs) over the holiday weekend?

Should we be worried about our use of alcohol (and, perhaps, other drugs) over the holiday weekend?

We've been back at work for a couple of days.  The fuzzy head has cleared up.  Maybe we've made that pledge that so many of us have made on the morning (or afternoon) of January 1st, something on the order of, “Man! I'm never going to do that to myself again!”

Never again! (nih.gov)

A bit of cutting loose on New Year's Eve is thoroughly ingrained in our culture, and that of most others through the world. There is something about the holiday — perhaps our resolutions to clean up our act in the coming year — that seems almost to demand it.  Nonetheless, if we tied one on, we may be concerned.

The main thing to look at is our pattern of drinking throughout the year, not our behavior on New Year's Eve. Do we get trashed once a year? Once a month? Do we drink five drinks or more in one sitting? Do we do it often?

Have we ever had a blackout? Contrary to popular belief, “blackout” does not refer to drinking until we pass out — although the two sometimes go hand-in-hand. Rather, a blackout is when we remain conscious, keep partying, and then lose complete track of what we did. Friends tell us about it later on. Relatives comment on late-night phone calls, and we haven't the foggiest notion of what we talked about. We wake up on a concrete slab wearing orange pajamas, and don't know how we got there. Stuff like that.

One blackout, like one DUI, may have been poor judgement. More than one — ever — indicates a problem that needs looking at. Folks without problems don't get a second DUI; they learned their lesson. People who got sick drunk, or otherwise impaired to the point of blackout, are the same way. If it's a recurring pattern, there's a problem.

Did we catch hell from our partner about our behavior? Partner have a black eye? Boss a little cool after the office party? Friends less than friendly? Car dented or misplaced? So sick we couldn't get in to work? Calling in sick after another weekend? Is there a pattern here?

It's not up to professionals to decide if we need help (at least until we mess up to the point that someone has to), it's up to us.

Bottom line: If we're wondering if we have a problem, we probably do. Lying to other folks is rude, and may get is in hot water. Lying to ourselves about our drinking and drugging may ruin the rest of our lives.

Check out the screening tests at the top right of this page, in the sidebar.  They don't take long, but they can tell you a lot.