There are two types of drinking at Christmas. Firstly, there is the ‘mistletoe and wine’ drinking. The good side of drinking, the Dickensian side of drinking. Good friends coming in from the cold and snow into a warm room of dark oak with a roaring fire, flagons of frothing ale, sweet, spicy mulled wine, drinking, laughing. Spiced cider, red wine, carols, dark wood, the smell of exotic spices, remnants still of a festival more ancient that Christianity, the midwinter solstice, 12 days of feasting and drinking to ward off the cold and the fear that the days, instead of now becoming longer and warmer, would simply continue to get shorter and colder until the whole world was plunged into frozen darkness.
Then of course there is the reality of drinking. Office workers vomiting and unconscious under the glaring neon lights of Liverpool Street station because they’ve overdone it at their Christmas party, waking up at 4 in the morning with no memory of going to bed but a sure and certain knowledge that there was some kind of upset or anger or argument, a feeling that feels like a physical lump in your chest, a feeling of misery and despair that you are going to suffer from until that next drink. Feeling tired and irritable and out of shape and lethargic.
So am I saying that the mistletoe and wine drinking doesn’t exist? That is exactly what I am saying, most of it is out and out lies and illusion, other parts of it have some vague grounding in reality but are mainly lies. Imagine a young girl out with friends, who gets chatting to a man who she finds mildly interesting and slightly attractive, who lures her away from her friends and brutally rapes her. Describing that situation as a ‘young love’, is about as accurate as the mistletoe and wine portrayal of Christmas drinking. It misses the vast amount, and in fact the real essence, of what is going on. It misinterprets it entirely and then places an entirely disproportionate amount of emphasis on one minor aspect, and turns a brutal and vile reality into an insultingly inaccurate lie. It is an ugly analogy, but it is an accurate one.
Have you ever walked from the snow into a warm room of dark oak with a roaring fire to drink a flagon of frothing ale? I haven’t, in fact I’ve never had a flagon of frothing ale in my life. Clearly some of these ideas we have of Christmas drinking are sheer fiction that don’t exist now and probably never existed before.
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). 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. The mistletoe and wine Christmas doesn’t touch on any of these. 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 to 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. Where is all this in the Dickensian Christmas of mistletoe and wine?
My Christmas this year will be like all my Christmases since I have stopped drinking. It will be a happy time, a time to spend with my family, to see a little magic take place, 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. This is as close to the idea of the Dickensian 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 depression.
The thing that motivated me to stop drinking was all the downsides to drinking that became increasingly damaging the more I drank. But what has enabled me to stay stopped, and this is only something you can truly appreciate the effect of when you yourself stop, is that life is far, far more enjoyable without drinking. I have a feeling of confidence, calmness, and capability, that I simply didn’t have during my drinking years unless I was actually drinking. I had to spend money, to poison myself, to go through arguments and misery and exhaustion and the loss of all dignity to get, for a few small moments, a feeling of confidence and peace that I could have all the time if I only stopped. That is the feeling that will make Christmas fantastic for me. The only difference between me and drinkers is that I will have that feeling all the time, they will have to drink to get it, to poison themselves to ease the chemical imbalance and exhaustion caused by their previous drinking. This is the great secret of stopping drinking; the vastly increased quality of life. I feel like I can deal with whatever life throws at me and I don’t need a drink to get that feeling. Losing that feeling impacts your entire life. It is simply too big a price to pay.