#159 – Episode 159 – Surviving the Holiday Season Sober with Tamara Kirby


Tamara and Veronica discuss how to get through the holiday season sober. How to deal with the pressures of drinking and dealing with family members.

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about this episode

We’re entering into a season where alcohol use and abuse are rampant and encouraged.

When you first get sober, one of the hardest seasons to get through is the end-of-year holidays. Not only are these times we’re accustomed to associating with alcohol but they also bring us face to face with very real triggers and issues with family.

For weeks on end, we’re met with social pressure to have drinks in celebration with family, friends, work colleagues, and the list goes on.

But you can get through this holiday season not just sober but having boundaries and preserving your emotional well-being once you have the skills and strategies to deal with what comes your way. These are skills that go way beyond the holidays and are essential for our sobriety throughout the whole year.

Today I’m joined by my lovely colleague, Tamara Kirby to talk about being aware of our triggers and getting through the holiday season sober.


About Tamara Kirby

Tamara Kirby is a Licensed Addictions Counselor and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor. She works with clients from all over the world, different cultures, nationalities, and all with the same goal-to live their best life. Tamara developed her skillset through her clinical experience, skills, training, and education to help people recover from problems with alcohol and other substances. She has over a decade of experience counseling and coaching hundreds of adults, helping them return to themselves with a renewed sense of purpose, contentment, freedom, and happiness.

key highlights

Your first sober holiday season

“Everyone was getting completely trashed and when you’re not doing that anymore, you just can’t go near it.” – Veronica Valli

Tamara’s first Christmas sober was a struggle. She had no idea how to navigate the season and the pressure to drink it left her feeling very uncomfortable in her skin. To get through the season sober she avoided attending a lot of the social events she was invited to.

On my first sober New Year’s I volunteered to babysit for a family so I could stay safe and entirely avoid the wild celebrations I used to participate in.

Prioritizing our safety and avoiding triggering situations was crucial for getting through that first holiday season.

Picture-perfect family time

“You get to an age where you see other people’s families and you realize that yours is different.” – Veronica Valli

During the holidays we’re bombarded with messages that this is a time of year for beautiful gatherings with people who love each other and where everyone gets along splendidly.

That’s hardly the case for most of us

Growing up, we didn’t have much money and my mom was a single parent with mental health challenges that meant that certain things didn’t happen as they should have. Looking around at the picture-perfect images in the media and what seemed to me to be a wonderful time of family and coming together for my friends, I always felt a kind of emptiness and longing. For a long time, the holidays were very triggering for me.

For Tamara, from the outside, the extravagant decorations and celebrations gave off the image of the perfect family Christmas holiday but inside there was a lot of drama and unspoken issues. They were all physically together but never really emotionally connected.

Holiday perceptions

“Somewhere along the line, someone made all these rules about how you have to spend these holidays.” – Tamara Kirby

The holidays are filled with perceptions about how things should be compared to how they are. From multiple family members that you’re expected to visit to the events that you’re supposed to attend and expectations of gifts and showing up looking happy…. It’s a lot.

Especially as mothers, we can create a lot of hard work for ourselves trying to chase this feeling of a perfect holiday that we think we should create for our children.

It’s a sort of mass delusion that we are all caught up in and with all the marketing we’re subjected to, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s all very necessary, no matter the toll it takes.

Family time

“It was much more enjoyable for me to just have a certain timeframe to go see my family and participate.” – Tamara Kirby

For many of us, there’s an unspoken obligation that you must go home and spend as much time as possible with your family during the holidays.

When I got sober, the difficulties in my relationship with my mother really came to a head and I found our dynamic really hard to deal with. I spent my first two holiday seasons working to avoid facing it but when the third one rolled around I was scheduled to go home.

After several sleepless nights filled with anxiety attacks about the thought of going back home, someone said to me, “You know you don’t have to go, right?” And truly, the thought had never occurred to me before that.

If going to see your family feels bad, you don’t have to do it. If you need to limit the amount of time you’re spending at family events, you can. Whatever your boundaries look like, it’s important for you to put your wellbeing and sobriety first.

Triggers from childhood

It’s crucial to learn strategies that you can use to deal with triggers when they inevitably arise.

When we’re kids, often our parents, despite their best efforts, talk to us in certain ways that make us not feel very good.

One of the things that Tamara noticed in early recovery was that when she spent an extended amount of time with her family, those things started to come up again.

They would say things to her that would bring up such strong emotions and for a long time, she didn’t know why. Later she realized that a lot of the stuff from her childhood hadn’t been healed yet and it was triggered by their behavior.

Those are the kinds of feelings that can be so overwhelming that without strategies to cope, you feel like you need to drink to numb it.

There’s nothing more triggering than family, unresolved issues, the pressure of the holidays, and not having anything to numb it.

Your mental health must be the priority

That first Christmas when I decided to put my mental health first was revolutionary for me.

Before that, I thought I had to do what pleased my mother and the people around me and that how I felt was really irrelevant.

It was such a massive turning point in my sobriety to realize that I had to prioritize my emotional well-being to be able to function in the world and be there for other people.

Having the skills to have those difficult conversations and put yourself and your needs first is revolutionary.

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