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How to Forgive Yourself If You Slip Up This Holiday Season

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Deciding to quit drinking is a big decision—one that can feel a bit daunting. You might have been on the fence about quitting, even if deep down you knew it was the best thing for you because you were afraid of a slip. But, on the other hand, you might have felt like if you decided to quit, then you had to do it perfectly, with no backtracking, and that you had to have it all planned out first. 

You finally decide now is the time. Now, you are ready to quit, and then you look at the calendar and realize it’s the holiday season. This might feel like the most challenging time to stop drinking. With the upcoming events, gatherings, and traditions, quitting alcohol during the holidays might feel like setting yourself up to fail

Here’s the good news: you cannot fail at quitting drinking. So even if you slip, backtrack, decide you don’t want to, or push back your quit date, you literally cannot fail. 

Let that be permission to take some of the pressure off. Let’s also take a moment to dispel some of these common misconceptions about quitting drinking. First off, there is no one right path to letting go of alcohol. If you decide to quit, you also get to choose how you go about that process. Whether it’s in-person meetings, rehab, or an online recovery platform like Tempest, you get to decide. 

Secondly, slips, or going back to drinking for a spell after you’ve decided to quit, are a completely normal and sometimes necessary part of the process. I know they can be a source of fear and anxiety, but they don’t have to be. Take everything in as information. A slip is simply an opportunity to collect more data to inform your alcohol-free journey from now on.

I’ve been alcohol-free for a little while now and have learned quite a bit about self-forgiveness, which has in turn, taught me a lot about myself. One morning early in the year, journaling furiously, it hits me: if I do not not learn to be with the parts of myself I am so desperately trying to erase, I will spend the rest of my life missing my life. 

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I’ve asked myself some crucial questions to shift from that space of self-degradation to a space of self-love, and forgiveness is such a huge part of self-love! Some of those questions might be helpful to you as well:

  • What would it be like to not hate me?
  • What would it be like to forgive myself for not having a different past?
  • What would it be like if I gave myself grace rather than expecting perfection?
  • What kind of life might I have if I was as devoted to shifting my inner landscape as I was to my external environment?

Being without alcohol reminds us that we can change our stories. But first, we must believe ourselves worthy of redemption. Here are a few practices to help you make amends to yourself in general and to help you forgive yourself if you experience a slip this holiday season. 

Reconnect with the Wisdom of the Body

My first year alcohol-free was all about re-establishing a connection to who I was underneath all the societal and cultural influences I didn’t even realize I had been drowning under. Who was I, really? What did I actually want out of my life? What did I even like!? What did I want to call in, and what could I no longer tolerate? Alcohol and other substances kept me cut off from my instincts for years, completely out of touch with my intuition.

One of the first steps I took was to learn to listen to my body rather than trying so hard to manipulate and control it. Yes, part of this was nutrition and exercise. But more than that, it was about slowing down just enough to listen to the messages my gut was sending me, to reawaken that relationship after it had been dormant for so long. 

Developing a relationship with anything—a person, a new hobby, a life without alcohol— means paying that thing exquisite attention. The more attention I gave to the messages my body was sending me, the easier it became to make choices that aligned with my goals and to say no to the types of situations I would later question or regret. 

During the holidays, honing in on the messages your body sends might be a little more difficult because so many things are happening that throw us out of our routines. Still, it’s a great time to lean into what listening to your body might look like. And if you slip? No worries. Listen to what your body tells you afterward. What do you feel? How is your thinking? How does your body feel, physically? This is all great information to keep moving forward. 

Invest in Changing Your Relationship to Your Brain

After that lightbulb moment with my journal, there was no turning off the switch—I could no longer ignore that my inner dialogue was a never-ending diatribe of negativity. I had suddenly become aware of something so habitual I couldn’t even see it until I could, and wow, it broke my heart. No wonder I was miserable all the time!

For me, changing these conversations looked like getting support from a therapist who gave me strategies to examine these thought patterns. Additionally, I finally humbled down and started a daily meditation practice, something I knew I was supposed to be doing but that up to then mostly had me rolling my eyes. This time was different. I was finally ready to listen to people who were clearly onto something I so wanted for myself. By learning to sit (and yes, squirm) with myself, I became a witness to my thoughts, which created just enough space to begin to question and eventually shift those old stories. 

You can do this if you slip this season as well. Tune in to what your brain is telling you, and see if you can gently rewrite the story. If you are berating yourself for the slip, see if you can instead say that a slip is part of the process for most people. This is a journey, and it might take me a bit to figure out what works best for me. 

Tell Your Story

I isolated myself inside the things I did while I was drinking—words I couldn’t take back, behaviors that scandalized me in the light of day—sure I would hold these secrets inside for the rest of my days. Instead, I used them as evidence for the unhelpful narrative that there was something wrong with me. 

Once I gave up alcohol, I was strangely compelled to air all my dark moments out into the light of day, at which point a surprising thing happened: I didn’t die. Nobody ran away. If anything, I made the best friends of my life, people who reflected back to me my goodness, who shared their own stories and made me feel less alone. Better yet, for the first time, I felt a sense of belonging. Only when I opened up, shared the truth of my humanity, and allowed myself to be seen was I able to integrate both the light and dark aspects of myself. 

You don’t have to go public with your story (though you might!). But I promise: there is magic in finding and telling the truth to someone you feel safe with. 

During the holidays, you might find that a safe group of people with whom you can share your story is vital to getting through without alcohol. Tempest’s online membership provides affinity groups, meetings, and coaches that might be just the right fit. 

* * * 
Investing in self-forgiveness is a lifelong practice, a series of small shifts that seem insignificant when viewed on their own but together add up to a quiet yet profound transformation. This path takes courage. It’s instrumental, too, if you experience a slip. So, this holiday season, let it be one more step on your alcohol-free journey that surprises you.

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