How to Survive the Deep Freeze — Without Alcohol

Winter Blues

I hate winter. Especially once January hits, and we’ve got three long months ahead and nothing but freezing forecasts and deceptive wind chills. I get blue. Really blue. Like a lot of us do: Seasonal Affective Disorder is in the DSM and while I may suffer from a touch of it, I think most of my winter blues come from this disease called alcoholism. A disease that, I’m now learning, I’ve suffered from for a long time before it really dug its teeth into my soul and brought me to my knees.

Now that I’m back in recovery, winter has become a critical time for me to use the tools and coping skills I’ve learned to stay sober. Chief among them: knowing how to normalize those self-sabotaging and self-defeating thoughts that take residence in my head when I isolate myself (which has been my go-to winter blues coping method since I was a kid).

Thoughts like: “Why did you say such a dumb thing?” or “Why are you such a lazy procrastinator?” or “Why can’t you finish what you start?” or “Why can’t you do things like so-and-so does?” You get the idea.

It wasn’t that long ago when the only way I knew how to ease these thoughts was to gulp a warm hot toddy (or five) or down a marathon of martinis.

I hated feeling uncomfortable. I know, I know — who does? — but I used to feel like I couldn’t live if I had to experience an ounce of anxiety. I never learned how to walk through any type of challenge or fear soberly and come out the other side feeling triumphant. Or at the very least, unharmed.

Instead, I berated myself for every tiny mistake I made, and each misstep or criticism cut deep into my all-too-sensitive skin. I came to rely on booze as either liquid courage or a curative bandage, depending on the day’s events. And this, I now know, is not a successful long-term solution for life.

But I spent many winters engulfed in this alcohol-fueled way of life — and for many of those years I was “functional.” I went to work, I hung out with friends, I even exercised when my hangovers weren’t too debilitating. 

And while I wouldn’t say I was any less of an alcoholic in the spring, summer, or fall, there was just something about winter — that frozen stillness, like everything had just stopped dead in its tracks — which made it very easy for me to say “fuck it,” feel sorry for myself, embrace the winter blues, and drink. I can’t tell you how many times I gave up on sobriety during the bleak month of January.

But sobriety has given me an amazing gift. I now see that I have the ability to make any season, any inhospitable chill, any icy, bleak day, any lonely feeling, any challenge or fear, into whatever I want it to be.

Because feelings aren’t facts. The desolate winter view outside my window may make me feel utterly alone, but a phone call to a friend immediately proves otherwise. So in an instant, a lie that once leant itself beautifully to my desire for no-holds-barred drinking is smashed.

I’ve also learned that feelings are never static. Just like the seasons, they change. I still strongly dislike the frigid winter, but I don’t dread or fear it anymore. Honestly, I can’t afford to — otherwise, I will drink. Instead, I take it one day at a time. If one day sucks, I always remind myself that this day will not last forever. These feelings will not last forever. This winter will not last forever.

And now, every time I get through a winter season sober, I am stronger because of it.

Do you suffer from the winter blues? Share your tricks for coping in the comments!


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