Love it or hate it, holiday season is here!
I was once a complete holiday cynic – and if I’m being perfectly honest – I still have tendencies towards that cynicism. But the festive season is a thing, and so, in my sober life I’ve tried to embrace it somewhat. I have abandoned the idea of moving to the jungle and living with a tribe of indigenous people who’ve never even seen a European never mind a shiny Christmas ball. That whole, if you can’t beat em, join em, idea applies here.
Which brings me directly to my point. Connection – as opposed to complete isolation. The only way to realistically deal with the holidays, in my experience, is staying connected with other people who usually find the holiday season difficult too. Holiday time is hard for a person in recovery – to stay in recovery. Even the run up to it causes many of us untold stress and worry. The panic and dread about how we are going to cope without our drug of choice can often leave us worn out and unable to cope. Even for people who don’t normally drink, alcohol seems to be front and centre.
Last year the consumer spend on alcohol in America alone was expected to exceed $220 billion dollars, with $40 billion spent in November and December alone. In Ireland the spending on alcohol was expected to increases by 13.4% and in Australia by 59.4% . The planet is just about swimming in the stuff. And of course the availability and demand for drugs increases also. I remember a time when I’d put in a “special order” a few months before Christmas so I wouldn’t run out.
The first two years of my recovery were the hardest holiday times for me. My first year sober, my Mother made Christmas Day an alcohol free zone at her house to support me. While it was a very touching gesture and did help, I was also consumed by guilt at probably making everyone else’s Christmas Day not as enjoyable as it could be. Everyone loves some wine with their turkey – and because of me, the turkey was washed down with something else. There was that awkward feeling, that despite being sober and not causing trouble, I was still causing discomfort. Nobody seemed to mind not drinking, so it was probably my screwed up thinking, and not being able to relate to having fun without alcohol, that was causing my own discomfort.
These days, you could buy me a truck load of booze and construct a swimming pool out the back filled with it and I’d still have no interest in drinking. Life is, without doubt, better for me without alcohol. In the early days, the easier or more comfortable option would be to hide away, but my recovery circle advised strongly against that. Connection at all times of the year is hugely important when dealing with recovery from any addiction or mental health issues, but particularly during times of high emotion.
I see it as a huge advantage not to feel pressure to drink and even people who aren’t alcoholic feel pressure to drink more. Nobody asks me now, during my visits to family and friends, if I want a drink. It’s always “there’s coffee in the pot Nic”. It’s just become so comfortable now – for everyone. Nobody needs to watch their own drinking in case I feel “left out”, and nobody needs to be on tender hooks in case I drink too much. But it took time to get to this point and many changes in perception and attitude. In fact, I have brief moments of feeling very responsible and almost adult. I’ve learned that being able to take care of myself completely is the best way to enhance peace in a family dynamic.
Of course the reality for many of us is, that due to strained relationships, we are completely isolated from family. Loneliness is one of the biggest reasons people return to using. We all know as well, about feeling lonely in a room full of people. The secret to not being lonely is, to connect with people we can relate to. Most often those people are in recovery too, and even that connection can be hard for some of us. There is an endless list of emotional triggers at this time of the year. So many things to distract us from staying clean, sober and free from our respective addictive behaviours. The list of reasons to believe that staying abstinent is not an advantage is endless. Whether it be drugs, sex, alcohol or food, all round over indulgence is the name of the game at this time of year.
The idea of creating bonds with people and recommitting to family relationships is stressful for us. It certainly was for me. However, learning to feel apart of instead of separated from, enabled me to bridge the gap between me and the rest of the world. Also honouring my own needs and how I spend my time during this period helps a lot. Yes, I matter too. Eventually it won’t be so hard. It does get easier. As we learn to navigate life without clinging to addiction, we find social situations less traumatic. Not denying how you feel is a good start. Forcing myself to enjoy certain things never worked, so I just had to accept I was hating whatever I had to be part of, and find coping strategies to get through it.
Whatever your preferred recovery path is, I advise you to stay extra connected to your peers during this time – the clean and sober peers of course. Get involved in any social activities that may be organised by your recovery community – even if you don’t want to. At very least, call someone every day.
If your recovery circle is limited and you are alone during this time of year, there are many resources online that can help you stay connected. One of the best, and one I use all the time is www.intherooms.com. They are providing a meeting marathon of NA and AA meetings over the holiday period. Click here for a complete list of meetings available for Thanksgiving. You will find a link to other fellowship meetings also. This meeting platform has been an invaluable resource for thousands of people. You do not have to be alone or lonely.
I Love Recovery Café wishes all our readers and supporters a peaceful, happy and abstinent Thanksgiving.