What do you think of when you think about the holiday season? Most of us think of family, friends, celebrations, change of seasons, food, and so many other wonderful things we all cherish. But too often when the season finally arrives what we actually encounter is stress, worry, and rushing around to make sure everything is in place for all of that "joy". Or maybe we find our thoughts drifting off toward those that are no longer here to celebrate with us, and we are again struck with sadness or grief that we thought we packed away with the tree and the lights last winter. For most of us, we probably get a mix of the ups and the downs. Hopefully, more of the former than the latter!
For people in recovery, especially those in early recovery, the holidays can often represent an enormous challenge. Old ways of "celebrating" are out the window, though we may still have to look on while family and loved ones still enjoy a holiday cocktail. It's that time of year where tradition has old friends returning home and reconnecting for parties and gatherings, an occasion that we once revered is now one from which we recoil with apprehension. We feel blessed to finally be available and healthy enough to be welcomed home but often find ourselves feeling awkward and uncomfortable when we get there. Then there are those who are in the process of treatment right smack dab in the middle of the season, which may be the hardest of all. None of us took that first drink or drug in our youth envisioning a day where we would have to celebrate a holiday with our kids by telephone because we were away at a treatment program. While most people are waking up to presents, family, and maybe "Christmas Story" or "Its A Wonderful Life" playing in the background, there are also those who are waking up in a program, hospital, or institution wondering how it was that their lives ended up they way they did.
But here is the good news....people DO get better. All of the time actually! In fact, you probably know more people in recovery than you realize. As we progress in our recovery we begin to develop tools, strategies, and sometimes thicker skin, all of which protect us from the pitfalls of the season. For some people, this might mean that some of their traditions change. The night before Thanksgiving might be spent at a meeting instead of the old hometown hangout, or maybe at the holiday party, the eggnog is just...eggnog! It may even be necessary to celebrate some occasions in new places or around new faces. No matter how we celebrate, one thing is for certain... our gratitude to celebrate as sober people increases with time. Watching children tear into gifts and scream with excitement is a lot easier without a hangover, and our families notice that we aren't spending the whole evening looking at our watches with one eye toward the door. Even the stress leading up to these events is reduced as our new way of thinking tells us that these times really are about the blessing of being with the people we love rather than showering everyone with lavish gifts. Sober people also think about loved ones who have passed on around this time of year, but now we are more apt to experience a sense of gratitude for the time we were so fortunate to have with those people instead of focusing on the pain of our loss.
No matter what, make the best of the holiday season. If you have a loved one or friend in early recovery, keep an eye on them. Don't treat their recovery like the elephant in the room, talk to them! Ask them if they are comfortable. If they need to leave to go to a meeting, tell them how happy you are that they are taking such great care of themselves. If you are a person in early recovery, enjoy this time of year. If you are going someplace that may present a challenge or temptation, have a plan! Bring a sober friend or at least tell one ahead of time that you may be calling them if you start to feel a little uneasy so that they keep their phone on them. If you do get that uneasy feeling don't get down on yourself, it is all part of the roller coaster ride that is early recovery. And don't forget, times like these are probably one of the reasons you worked so darn hard to get sober in the first place. You fought, battled, and made enormously difficult changes all so you COULD be right here, right now, with the people you love the most. Getting sober was and is worth it, 100% of the time! Welcome home, we're happy you're back.
Happy holidays to all of you and your families!