‘Tis the season to be merry . . . or is it? In my early recovery, I wasn’t sure. I white-knuckled my way through so many festive celebrations and holiday parties, I lost count. What I learned for sure is that there is no easy way through holidays or through recovery.
Staying sober is hard enough without a surfeit of Christmas celebrations, family gatherings and holiday happy hours, right? This entire season can be a set up for failure. As memories of past New Year’s celebrations crept into my mind, I found myself resenting the very program that saved my life.
If I had to go to one more party and watch friends and family enjoy their cocktails “responsibly,” I was going to scream. I am sure everyone in recovery can relate when I tell them that it sent me into a rage. What the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t drink like a normal person? How boring was the rest of my life going to be? I was livid watching Uncle Bob throw back his fifth Jim Beam and coke, and yet I was the drunk?!
Early in my recovery, I knew it was important for me to have a plan that would keep me focused on my sobriety. This wasn’t easy. I didn’t feel that I could talk to “normies” about how I was feeling. I was resentful and bitter. It didn’t register with me that there just might be someone else out in the world feeling the same emotions. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. I mean, how could I have any fun at all without booze?
The so-called “responsible” drinkers, like Uncle Bob, had no qualms about letting the good times roll. They weren’t about to let a little thing like my sobriety deter them from getting mud-slopping, falling-down drunk. I became known as a “buzz kill.” I didn’t smoke; I didn’t do drugs; and I don’t drink.
I soon learned that I didn’t fit in with that crowd anymore; these parties were no place for a person trying to stay sober. Not only did my environment have to change, but so did the people in it. I had to accept the fact that many of the people I thought were my “friends” were nothing more than drinking buddies.
These are the times when having a sponsor is crucial – someone who had been where I was and who understood the resentments and frustrations I was feeling.
I’d like to tell you that I dove right into my recovery and followed every suggestion to a tee, but I didn’t. I eased into it, testing the waters; until finally I fully surrendered. I began to notice that the more sober connections to people, places and things I brought into my life, the less tempted I was to drink.
That year and each subsequent year, I began to invent my own set of rules for surviving the holiday season. I call them Survival Tactics. They are little things I could do to release aggravation and successfully cope with the holidays.
My number one tactic for the holiday season is to attend more Twelve Step meetings. I make it a priority to stay connected with my support system; I know that this technique is the key to my survival through the festivities.
I also find something else to occupy a good bit of my time. Or rather, God always finds something interesting for me to do. For example, four years ago my two older children and I joined a community theatre. Each holiday season we are busy, busy, busy rehearsing and preparing for our production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a wonderful distraction and a great way to spend time with my family.
My second tactic for the season is to be cognizant of planning our outings. If I know a certain restaurant is frequented by my old drinking buddies, I don’t go there. Who needs the reminder? My husband and I take day trips skiing or visiting friends. We find new places to dine and spend quality time together as a family with our children.
My third tactic for the holidays is to practice gratitude. Giving thanks to my Higher Power while focusing on the joys of my life serves me well in times of bitterness and resentment. How can I possibly be angry at the fact that I can’t have a beer after taking time to notice the positives surrounding me? Doing this helps me see the good in my life far outweighs the bad.
The holiday season can fill us with a sense of togetherness and compassion. Unfortunately, the merriment that surrounds these festive seasons can also put us at risk of a relapse – whether we are ten days sober or ten years sober.
My disease never takes a day off, so I know I can’t either. Regardless of the holiday or the event, I am well aware I am only one drink away from falling right back into my old ways.
I enjoy living a sober life far more than the drunken life I endured – even if it means not having a champagne toast at midnight. I would much rather pass on the booze in exchange for the beautiful life I have today. I don’t ever want to give up all my blessings for a drink.
Happy holidays . . . and thanks for letting me share!
Amy Baumgardner is an author, freelance writer and truth-teller. She is committed to her recovery and sharing her message of faith, hope and forgiveness.