My first Christmas clean and sober was the best gift I could have received. I spent 13 long years as an addict. I never thought it was fair, but I would spend the holidays sneaking off to get high anyway, rather than spending that time with my family. I took my family time for granted – I didn’t realize they wouldn’t be around forever.
In October 2011, I walked out of my addicted life and into recovery. I wasn’t thinking about the holidays ahead or how I could afford Christmas for my two children.
While struggling with my recovery in November 2011, I lost my children through a divorce. I knew how important it was to stay clean and find a job, but my depression and anger were overwhelming.
I cried a lot that December. I had no idea how I was going to give my kids a Christmas. I still didn’t have a job, and I was reeling from the divorce – especially the hurt of losing my children. For the first time, I realized I was likely going to disappoint my kids – and that was just not acceptable.
Christmas was always a frustrating time for me. During my entire marriage, I had not spent a single Christmas sober. We seldom had much money for gifts due to spending $500 to $800 a week on drugs.
Drugs were part of our everyday life – using was as habitual as eating. Bills were frequently paid late to make sure we had enough money to cover our drug expenses. We could not get ahead. Our credit was deteriorating, and we were often moving to look for better work that would cover both our bills and our ever-growing addiction.
I knew this time I couldn’t give in to the temptation to use. If I was dirty, I wasn’t going to get a job. I didn’t know anything about meetings and the help that was available for drug addicts in recovery, but I knew there was no way I was going to go back to that life.
I left my husband of nine years because I wanted to be happy and live a drug-free life. I had wrapped myself up in staying busy, so my mind would be focused on something other than drugs. There was a new man in my life, and I didn’t want to ruin that relationship by using drugs.
In late December, I finally started a new job. I was grateful, but sad there wouldn’t be a paycheck in time for Christmas. Christmas isn’t about the gifts, but gifts mean a lot to young children.
My children had a great Christmas due to the generosity of the man I lived with and our families. I was elated to spend that entire day watching my kids play as our newly developing family enjoyed a clean and sober holiday together.
The holidays are traditionally a time for friends, family and stories. But for an addict in recovery, they can cause depression, anxiety and stress, all of which can trigger a relapse. Spending time with family can bring up old memories and can turn a happy event into a frightening and emotional situation.
Here are the steps I take to avoid ruining the holiday for me and others:
I share memorable and happy stories that have nothing to do with addiction. It helps me feel at ease and takes my mind off unpleasant incidents in my past.
I model positive behavior, especially to younger family members. My children, cousins, nieces and nephews will see how I behave and hopefully mirror my healthy behavior.
If someone in my family is a heavy drinker or uses drugs in front of me, I set boundaries. My family knows I am in recovery and that certain behaviors make me uncomfortable – they usually understand.
I find new ways to celebrate. I get away from the norm, from doing what I have always done. I create new traditions and rituals which represent my new lifestyle.
The holidays can be a happy time with loved ones and friends. No matter how rough things are or how many struggles you have in your daily life, Christmas can be a time of love, forgiveness, joy and family.
Stepping away from addiction and accepting recovery into my life was a wish granted. I never understood just how good life could be. Before becoming clean, I remember actually laughing at the thought of not using drugs.
At that time, I wasn’t ready and I didn’t think abstinence was even a possibility. I thought I needed drugs to stay content. I used them to block out the depression which I felt every day. Holidays were an excuse to drug even more – to survive the personal disappointments, the unhappiness and the anxiety I felt every holiday season.
Now, I happily look forward to the things I missed during that time when I was hiding in the fog of addiction. I celebrate the new me. I am celebrating the holidays for the first time.
Rebecca Wicks is an author and internationalist, whose work about drug addiction recovery has been featured in multiple magazines and newspapers. She sets the standard in recovery with her Facebook page: Sober and Inspired, and blogs: The Inspired Girl and Sober and Inspired on Blogger. Her adventurous spirit and drive to inspire the world through literature is sure here to make an impact and create results!