I got a lot of great responses from various places when I asked what you guys want to read on the blog. Today I’m going to tackle how we hang through our first sober holidays.
Here’s the thing, when I was new I was told to remember that a holiday is just another day, and we commit to staying sober 24/7, 365 days a year–one day at a time of course. But holidays can evoke a lot of anxiety in sober people, especially in your first few years of sobriety.
Many of us are still suffering the pains of the wreckage of our past. Sometimes, despite our new committment to being upstanding citizens of the planet, those who know us best just aren’t ready to welcome us back into the fold. And sometimes our family is more than happy to have us around, but being with them for more than 7.4 continuous seconds is enough to send us into the Bell Jar, as a good friend of mine likes to say. That’s a Sylvia Plath reference and if you’ve read any Plath, she was just a little nuts! Chances are good that we don’t have an extensive list of friends and social acquaintances yet. When I got sober I lived in a house with 5 other people who drank and used like I did. Actually, 4 of them drank and used like I did. There was also a guy upstairs who painted his entire room, doors and all, solid black and had some kind of satan worshipping rituals happening. Creepy!
Anyway, the point is, I spent my first sober holidays living in a house full of alcohol and a plethora of illegal substances…and I stayed sober. What I didn’t just say is that it was the greatest holiday of my life or that I was on pins and needles waiting for the excitement of Christmas day. So the first rule (for me) of surviving early sober holidays is to KEEP IT REAL.
Keeping it real means keeping your expectations in check. Take some deep breaths. Acknowledge that you may not have drawn a sober breath on a holiday for a long time. That being the case, the whole damn world might appear a little off its rocker. Sights of mothers scurrying through Target with overflowing carts of toys for their bratty little tots might literally make your skin crawl. There may be a moment when you hear Mariah Carey singing her Christmas diddy and you have a sudden urge to take a carving knife to the cashier in the check out line at the market. You may at some point have a very deep sense of melancholy that all the while you’ve been fucking up your life, the world has been going on around you and it’s full of happy little groups of people who you can’t ever imagine relating to on any level. These feelings are normal, and they’re nothing to drink over. The only way through it, is through it. Next year will look different. And the year after that,even more different. And then, if you’re really lucky, you’ll someday stay sober long enough to have a sober holiday that sucks. Life on life’s terms. Period, end of discussion.
Ok, so we’re going to keep our expectations in check. What should we do with ourselves? My second rule of surviving holidays is to SAY YES. Awwww…you love this one, don’t you, you dark and mysterious little newcomers. The alcoholic cure for loneliness is isolation. I’m lonely. So I won’t go to meetings. I won’t show up early for the potluck. I won’t stay after to go to coffee. Because I’m lonely dammit! And no one possibly knows how I feel, or what I’ve gone through to get here. Uhhh…ok. What I’m about to say might sound a little harsh. God knows, I thought that the woman who said it to me was a miserable nasty shriveled up prune of a person. But I don’t care how you feel. Yeah, that’s what she said. I DON’T CARE HOW YOU FEEL…SAY YES.
Her rule, saying yes to everything, eliminated the possibility of me thinking of any good (or not good reasons) to isolate. The rule was that unless I was working or at one of my regular meetings, I had to say yes to any sober invitation. Saying yes was not my strong point. I flat-out hated humanity when I got to A.A. Also, I only wore overalls for the better part of my first year sober, so having a holiday event to attend every single day was really stressful on my laundry schedule. I only tolerated the people I sat next to in meetings because I didn’t yet know how the program worked. I wasn’t really sure what I was allowed to say to people in the rooms. “F-you” often came to mind. But I was beaten and desperate and living with a satan worshipper…so my options were limited. Which was a good thing.
My favorite holiday these days is Thanksgiving. But for years and years into my sobriety, New Year’s Eve was my favorite. What could be better than a new year? A clean slate? A second (third, fourth, seventeenth) chance at getting it right. Never bet against a drunk. Time after time, the most hopeless, helpless, pathetic drunk (or addict) on the planet has turned it around and created a life of extraordinary worth and meaning. Oh yeah. It’s a common story. Just hook up with someone in your local A.A. or N.A. community who has some serious long-term sobriety. Ask them who they were when they got here. Ask them who they became. It will blow your freaking mind. We can do anything! It’s incredible. We are creative, resourceful, open-hearted, intelligent beings. You doubt? Practicing addicts are devious (creative), duplicitous (resourceful), broken-hearted (open-hearted), manipulative (intelligent.) Every defect is an asset that’s just out of whack. So as we get sober and stay sober, the natural balancing of things seems to make most of us very successful in many ways.
And we owe a debt of extreme gratitude for the fact that we are saved from our addiction. Because for every one of us who has the grand freedom to complain our way through our first sober holidays, there are quite literally hundreds of thousands who are dying of their addictions. So, last rule of the holiday survival guide: BE OF SERVICE. It is virtually impossible to think of yourself and someone else at the exact same time. As happy as the world may annoyingly appear to you during these first holidays, it is full and overflowing with need and pain. Both in the rooms of A.A./N.A. and outside of them. Train your brain to do for others. You can’t think your way into feeling better. Bring the body (to service) and the heart will follow. You feel me, right?