I remember when I was an active addict. Before I crashed and burned and slowly recovered. I remember holidays, particularly Christmas, sort of like I remember a glass of red wine — defined by longing but also by despair.
I was able to stop drinking but, like many recovering addicts, I find holidays particularly tough. They can be a dangerous time when recovering from addiction.
My family and friends celebrate the holiday season as many people do — with lovely meals and gifts, gratitude and festive drinks.
I recall my first Christmas sober, three years ago, and the concerted effort my family made, celebrating with more eggnog and less rum. They knew that, early in my sobriety, I was triggered by even the sight of alcohol. Driving past a liquor store would cause my heart to beat quicker. But as the years have passed, and I have become more comfortable in my sobriety, so have they.
Last year, I was surrounded by the bottles I once loved, the liquids I still adore in memory, as my family held their annual Christmas party. No longer did they tip-toe ’round my sobriety and while I was grateful for this sense of normalcy, I was frightened.
I was not frightened because I felt I would relapse and pour rum in my eggnog. I was frightened because alcohol, once a fast and best friend, surrounded me.
I spent a couple of hours talking to people, just enough to pass for being social, and then locked myself in a spare room with a book. The hours passed and laughter become light conversation until the house was blissfully quiet again.
With this year’s holiday season quickly approaching, I plan to deal with the situation differently. I plan to stay sober, just as in previous years, but with less fear. I have, thankfully, found and maintained relationships with those who are also recovering addicts. I asked them how they felt about sobriety and the holidays. They find it difficult as well. It’s a bit like walking into a bar except you cannot walk quickly away.
A friend who has over a decade of sobriety under her belt told me that the longer one stays sober the easier it becomes to attend events with alcohol and not feel anxious and afraid. Another, new in his sobriety, recognizes his limitations. If he feels uncomfortable in a situation he gracefully leaves. Maintaining sobriety is the most important thing a recovering addict can do.
Addiction is a dangerous disease and the road to recovery is paved with events, holidays and gatherings that remind us that we may still be fragile. But it is this knowledge that allows us to grow.
This year, when I see a bottle of red wine, I will not hide in a spare room with the door locked. I will remember that my sobriety is defined by sanity and in order to stay sober I need to expose myself to the things which scare me.
Someone enjoying eggnog and rum? That’s a good place to start.