Staying sober during the holidays can be a challenge. Alcohol permeates so many traditions associated with this time-of-year. From baking recipes that call for alcohol, to festive holiday drinks that are spiked, to toasts at the end of year, all of these traditions seem to revolve around alcohol. However, now that your life no longer revolves around alcohol, perhaps its time to make some new holiday traditions.
This month, there are a lot of “service pieces” in magazines and newspapers with helpful advice about how to not be sad at the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. These well-meaning columns have suggestions on how to change our moods and move away from sadness. However, I have a theory that having feelings that match reality is mental health, not mental illness.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes promises on pages 83 and 84. At the New Year, let’s see how these promises are coming true. We can all take inventory of these promises.
Oh, the holidays! When we think of them, so many thoughts and images pop into our heads! Snow! Family! Food! Togetherness! Traditions, old and new! Excitement is in the air, and we start planning how and when our ideal holiday will come together. Unfortunately, for those who have a loved one struggling with alcoholism or addiction, an additional level of stress typically accompanies the holidays: worry that our imagined holiday will turn into our worst-case scenario.
On December 11, 1934, while under treatment at Towns Hospital for alcoholism, Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, experienced a profound and lasting spiritual experience. This intense and life-changing spiritual awakening left Bill with an overwhelming sense of well-being and freed him from his obsession and craving for alcohol. Bill said this about his “hot flash,” “I knew I was a free man”.
The first time I went with my husband to his side of the family for the holidays, I struggled. Although my family was far from perfect, the holidays were something that I felt we did really well.
Even in my adult years, my mom always waited until everyone was asleep on Christmas Eve to put gifts under the tree. We would awake to magic. We would open stockings, and have a little breakfast, and then start a leisurely unwrapping of the presents. Gifts would be opened one at a time, and everyone would have an opportunity to see what everyone else was receiving. If a little one opened something that they wanted to play with for a while, we allowed for that. After all of the gifts were open, we would start cooking the big family meal. It smelled divine! We would eat, basking in the abundance, and then clean up, have dessert, and sit around the table for hours having conversation and playing games.
This time of year always finds me reflecting on the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces. Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, the anniversary of the Tet Offensive all take place at this time of year. Additionally, from now through New Year’s Eve we will see TV commercials from service women and men who are overseas wishing loved ones back home a merry and happy holiday season.
We alcoholics tend to look down on New Year's Eve as “amateur night.” We often stay off the highways, believing them to be filled with dangerous, untrained, drinkers who have no tolerance for alcohol. We like to believe that when we drank and drove, we did it well. There is a little bit of truth in this, because we did develop a tolerance for alcohol, but mostly it is what the Big Book calls “gutter bravado.” Our tolerance just allowed us to drink more, and we were just as foolish as anyone else.
This year, 2015, is the first year that I haven’t felt some generalized distress at Christmas time. It began when I was a child in a violent, alcoholic home. I almost always got hurt on the days leading up to Christmas. It would begin with the tree.