Recovery During the Holidays

Season Can Present Problems for Recovering Alcoholics

Holiday ornament

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This article was written by Hamish White, a certified alcoholism and drug dependency counselor who has his own addiction practice called Recovery Counseling Services in North Toronto. Hamish and his team provide outpatient individual and group counseling to adolescents adults and family members.

What It Was Like

I used to really look forward to the holiday season. It was a time when drinking was accepted and expected. Lavish, well-stocked bars, office parties, and abounding eggnog become the welcome norm.

"Merry Christmas... what can I get you to drink?" and "Let's celebrate" were the festive greetings that I looked forward to in anticipation as I endeavored to blend in with these other, less-experienced drinkers.

I Would Seem Sober

I would seem sober compared to their low-tolerance reaction to Christmas libation. I was one of the crowd smiling and nodding to others as I loading up the shopping cart at the L.C.B.O. [Liquor Control Board of Ontario], surrounded by others doing the same thing.

Oh, happy times! Never mind that this was my third time stocking up for the holidays, obliterating a two week supply in two days.

'Normal' Seasonal Activities

My friend Bill describes his experience at Christmas time. He says there were several added plusses to the Noel season:

Wrapping 'Gifts' "Secrets became the norm." he told me "I could smuggle in large bottles of Vodka in with the bundles of Christmas parcels. Cocaine could be out in the open in my bedroom mirror and the bedroom door could be locked because, yes, I was hiding something but everyone thought, well hoped, that I simply needed privacy to wrap 'their' gifts."

Time to Catch Up He went on to say "It was great for a drunk. I could go out on a moment's notice to 'get some ribbon' only to return later much later with a wonderful excuse on how I had just met my old pal Steve who was in town for the season and so we just had to 'catch up.'"

Easier to Get Away He said it was much easier to get away and drink. "I could be absent for long periods without too much interrogation. Normally I had to account for my whereabouts to my skeptical and suspicious family, but I could book three or four hours to 'Christmas shop.' Shop for 45 minutes at Shoppers or Grand and Toy and spend the rest my liberty with my cronies at the Pilot. Only to stagger home with glazed eyes and a complicated tale about my shopping exploits."

Sneaking and Creeping He says that because of his long history of drinking and lying about it—"sneaking and creeping" as he puts it—he was always "under observation," but during the holiday season he could buy some time under the guise of normal seasonal activities.

Plan Your Sober Holidays!

Sober holidays for those of us in recovery can also present some problems. Thoughts can creep in like, "maybe I can just have one eggnog" or "what a happy time—I know how to make it better" or "I feel lonely—a drink or drug would sure pick me up."

There are several techniques that I and others have found very helpful in maintaining sobriety and recovery during these tempting and difficult times. Recently sober people are often confronted with drinking and using [drugs] situations for the first time since they began their recoveries. There are solutions:

Plan your days. Let your sponsor or friend in recovery know where you will be and have that person's number with you just in case.

Plan B

If you must attend a party or gathering where alcohol is being served, then have a Plan B, an escape route.

If you are with a friend or spouse then tell them before you go that you may feel uncomfortable around alcohol and that you need to be able to leave the party on a moment's notice without having to explain why. In fact, you can always have an alternative place to go—like for a coffee or out to a movie.

The Pressure Is Off

With this arrangement, negotiated when you arrive at the gathering, tell your host or hosts that you can probably only stay for a short time, but that you will know more in a while after you make a telephone call.

Then you are not obliged to stay and what usually happens is that you have a great time because the pressure to stay is off. If you are on your own, make sure you have your sponsor's or a sober friend's phone number and that you know they will be home so that you can call or even meet with them if you feel the need. That's "Plan B."

Thanks, I'd Love a Drink!

What if someone asks you if you would like a drink, and you don't particularly feel like explaining to them that you have a disease that requires you not to drink one day at a time and that you are a recent graduate of the local dipsomania treatment center.

What I do is say "What a good idea I would love a drink! Do you have a soda water with lemon or a Coca-Cola?" This allows me to say yes and get what I want as well. Very few people will press anything alcoholic on us, but when they do I simply say, "Not right now, thank you, but a Coke would really hit the spot."

Stay away from Christmas cake rum balls and dubious punches and eggnog. Just a little of the old taste can start us urging for a more substantial dose.

A.A. Still Meets!

During the celebratory season, A.A. continues to hold meetings. In fact, many groups have seasonal parties where food and fellowship abounds, and speakers talk of gratitude and of the real spirit of giving that is outlined in the 12th Step.

Members are warm and inviting and most are serene in the knowledge that there is a safe place for them to be. Anyone with a desire to stop drinking or to stay sober and clean is welcome.

Out-Smart the Disease

Remember, alcoholism and addiction are not only physical diseases, they are also spiritual emotional and mental diseases. Which, of course, is what we are as people.

My alcoholism is as smart as I am and then just a little bit smarter. My alcoholism wants me to drink, therefore it wants me to be in slippery places like wet Christmas or New Year parties. I have to be careful - I have to outsmart my disease.

I need to be connected to sober people. I need to be doing sober things, going to sober places. I can't let the Christmas season be an excuse for a relapse. I may be on holiday but my chemical dependency does not take a holiday. Ultimately, the only way to stay sober over the holidays is the same way I stay sober all year round, that is, one day at a time.

Happy Holidays,
Hamish White

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