For many of us, the holidays are a time to reconnect with family, reflect on years passed, and express gratitude. Marketed as a joyous time of year complete with loving reunions, gifts, and copious wine, the holiday season is supposed to bring us happiness. For the recovering alcoholic or exceptional black sheep of the family, this expectation of happiness is enough to make us wish the holiday season would just pass us by. And what about those who are alone, afflicted by pain, or just dispirited? How does one beat the holiday blues and unite harmoniously with our tipsy brethren?
Those who know me would be aghast to discover that I am writing on this topic, because I am what one would consider a holiday extremist. Decorations, repetitious jingles, duplicating recipes from great-granny, reciting aloud my gratitude infront of my family, ugly sweaters… I love it all. My adoration for the holidays is so obnoxious that my family forbid me from playing Christmas music before (and during) Thanksgiving. I was even a firm devotee of Kris Kringle until the ripe age of eleven. But it just so happens that this alcoholic got sober around the holidays.Today, mingled with that familiar excitement and fondness, the holidays are wrought with a little bit of seriousness for me.
Perhaps you’ve lost someone and his/her absence is particularly noticeable now. It may be that this time of year is the anniversary of something painful; it could be something as simple and common as a childhood devoid of holiday cheer. Maybe you’re ashamed you can’t afford gifts or contribute to the holiday festivities in a tangible way. If your family is like mine, it’s likely youfeel unusually excluded from all of the inebriated fun being had. You could be from a family divided by divorce or unresolved issues, and you may be hemming and hawing about where to spend the holidays. Maybe you are preparing to meet someone’s parents for the first time, or perhaps you have to make an appearance with the dreaded in-laws. It might just be that your family is toxic.Toxic or typical- even if your family behaves normally throughout the rest of the year, the holidays can have a rather calamitous effect on one’s etiquette and decency.
So, why bother getting into the spirit? Do I have to be fake? Won’t my presence negatively impact all of the merry-goers?
I’d like to cite two examples in response to this perspective; one is from my personal experience, and the other is a life lesson I learned in AA…
- During my active addiction, my most comfortable approach to life was withdrawal. Some of the more obvious ways I withdrew included detaching from relationships, absolving myself of any responsibility or goals, and sequestering myself to a life in the shadows. One of the more notable ways I separated myself from the world was to contest everything and everyone. It got so bad that I chastised the basic order of things from exhibiting common courtesy to obeying street signs. In my arrogance and alienation, I was above the law. What resulted is I challenged my way out of a place in the world. Whether in active addiction or sober, disengaging from society will only lead to lonely estrangement.
- For us alkies, coming into AA is synonymous with entering a new school. There’s a new order of things, new faces, new things to learn; there are even new slogans (rolls eyes). For some, the induction of AA feels like social suicide. But as we “keep coming back,” we learn about the importance of being a part of. Many of us have been on the receiving end of another member’s begging request to get (and stay) in the center of AA. We hear things like “fake it ‘til you make it,” “get a sponsor,” “stick with the winners,” and “no pain- no gain” because we have to be taught that while sobriety may not be a comfortable journey, it is not to be taken alone. Perpetually stepping outside of our comfort zones and forging relationships are quintessential to our growth, and are directly related to the ease with which we approach life.
So, aside from the standard recommendations of increasing your meetings, being of service, writing a gratitude list, or volunteering at your local shelter, I encourage you to find the willingness to embrace the season- not just for the new, friendless guy in the room, but for you! Enjoy a second piece of pie, say hello (and mean it) to Aunt Edna, contribute with a $3 loaf of bread or by doing the dishes, come early and stay late, and get in the center of the merriment.