Staying Sober During the Holidays

4200971640_53e87a01c3With the holidays coming up, I thought I might offer some suggestions on how to make it through without drinking or using – at least the things that I will be doing to keep myself focused. For whatever the reason, I think Christmas is always the hardest holiday to stay sober. Many of us are living in cold climates, there’s snow on the ground, a fire blazing in the fireplace, and a drink sure sounds good. I’ve been sober long enough that the actual urge to drink isn’t there, but feelings still play upon my heart which can be just as dangerous.

Christmas has the tendency to cause us to reminisce – to think of past loves, memories, empty promises, or broken dreams. For me, even if I’m with the people I love, the season still makes me feel like there’s something missing or things aren’t the way they “should be”. Hopefully, your memories are happy ones, but for many of us as alcoholics and addicts, there’s quite a few skeletons in our closets. The one thing we hate to feel is deep emotion inside of that shakes us at the core, regardless if it’s happy or sad. Christmas usually brings a combination of both of those feelings, so we have to be ready to combat them.

Make a Conscious Decision to Change the View You Have of Christmas 

One of the difficult things I’ve dealt with is changing my outlook on Christmas. When I was actively drinking, it was a great excuse to get drunk, party, and not feel too bad about it. New Years was just around the corner, which was another drunk fest. Sure, I liked spending time with family and friends and the whole Christmas spirit, but if I’m honest, I looked forward to the party much more than anything else. If I wasn’t getting drunk on Christmas or New Years, it was kind of like “what’s the point?” But when you’re sober, you can’t continue to view the holidays in the same way you used to because you’re either going to be miserable, be resentful, and/or get drunk.

The way I dealt with it was by trying to reconnect with my childhood self, trying to remember what it was that I looked forward to then. Ok, we all can’t pretend Santa is real again, but we can believe in the magic of Christmas and what it means.  It is a time of giving, love, gratitude, and family. By focusing on that magic, instead of the false sense of control or stability we feel when we’re getting drunk or high, we can see what we’ve been missing for many years and rediscover the magic.

For those that are Christians, it can be very helpful to mediate on the meaning of Christmas through God’s sacrifice. By keeping our attention focused on the Christ in “Christmas”, it turns our awareness away from our self and onto Emmanuel. Even if you are not a Christian, you can still use the season as a time to think about others and focus on giving instead of receiving. Viewing Christmas as a holiday about Him or them drastically changes our mindset, getting us out of ourselves and worrying about others instead of worrying about getting drunk or high.

Stay in the Moment 

This is my toughest area. Often times, the Christmas season and this time of year can make me depressed or lonely. When I get lonely, I begin looking back into the past, hanging onto “better” days. Let’s just be honest. We had some good times drinking and using. They are a part of who we are and always will be. You can’t pretend that they don’t exist, but you need to be careful of glorifying them or pretending that you could do them again because you can’t. Just as you can’t go back and relieve waiting anxiously for Christmas morning as a child, you can’t go back and have great times without great consequences. You’re a different person now, and you must recognize and accept that. When you find your mind drifting back into time, consciously try to shift it back into the present moment and make new memories. We can’t change or relive the past and will never know what the future holds. The only thing we have control over is the present. Don’t drift back into old thinking patterns. Accept your new you and be proud of the person you’re becoming and already are.

Avoiding Old Mistakes 

I think this is the area that is hardest for people without much time under their belt, but that even people with a lot of time can get tripped up on. We tend to believe that we’re much stronger than we are. We know we don’t want to drink/use. We know sobriety is the best life for us and our families, but it’s Christmas, right? What’s Christmas without a big party? Too many people put themselves in the same situations that got them in the mess they’re in and expect things to be different this time.

What’s the definition of insanity ? (I know. I hate hearing it as much as the next person, but it’s true) “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yes, you are a different person, but you’re still an alcoholic/addict regardless of how many days, months, or years you’ve been sober. It sucks, but you can’t change that. Too often people relapse not because they consciously sought it out, but because they played with fire and got burnt. I am not saying lock yourself in your home and talk to no one. I am saying be careful about going to familiar party spots that are going to bring up memories that you don’t want to deal with and temptations that are best left not tested. Remember, it’s ok to stay no. Your sobriety and life are more important than other people’s opinions of you.


Hopefully, this gave you some ideas to get started and ways to stay sober over the holidays. I wish you a very merry Christmas!

 

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Accepting the Invitation of Sobriety

8426831125_ca89d9643aOften times, the chains that are holding us back from moving forward are not fears or worries about the future, but fears of letting go of the past. We may not like the person we are and where we’ve been, but we’re comfortable with that person – we recognize their face in the mirror. Sobriety actually means that you will have to die to yourself and leave that person behind – that’s what frightens us. But I think a lot of the difficulty in getting sober is our outlook on the situation. More times than not, we are only focused on what we’re losing by entering into sobriety, instead of embracing what we’re gaining.

Comfort

This is a huge one for most people. If I ever have the urge to drink, it is almost always because I miss the comfort. I think as alcoholics and addicts, we are naturally more emotional and soft-hearted than the rest of society. We feel things on a deeper level, and pain doesn’t just affect us for a moment, but for days, months, or even years down the line. For whatever reason, we don’t know how to handle those feelings like the rest of society and at some point we need relief. And as David Allan Coe so poetically put it, “How do you spell relief, I get D-R-U-N-K.” Leaving behind the comfort of alcohol or drugs is a hard pill to shallow when you first get sober. But the blessing is that by remaining sober, you will learn how to deal with those feelings in a positive way, instead of destroying yourself – things like fellowship, prayer, and acceptance. And coming from someone who hates to suffer as much as anyone else, I am grateful for all the suffering I’ve gone through since I’ve been sober. Granted, I didn’t like it, but suffering produces character. One of the blessings of staying sober is being able to respect yourself in your suffering. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror with respect after I chugged a bottle of whiskey. The pain may have been gone, but it came at the price of my respect. Some days suck – that’s the reality of life. But at least I can be alone with myself at the end of the day, knowing I did the best I could and not hate the person inside.

Friends

We all have drinking buddies and getting sober makes for awkward conversation. In my opinion it is almost always, best to cut off all ties with these “friends”. I know that sounds harsh and hard to accept, but hanging around the same people will get you drunk quicker than about anything else. People think they can handle it, and they can’t imagine leaving behind the people they’ve known for years or even decades. The same people will come back crying a few months later, wondering how they ever started up again (I know I did). Old friends were at the top of the list of reasons I relapsed in the beginning. If you’re trying to become a more positive person, you don’t hang around with a bunch of negative people. If you want to be successful, you hang out with successful people. If you want to be sober, you don’t hang out with drinkers and users. Period. What you will most likely find is that once you get sober these “friends” will most likely want nothing to do with you or only want to hang out in bars or your usual spots because they’re cool with you changing, but they sure as hell aren’t going to. The other common theme I’ve noticed with old friends that actually don’t have a drinking problem and are supportive is that they just don’t understand. It’s not their fault, but they can be deadly. I’ve had friends that I haven’t seen for awhile that know I’m an alcoholic say things like, “You want to meet up and get a drink sometime..it’s been a few years..you’re cured now right?” The common misconception is that they believe this is just a temporary thing that will go away, and some will even try to convince you of this. I don’t know about you, but I have enough excuses to drink inside my own head without someone else trying to convince me of other ones. If you hold on to your old friends, you will never see the beauty of the real friends you meet in recovery, who actually do care about you and want you to stay sober. I’m not trying to say you can’t have any contact with anyone who drinks. Just understand that “normal” people are not like you. They will never understand you, and even when they mean well, they can be potentially dangerous if you’re not in the right frame of mind.

Wisdom

Wisdom is the fruit of growth. The more we grow, the more wisdom we gain. You learn more wisdom in sobriety than you could have possibly imagined. The people you meet and the lessons they share are priceless. Often times, I see people 10+ years older than me struggling with issues that I dealt with in my early twenties. This has nothing to do with my intelligence; it has everything to do with going through suffering and hardships. By continuing in our cycle of using, we delay confronting issues that we will be forced to at some point. Isn’t it much more practical to work through them, learning from them, instead of pretending they don’t exist?

Money & Mistakes

I feel so blessed to have quit drinking before I was even legally able to be in a bar. I would have racked up more debt and more mistakes with women than I would have known what to do with. The few times I was illegally drinking in bars, I woke up the next morning thinking that someone must have robbed me. And he did, his name was Jim Beam. Until you actually quit, you don’t realize just how much money goes towards your addiction. Sobriety is like getting a huge raise just by signing up. I think we can all agree we make a lot of mistakes when we’re drunk or high. What seemed like a good idea at the time, haunts you the next morning, leaving you wondering why trouble seems to follow you wherever you go. Being sober doesn’t mean that you’ll never make mistakes, but it was drastically reduce them.

A Spiritual Connection 

Ever since I was a little boy, I always felt a strong connection to God. I desired to please him and loved being close to him. But at some point, I decided that I couldn’t do “life” anymore and would use drinking as my way to deal with all my troubles. For many years, I still felt him, but I pushed him away. You cannot be an addict, engaging in the things the lifestyle entails, and have a close relationship with God. It is impossible. It is not that God is giving up on us, but that we are giving up on him. When you are surrounded with darkness, it makes it very difficult to see, let alone live with, the light. That doesn’t mean that you are completely cut off. I still believed in God during my active drinking, but it was not an intimate relationship. Just as you can’t have an intimate relationship with a spouse when either partner is actively engaging in adultery, you can’t have an intimate relationship with God while actively addicted. As soon as you run to him, those doors are reopened again, and he can begin to heal the wounds inside you. I am so grateful and feel so blessed that I have the relationship back that I ran away from all those years ago. I have only sobriety to thank for it. Sobriety gives us a spiritual connection and gives us the tools to receive the drug that we have been seeking all our lives – God’s love.

A New Hope

I can’t imagine there’s an alcoholic or addict that really loves being a slave to a substance. We may like the feelings it gives us, but we don’t like the cost. I think the overwhelming majority of people who are addicts would actually like to be sober, but they feel like it’s too late for them. They feel as if numbing themselves is the only way to deal with life and that their hearts are so filled with darkness, there’s no chance at delighting in the light. But sobriety gives us a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. We don’t have to be the person that we hate and disrespect. As long as you’re still breathing, there’s always the ability to change. No one said it was going to be easy or without pain, but there is a way out. Sobriety gives us the ability to redefine ourselves and what we want out of life. If we live, clutching onto the life that we know is not working and not bringing us happiness, we’ll never see the light at the end of the tunnel that has more in store for us than we could have ever dreamed. Are you looking back at your addiction with envy and regret or looking forward at a new hope and a new life? Sobriety’s invitation is waiting. But you must accept its gifts.

 
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The War on Addiction

tankBreaking any addiction is hard work. There’s always a period when your body and mind fight back, and you doubt your reasoning for quitting in the first place. I think this is where most people fail. They convince themselves they don’t actually want to quit and go back to the safety of their addiction, listening to the signals their body is telling them, instead of rationally examining the reasons they are quitting in the first place.

The number one thing I see (and what I’ve learned the hard way by failing and relapsing into my addictions in the past) is that people are not prepared for what will happen when you quit any addiction. We have the desire to quit, we know we have to quit, and somehow we find ourselves in the same place we were 2 weeks ago. When we first get the desire to quit, we’re finally ready to let go and change. But we expect that same level of desire to continue through the recovery process, and IT WILL NOT. There are going to come many days when everything inside of you is screaming to go back to your addiction, that it’s not worth the pain, you can’t recover, life sucks without it, or a long list of other excuses. THIS IS NORMAL. It doesn’t mean you want to relapse, you’re a bad person, or your situation is hopeless. It simply means you’re an addict – welcome to the club.

People jump into recovery thinking it won’t be hard because they are ready. It’s never easy. If it was there would be very few people addicted. Most people neglect to realize that when they quit whatever substance or behavior they’re addicted to, they immediately wage war on both their mind and body. If you don’t attach yourself to your spiritual self, your soul, whatever you want to call it – you’re fucked. I hate to say it that way, but it’s the truth.

Those thoughts and feelings that made you feel good and excited to change…well you can kiss them goodbye. They’re about ready to turn on you quicker than you can imagine. The same mind will try to trick you anyway possible to go back to your addiction. Your body is about ready to start reacting to not having its “nutrients”, and it’s going to be pissed off about it. If you’re relying on feelings or good intention to carry you through, you’re done before you even start. You have to quit, knowing what your mind and body are going to do to you. You have to know that it is simply a trick designed to lead you right back to your next fix.

And I honestly think a lot of people are surprised by that. The day or moment comes where only 1-5% of the person still wants to quit, and they’re not prepared for it. If you’re prepared for it, you know it’s coming – it’s just your addiction fighting back. If you’re not, you get ambushed and driven right back to where you started. Your thoughts and feelings are temporary, even when they feel like they’re not. WANTING TO DRINK OR USE DOES NOT MEAN YOU’RE GOING TO! But you do have to know deep down at your core that you’re about to be in a war, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to defeat your addiction.


 

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A.A. Step 2 – The Hope for Recovery

believe in miraclesThere’s no point in addressing a problem if you don’t have a solution.  But before you even dive into the solution, there’s a force that drives you there- hope.  Hope is the fuel to the fire of recovery.  The second you lose hope, the solution doesn’t matter anymore because “it’ll never work for me”, “I don’t deserve another chance”, “I’m too sick to get better”, “…but I’m so much worse off than they are”.  In A.A., we derive our hope from Step 2.  “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” (Alcoholics Anonymous).

A Reason to Believe

The beauty of Step 2 is that it pulls us out of our misery, even if only for a second, and makes us ask the question, “Is recovery possible?”.  Some may argue that it sounds too much like magic, that some Power (God) bringing us back from the brink of insanity simply by the work of his power is unbelievable.  But if you’ve ever sat in the depths of hell, battling mental illness or addiction, you know “magic” is the only thing that is going to fix the broken person living inside of you- you’ve tried every other option.

Belief still leaves room for doubt though.  Some people come to the rooms of A.A. without ever believing in God or have a very negative, distorted view of him.  And the best thing about Step 2 is that’s ok.  It doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect for this “magic” to work either.  All the process requires is to entertain the idea that there could be a loving God who has the ability “to restore us to sanity”.  That’s it.

At this stage in the game, it really doesn’t matter if you believe it with 100% of your heart or 10%.  Obviously, the more belief you have the better, but it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed if you can’t believe it 100% this very second.  We’ve all gone through various hard times in our lives that cause us to doubt God or question his love.  I would argue even more so for those of us with mental illness or addiction issues.  God meets us where we are on our journey.  We have to be open to the idea of his existence, but we’re not in charge of all the work.

The Power of Faith

There is mystery surrounding faith.  Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20-21). Likewise, when you open up your heart, things that were once impossible become possible.  You will find that once you first allow yourself to believe, even if it’s just a small sliver of your heart, it will begin to grow, and God will begin to work in your life.  A time will come when you realize your whole heart now believes, and you’ll be baffled on how it got there.

It is true that you have to have some kind of desire to quit drinking or using to recover, but it doesn’t take much.  Miracles do happen inside the walls of A.A., but you must at least entertain the idea of Step 2 in order to see them happen.  When I got sober, I had just turned 21 years old.  Alcohol was already causing chaos in my life, but I still struggled with the desire to drink.  How am I ever going to quit so young? How am I going to have any kind of a social life without drinking?  I had somewhat of a desire to quit, but still had a part of me that wanted to wait until I was in my late 20s or early 30s to do so.  But I knew I may not get that chance at the rate I was deteriorating.  I really just had to push forward regardless of how I felt, but I was still torn about my decision for the first six months or so.  And one day I found that the desire to drink was no where to be found.  It wasn’t anything I had done.  It was simply the effects of taking Step 2.  God’s grace had been working everyday inside of me and now the hope of recovery was much stronger than my desire to drink.

A New Vision 

One of the most powerful aspects of Step 2 works by taking our focus off ourselves.  We usually don’t spend much thought on the idea of recovery until we’ve tried everything under the sun to control our drinking or using.  You’d think that after years (decades for some of us) failing to recover by our own power, pride would no longer exist.  But pride is one of our strongest character defects, as least it is for me.  Step 2 begins to counteract that pride and lets us know that recovery is possible, but not by our power.  We still have to be open and put in the work that recovery requires, but we can’t change our insides- that’s God’s job.  That admission or discovery shrinks our pride down to a manageable level and gives us the ability to recognize that we’re not in control.  Pride is the greatest enemy of recovery and Step 2 begins the process of battling it.

Great News 

More than anything though, Step 2 should be a source of great news and joy.  Step 1 diagnoses the severity of our condition.  Step 2 tell us that our once fatal illness now has a treatment option.  I think few of us really appreciate this.  If you had terminal cancer, lying on your death bed, and the doctor bursts through the door and announces that they just discovered a treatment option, wouldn’t that completely fill you with gratitude and completely change your perspective?  Why is it any different in recovery?  That hope should propel us forward and give us comfort during the “surgery” that needs to be performed on our bodies and minds to release us from the terminal bonds of addiction.


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Thinking About and Helping Others

My moods are like anyone else’s.  They come and go, sometimes without any real reason.  The past few days I’ve had a hard time accepting all that addiction and mental illness has taken from me.  Essentially all of my 20s have been spent battling addiction or anxiety.   I have a tenancy to catastrophize my situation by thinking I’m so much worse off than anyone else or that everyone else is so much happier than I am.  I tell myself, “If only I had this…if only I could change that.” But the reality is that happiness begins inside of you and is not dependent on outside circumstances.

The recent, tragic loss of Robin Williams only goes to show us that even many celebrities who “have it all” are still lonely and unhappy.  No matter how many times I tried telling myself to snap out of it and stop thinking negatively, nothing ever worked until today.  I was reading through Alcoholics Anonymous  and read a passage that I’ve probably read a hundred times, but for some reason it struck me today.  “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.”   That was the secret I needed.  I get the most anxious, the most agitated, and the most unhappy about my life when I stop thinking of others and only focus on me.  When I get obsessed with how I’m feeling, what my wants are, and what I deserve out of life, I can only go downhill from there.  It is nearly impossible to be grateful when you are only thinking about yourself.  As long as I depend on my myself for my satisfaction and happiness, I will constantly be left unfulfilled.  If I depend on material things or even people for my happiness, at any time my happiness can be taken away.  It is only when I depend on the consistent source of love from God that I can feel comfortable in my own skin and can reach out to others and help improve their lives.  This, the Big Book says, is our ultimate purpose and the only way that we will remain sober.

How much of my energy is focused on myself? 

How often am I thinking of others and helping them to meet their needs?

Just For Today

Sometimes recovery is one day at a time.

Sometimes it’s one hour at a time.

And sometimes, in the darkest depths of addiction, it’s one minute at a time.

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Most people have heard the phrase “one day at at a time” before, but few actually incorporate it into their daily lives, shrugging it off as just positive pep-talk.  But they are much more than that; they are the life-force as we push through the bleakness of our daily struggle.

I have never had a problem summoning the desire to quit any addiction I’ve ever had.  I am fine quitting for a day, week, or even a month, but at some point the struggle becomes too much for me to bear.  I lose hope and fall right back into the vicious cycle of addiction and self-loathing.

Think back to any moment when you’ve fallen after committing yourself to something, whether that be quitting an addiction, losing weight, or working out.  More often than not, it isn’t a lack of desire that causes failure, but lack of hope.  The minute I quit believing in a cause and feel that failure is inevitable, I quit.  I see the pain that I am feeling in a moment as something that will extend infinitely into the future and am fully convinced that three weeks from now I will still be feeling the same way.  With no hope of things getting better in the long-term, I would rather quit now and save myself three weeks of pain.

What “one day at a time” gives us is a reminder to be committed just for today.  It keeps hope alive by giving us a manageable goal, instead of one that’s too big for us to grasp.  Most people can handle short-term pain; it’s long-term pain that gets us thinking negatively and destroys our desire for recovery.  One step at time, one day at a time, we will wake astonished that we’ve climbed a mountain that we never would have attempted if we’d been aware of its height at the beginning of our journey.

Commit yourself to not giving in to temptation just for today.  Sleep.  Wake.  Repeat.