Christmas has meant different things to me at different stages of my life. From the earliest days, the ones I can remember through to the age of 14/15, it was always the happiest and warmest times of the year. It would be fair to say that I loved Christmas so much as a child, that the feelings of excitement would always start around August/ September and would build momentum as the big day, the 25th December, approached… and then the crashing disappointment after Boxing Day that I would have to wait another year until the next one. I loved it, and not only for the pressies – everyone seemed so much happier and more content during advent, there was real warmth and love in the air…no doubt aided by a few glasses of egg nog.
I suppose things started to change when I started to drink. During my late teens and early twenties it was party time; where my friends and I would organize and go to several gatherings and get as wasted as we possibly could under the rather flimsy banner or excuse that it was ‘the holiday season’.
Adulthood then arrived and the excitement was lost, even having kids couldn’t galvanize that old feeling of yesteryear. However, in my addict riddled thinking Xmas did come to serve one purpose.
You see, the world seems to go to extremes during advent, and it was those extremes that could hide and camouflage my own incredible excesses; well, for a while anyway. Even non- drinkers had a tipple of sherry over Christmas, and ‘responsible’ drinkers would turn into heavy drinkers as they got carried away on the wave of feel good that seems to cross the continents at this time of the year. When ‘responsible’ drinkers drank too much they would often do the things that I had been doing the whole year round; the difference being that through my alcoholism, I was able to hold my excesses far better than they could, and it would be they that were talked about in Christmas post mortems, and not me.
That was until my excesses far outweighed anything that a drunk ‘responsible’ drinker could ever dream of achieving in the bad behaviour stakes. My bottle and I would completely ruin Xmas for those around me – with my loud, vulgar, aggressive and unpredictable behaviour – to the point that even family stopped inviting me.
It meant spending a few Xmas days on my own, but at the time, that was ok. It gave me a wonderful excuse to bathe and wallow in the self-pity that I had become so familiar with. And, of course, the more self-pity, the more I needed to drink.
This is my 4th Christmas in recovery, and the first that I am genuinely excited about in a very long time. I’m with my family, and by with them I mean completely present (excuse the pun). I’m having the rumblings again of those feelings of joy I had as a child, as I see the excitement that engulfs my own daughters. I’m looking at the festivities through their eyes, and not my own selfish view point and that it is super special. My relations with family and friends are the strongest they have ever been, and I cannot wait for the laughs, fun and love that will come my way, and no doubt the tears – it wouldn’t be Xmas without a few tears!!
Take this feeling as tangible, undeniable evidence that recovery works.
But I’ve had to put the hard yards in to get to this point. My first few Xmas’s in recovery were dreaded rather than anticipated. I had to grasp around for help and information, and turned to my recovery leaders for assistance. By far the best came from David Briskham, my friend, mentor and owner of Twin Rivers, the recovery centre in South Africa that picked me up out of the gutter and showed me the recovery way.
These 5 tips help me as much now as they did then, and I hope they can help you too!
- Practice Urge Surfing
One of the potential threats to your sobriety over the Christmas period is going to be cravings. Drug and alcohol addiction creates links within your brain between certain stimuli (relapse triggers) and the desire to drink or use drugs. Urge surfing is a technique devised by Alan Marlatt, and it involves just observing cravings until they pass (it is a type of mindfulness practice). A craving will only last for at most 30 minutes unless you obsess about it or try to resist it. You can develop your ability to urge surf by practicing it on other behaviours – for example, you can just observe an itch without scratching it or delay giving into the craving if you smoke cigarettes.
- The S.O.B.E.R. Technique
Another common reason for why people relapse over the holiday period is they become stressed by a situation (e.g. a family argument), and they act on impulse. The S.O.B.E.R. technique is a tool used as part of the Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) programme.
- Stop – don’t act on impulse
- Observe – what is happening in your body and mind – are you tense, agitated, or irate?
- Breathe – this will slow down your thoughts, and move your body out of the ‘fight or flight’ response
- Expand – now that your thoughts slowed down, and your body is more relaxed, you can better see the bigger picture
- Respond – in a calm and rational way
- H-A-L-T Awareness
At Christmas time there are likely to be plenty of relapse triggers in your environment. It is unlikely you can get rid of them all, but you can be prepared for the most common. These can easily be remembered using the acronym HALT which stands for hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. You can take steps to avoid these triggers over the holiday period.
- The Magic of Service
If you belong to a fellowship group like AA, you are going to have plenty of opportunities for service. This type of work strengthens your sobriety, and it will mean you will be focusing more on other people rather than your own concerns.
- Meetings, Meetings, Meetings!
It can tough to deal with addiction disorders without support, and it becomes an even greater challenge at certain times of the year like Christmas. If you don’t normally go to fellowship meetings, you might want to try a couple over the holiday season. If you do go to meetings, you might want to add a few extra so you can benefit from some additional support.
I think it was ‘Clancy’ who said “I probably only need 3 meetings a week but as I don’t know which 3, I go to five”.
I hope you can find assistance in one if not all the suggestions made.
Have a wonderful, spectacular & loving, Xmas this year, and if Xmas isn’t part of your culture, have a wonderful, spectacular, and loving holiday season.