Holiday Gatherings: Explain or Avoid

Holiday Gatherings:  Explain or Avoid

Why sit with a

Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New ...
Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New Orleans. Shown are Clive Wilson, trumpet; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Seva Venet, guitar, and Lawrence Batiste, drum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

long face in places where there is drinking,

sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 102)

This passage demonstrates an important point that we all need to keep in mind during the holiday season, all the way from Thanksgiving in the United States, to Hanukkah, Kwanza and so on all the way through New Years Day.  This concept is that we need to be open and truthful about our condition to others and to ourselves.

This passage applies to being around alcohol (assuming you are far enough along that you can be around it for periods of time without issue) and does not apply that the crack addict should spend Christmas at the local crack house, with a group of celebrating (yet nodding off) heroin addicts, or at a bar full of strangers trying to fight off the urge to relapse.

If there is a family gathering and a few people having a few glasses of wine with dinner, you may be able to handle the situation with the proper precautions in place.  On the other hand, if ten minutes into the gathering everyone breaks out the one hundred and ninety-five proof moonshine and begin passing the crack pipes it may not be a good idea to visit.  If you feel you need to go then a ten minute visit may be all you can do.

Either way, openness and honesty are a must!  Not only in terms of appropriately telling the friends, family and others you will be with.  This means being open and honest enough to ensure that a couple of people that will be in attendance are enlisted to watch you and make sure you do not use.

If you are of the impression that feeling like you wont use or that having been abstinent for some amount of time guarantees you will remain abstinent, you might not be ready for these kinds of gatherings.   If you think you will be safe if you use just a little bit and stop:  PLEASE DO NOT GO, YOU ARE IN GRAVE DANGER IF YOU DO.

The bottom line is that you are either abstaining or not, you are either sober or not, you are either in recovery or not.  If you are planning to drink or use some other possibly intoxicating substance you have simply planned your relapsed and somehow convinced yourself that doing the same thing you and others have done before which ended in misery will somehow end differently this time.

Think of yourself as a person making the decision on holiday gatherings like a person who cannot swim being invited on a small boat.  It is dangerous, but can be managed.

  • If the person is sensible, wears a life-jacket, and makes sure there are others aboard the boat that can swim well enough to save him/her and are informed of the fact he/she cannot swim, it should be okay.
  • If this person not only cannot swim, but keeps jumping in the water when nobody is looking to the point of having almost drowned several times before, then the boat trip is probably an incredibly horrible idea.  Especially if the person says that he/she plans on jumping in for a swim again this trip:  “but, only a little one.”
  • If the person goes on the trip, but nobody on the boat knows that he/she cannot swim then why would anyone think it important that this person is not wearing a life-jacket and is sitting on the rails at the back of the boat?
  • If the person is invited aboard small boat in incredibly rough waters where everyone must work on the deck through the storm, it is probably too dangerous for a person who cannot swim and will probably cause more problems for everyone else by being there.

I’m sure many of us get the symbolism here, but for those who don’t.  The sensible person is the person who let’s everyone know and takes precautions like staying away from drinking games, beer runs etc.

The person who will keep telling himself/herself that it will be okay to swim when nobody’s looking even though it is ridiculous in light of past experiences is the person who feels the same way about using just a little.  That person is an unnecessary risk just by thinking about drinking or using, much less by being around it.

The person who goes on the boat, yet tells nobody and doesn’t use a life-jacket is the person who goes to gatherings, but is afraid or uncomfortable telling anyone about his/her alcoholism/addiction.  That person puts himself/herself in undue risk that could be easily eliminated by just being open to others and really to himself/herself.

The people inviting the person who cannot swim to a small boat in incredibly dangerous waters are like the friends and family that use and abuse alcohol/drugs that are inviting you to party with them.  That kind of gathering is the kind of gathering that should probably be avoided at all costs.  There is way too much at risk and way to little to gain to make the whole thing worth while.  If you have to go to this boat stay on the shore and see them off.  In other words say your hello’s and then when the alcohol, pipes and needles come out say your goodbye’s.

The bottom line is that it is possible to go to gatherings if you are far enough into your recovery, if you take the right precautions and if you are open and honest with others and yourself.

To truly know if you are ready for this in any particular situation you will need to consult your sponsor, your, counselor or clinician, members of your recovery support community, your friends and family etc.  But, do not just trust your own judgment as our own judgment as alcoholics/addicts has show the possibility of breaking down (or just not working at all in some cases).

So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn’t.

You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 101 – 102)

An important final note from this passage:  If you are in recovery or were at some point in your life an alcoholic/addict then you cannot afford to go to a gathering to just think of having fun, because this is not really the proper venue for your fun.  Don’t get me wrong there will be fun at such an event for you, but a part of the focus has to be how you can be helpful to others.

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

Don’t only look at what you can take out the gathering but also focus on what you can contribute to the lives there and how that can best be done.  The counterintuitive part is that if you do this (once you get used to it) you will, in most cases actually find the gatherings more enjoyable.  More important, you will be more likely to keep your sobriety intact.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

The Dubious Luxuries of Normies – But Not Me!!!

Anger Controlls Him

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

This is a key concept that seems to be missed in many recovery circles.  I regularly hear people share that seem as though mad at everyone.  I don’t have a problem with a person in recovery experiencing those feelings, the problem I have is that nobody seems to feel that it is necessary to try to help these people find freedom from this or to even discuss the fact that these kinds of feelings are death to people like us.  That is a long, miserable, prolonged, sinking in quicksand kind of death.

If nobody has noted this important idea for all of us in recovery and for all people working the Twelve Steps to you, let me be the first:  ANGER, NEGATIVE FEELINGS AND NEGATIVE THOUGHTS ARE POISON TO YOUR WORLD AND TO YOUR RECOVERY!

That can be multiplied exponentially for one of our worst archenemies; resentment.

It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 66)

Resentment is a big killer for those of us in recovery.  We have absolutely no room for this ridiculous mess in our lives.  Not only can we not have this in our lives we need to take time at the end of each day to search out these kinds of feelings and desperately do all we can to be rid of them before we lay our heads on the pillow and transition into the next day.

When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 86)

Whatever it takes, no matter how drastic the response may seem, we cannot allow ourselves to keep anger and resentment.  If you truly understand resentment as a terrible poison for your life then this statement will be painfully clear to you. Whatever it takes, no matter how drastic the response may seem, we cannot allow ourselves to keep this terrible poison in our system.

Sometimes when this is discussed, a few people come to believe that expression of the feelings is the cure and go off on a whirlwind tangent of crazy assaults on all unsuspecting passers by they deem to deserve it.  I am not saying that there will never be an instance where you might need to stand up for something or someone, but angry outbursts are simply the same poison in a different color.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

And more clearly and directly stated:

We avoid retaliation or argument.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

Did you notice how in the passage from page 84 “fighting anything or anyone” is directly tied to interest in relapsing.  Both are tied together with the concept of sanity.  Fighting anything or anyone and relapse are insanity and by the time a person gets to Step Ten sanity should have returned.  By Step Ten these kinds of feelings and outbursts should be a thing of the past and on the rare occasion that they almost come up, they cause a recoil.  The kind of recoil that a person has when they are not paying attention and their hand accidentally touches the hot stove.

Look at  these definitions from Dictionary.com for the word “recoil”:

  • to draw back; start or shrink back, as in alarm, horror, or disgust.
  • to jerk back, as from an impact or violent thrust
  • …to draw back in fear, horror, or disgust: to recoil from the sight of blood

That is not to say that angry, frustrated, resentful, etc. are not a part of you are now.  What all of that says and what I am saying is that those things absolutely cannot be a part of who you need to become to get recovery.

Who you have been is the problem and who you are supposed to become through the recovery process is the solution.  Staying the same is not an option.  If you stay the same inevitably you will do the same.  If you do the same, you will eventually get the same results.

This may be quite a tall order for some of us and I do not disagree with that assessment.  The fact it is hard to change or even hard to want to change however, does not somehow make it okay to stay the same.

As a matter of fact, many of the tasks of recovery are hard to change or hard to want to change (like the fact of using and the need for recovery itself).  If you are not willing to run towards these kinds of change and desperately work towards them at all costs, you can count on little if any recovery.  A person who will not change has decided to stay the same and can expect the same results.

There are also those who have found some degree of freedom and yet have not found the real freedom we are promised.  In many of these cases these attitudes are evident and often dismissed as the result of this lack of freedom yet seldom are these looked at as possibly the reason for the lack of freedom.

Before you can be free of the poisons that the world is trying to shove into your life you have to deal with the poisons you shove into your own life.  These angers, frustrations, resentments etc. are the luxuries of the people who do not use, but they are not for us.  For us these are among the most painful and prolonged forms of self torture and suicide there can be for us.  On the other hand, freedom from these may be your keys to freedom from many evils that poison and devour your life.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.