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.

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The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We

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058 (Photo credit: ribarnica)

find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?

Cessation of drinking is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. A doctor said to us,” Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” Let families realize, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle. There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122– 123)

For the friends and loved ones around the alcoholic/addict each life is incredibly altered by the fact of having an alcoholic/addict in their world.  Some people act as if not affected, but most often this is simply a massive misconception that will only be unraveled somewhere down the road with significant amounts counseling or a significant shock to that their system.

The behaviors, thoughts, interactions etc. of the alcoholic/addict in relation to those around him/her cannot help but impact all who come in contact.

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 82)

These are the worst case scenarios, but all are affected to some degree or other from those who have a permanent raised eyebrow for that individual to those who suddenly feel the urge to vigorously bludgeon the person past death and past a state of rigor mortis simply because that person’s name was mentioned. 

Here is a newsflash that most of us, particularly those of us with no alcohol or addiction problems:  If you do not deal with (or have not dealt with) whatever negative effects that person’s using has had on you, YOU WILL BECOME ONE OF THE OBSTACLES TO THIS PERSONS RECOVERY AND GENERAL GROWTH IN LIFE.

You may have had no blame whatsoever in this person’s previous using, you may have been the codependent enabler of this person, or you might have been the direct cause of this person’s use, but at this moment you are either becoming a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

The person who has been building resentment for years that this person would never pay any attention to your protestations probably should not take the first moment of clarity to vomit up every injustice this person has ever done to you up to the point of dry-heaving insanity upon this person in his/her first hard fought moment of clarity.

I am not saying there is not a need for a time and a place to confront and resolve each injustice, but weaponizing your confrontation of legitimate issues for this first opportunity to act out an effective ambush is probably not the way, unless your goal is to utterly destroy this person.  If your goal is to utterly destroy this person, you need to leave this person alone and go get help NOW!

If you are the more passive, not wanting to set this person off, kind of person, that has a whole other set of issues that arise.  The fact for those of us in recovery is expressed in this passage written to help us focus our efforts to fix the past.  This is how we should be looking at dealing with you on these issues:

Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 77– 78)

If we do not get better “until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past” hiding the past from us or minimizing it is the equivalent of hiding our recovery from us.  We need your true feelings and emotions to have any hope of recovery.  We need your reality to understand how to correct the filters we use for our perception of reality. 

A person working Step Nine should not be allowed to blame you or manipulate you into minimizing what you feel or what happened.  Each person in recovery needs to work on preparing to look at the worst of his/her past, preparing to do whatever is humanly possible to repair each thing in the past and desperately and vigorously use that experience as the fuel to grow to a point of never repeating the same destructive behaviors ever again.  This person is supposed to be learning to be far less self focused and more humble in a healthy and balanced way.

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

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! .  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

That is the task that must be undertaken at some point.  There are appropriate times and places and processes of preparation that one must work through (Step Eight for example where you work towards each amends that you actually carry out in Step Nine) before each confrontation happens, but they have to happen or the recovery process has broken down completely.  The uncomfortable process that will serve as the motivating energy behind the radical changes the Twelve Step process requires to work simply does not exist if this is not carried out properly.  The change cannot happen and if you are not changed, you are the same and can expect the same results.  That means relapse and worse!

All of this needs to be confronted at the right time, in the right way.

Now, back to the family and the passage we started with (why we are really here):

We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122)

According to this passage, the alcoholic/addict in recovery may not be the only selfish and self-centered person in the mix.  This may not apply to you specifically, but each person needs to honestly ask himself/herself the question HONESTLY.  There is no excusing your self focus because that person has been more selfish or deserves it or is stupid or whatever.  Either you are being selfish and self-centered or you are not. 

If you are the person who has to confront this right now however you feel it needs to be confronted two things are evident:

  1. This confrontation has nothing to do with any aspect of helping that person get better it is all about finding some sense of victory while that person is in a weakened state.
  2. This confrontation has nothing to do with finding any real solution to the problem or you would be looking for the right time when the person would be properly prepared to really get together with you and do whatever it takes to resolve each issue. 

If you are one of the people who will act as if everything is fine and none of that mattered or the “well I just don’t want to make his recovery tougher” people:  STOP IT NOW!!!

You are robbing this person of their recovery simply so you won’t feel uncomfortable or feel responsible if they freak out.  If this person does freak out, there are really two possibilities:

  1. That person is simply not ready to deal with these issues properly yet and cannot consider his/her amends to you completed
  2. This person is so used to manipulating you that he/she can avoid any discomfort he/she perceives is related to you by manipulating you into feeling guilty until you shut-up.  (That is another area that that person would need to make amends for).

Either one is a situation that needs to change for that person to get recovery.

The truth is that the archenemy of the alcoholic/addict is selfishness and self-centeredness in any form.  Granted, that person has to learn to live with the fact that the planet finds itself covered with more selfishness than it has land for all of the selfish people to stand on and is highly unlikely a person could figure out a path in life that avoids all selfishness.  The question is not one about fixing all of the selfishness on the planet however, the question is firmly:  “Are you as an individual a part of the problem or of a part of the solution for this person?”

As I said before, you may have never do much as lifted a finger to cause this person to use ever before this.  That’s awesome, but please don’t start being a part of the problem now!!!  We all struggle with an alcoholic/addict and their thoughts and behaviors to some degree or other.  We need to be willing to struggle through some discomfort for their health and you will probably find that actual resolutions to the problems will do wonders for your mental and emotional health also.  Focusing on ensuring that you are not selfish or self-protective can’t hurt either.

I suppose there are those people who have all of this in line and struggle with none of these issues.  I commend you and I am thankful that you are on our planet as an example to the rest of us.  I do however, present to you the idea that individuals cannot judge such things about themselves safely without at the least the consultation of a few folks that understand what we are looking at and can honestly tell you the truth.

In other words, if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, PLEASE seek some outside assistance or advice from someone who understands these things (assume you would like to be a part of the solution or at least not be a part of the problem).  And never EVER EVER EVER EVER use the sentence “He/she is the person with the problem, why do I need to…”  That statement in and of itself is an indicator of just being concerned with yourself and not doing anything for this person.

You can be a huge part of the healing process for your friend or loved one and all it takes is to unselfishly confront the issues at the time that is best for the person and for you.  Yes there is discomfort, but at least the discomfort is along the path to freedom and closure.  You may have been a hero in this person’s life standing by them all of this time and they may not have truly even noticed, but this is an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and freedom for a person in desperate need at the moment it will count the most to him/her.  You just have to stay off of the shortcuts and by-paths.

If you are the person in recovery, consider your responsibilities in all of this and the challenges those around you will have confronting these issues with you at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.  Don’t try to protect yourself from discomfort by avoiding any of these amends.  If you are not ready, then diligently work (with the help of others) on getting ready to make the amends.

There is a solution, and all of us involved can be a part of it.