Reflections Ahead of the Festive Season
This time of year is especially tough for alcoholics. We need to talk about the particular problems posed and the strategies that we can form in response. It’s also a time of spiritual significance, at least to many, and we should reflect on what part this can play in recovery. As we approach year-end, it’s also a time for taking stock more generally.
On the latter, I’ve learned some lessons over the past nearly two years since volunteering as a mentor. It’s worth first sharing these to see whether they might provide some insights.
As said many times, I’m not a therapist or a medical practitioner. Instead, I’m an alcoholic in recovery who’s “been there and done that”, wanting to share my experience and help others. This has worked well in some cases but in others it has not. On many occasions, sufferers at the start of treatment will express an interest in talking, take part in two or three conversations, and then disappear. What is going on here?
I've worried a lot about why some people might not want to talk to me. Is it that they believe we have nothing in common? This is a view expressed by some when they encounter others in support groups for the first time and then fail to return. Do alcoholics all have to dress and sound the same? Of course not! We all have our own backgrounds but it’s naïve to believe we have nothing in common when we all share the devastation in our lives caused by alcohol.
Is my approach too intellectual? It doesn’t have to be. Let's not talk about the intellectual stuff, at least not in the first instance. I didn’t find it very intellectual being taken to hospital, entering therapy, or suffering panic attacks, so there are plenty of other alcohol-related topics to discuss. But in my experience many of those emerging from darkness into light are open to discussing new meaningful changes in their lives.
My observation is that there are two things going on here. The first is that those who walk away and don’t want to engage are often in denial. When I go to fellowship meetings, I often hear that the sticking point of a 12-step programme is acknowledging the hurt caused to others and apologising. But it’s more fundamental than that. Too often, sufferers will not take the first step of genuinely admitting and confessing to others loss of control.
The second is that it’s “the nature of the beast”. Alcoholics and others suffering from addictive disorders are so turned inward on themselves that they are simply not ready to engage. This was true in my own case. It wasn’t that I was in denial. Rather, in the early days it took real concentrated and exhausting effort to get well and I wasn’t ready to engage properly with anybody not directly involved in my treatment. That came later and helped to sustain my recovery over the longer-term.
The other major thing I’ve been doing over the past two years is writing blogs. For the most part, these have been about issues that have been burning inside me for years. Are they too heavy? Sometimes, perhaps, I don't know. I discussed this with a friend who has struggled most of his life with addictions. His comment was, “well, addiction is a heavy subject”. I get disappointed if they're not read by many but that’s a bit daft. As somebody else said to me, if they're read by just one person and it helps then isn't that enough?
The major purpose of the blogs is to strike a chord. They are a way of opening a conversation. In that respect, they’ve been working as intended. I've had some gratifying responses from some surprising people.
There are plenty more to come. Yes, some will be heavy, or at any rate will include references to philosophy and spirituality. That’s important because we are trying to explore pathways to recovery. But I acknowledge the well-known saying - Keep It Simple, Stupid!
So now we are approaching the festive season. As said, this is a very difficult time of the year for alcoholics (and others) for several reasons:
First, it’s supposed to be a time for families and loved ones to come together but what if you are from a broken background or there is not one special person in your life? You surely then feel the isolation even more intensely.
Second, it’s a time to be happy, at least outwardly, but often the expression of happiness is a mask. It’s not a happy time of the year for me because it marks the anniversary of when my brother died. I’ve hated the secular festivities ever since despite the religious significance of the season for me. No doubt, that played a part in my drinking to excess.
Third, there is pressure to take partying to the extreme. We all have our own memories. The City was a wild place at this time of year – perhaps it still is but I wouldn’t know. I once went to the party of a former employer in the early evening then onto the party of my then current employer, before confessing to a senior manager at the end of the night that I had a serious drinking problem!
Let's figure out the strategy here. If you’re feeling lonely then reach out to somebody less fortunate than yourself or pick up the courage to ask for help. Otherwise, let everybody else get on with it while you focus on something else you’d really like to do for a few days. Read a book, watch movies, or go for some long walks. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself some credit for what you’ve achieved so far, despite the inevitable setbacks, and make a plan to continue your recovery in the New Year.
Most importantly, focus on avoiding the first alcoholic drink if and when you go out. You can drink something non-alcoholic but admittedly it’s not much fun if you feel that you’re cast as the “party pooper”. So, be prepared for the questions and don’t allow yourself to feel pressured. Tell people that you feel much fitter and healthier without alcohol. If necessary, stay away from the temptation altogether. I try to avoid works’ parties.
Can alcoholics enjoy this time of year? Why not?! People of all faiths, and none, celebrate the seasonal festivals - not always with alcohol! I celebrate the blessing of my sobriety, the gift of wisdom, the feeling of being wide awake and the joy of life with all of its ups and downs.
Fundamentally, this time of year is about loving and giving. Focus on the gift of your recovery and remember – you are not alone. Just reach out and somebody will be there for you.