Turn on the television in December, and you are bombarded with images of Christmas Joy — smiling families, a jolly, red-faced Santa, presents underneath the sparkling, crowded Christmas tree, tables piled with food — and alcohol. And that’s the thing. The holidays can be fraught with anxiety, depression and loneliness for addicts and alcoholics, whether or not they are in recovery. We cling to our newfound sobriety desperately while family members drink with impunity. And sometimes, we lose our grip and fall off of our lifeboat back into those stormy gin-filled waters.
In twelve step meetings, some call the tricky stretch from Thanksgiving to New Years ‘The Bermuda Triangle’. Just like the area in the Atlantic Ocean where ships and planes mysteriously vanish, there is also a period of time at the end of each year when addicts and alcoholics disappear from the rooms of AA and NA, although for reasons not quite as baffling. During a time filled with all this joy and connection, we addicts and alcoholics feel isolated and alone, our faults and otherness suddenly all too apparent in a room filled with family members who can drink without causing a ruckus. At those times, we feel that those ‘normal’ drinkers won the genetic lottery.
I can only speak for myself, although I know that my experiences are far from unique. Over a decade of active addiction, I destroyed my share of holidays. Whether making my grand entrance by falling down a flight of stairs or sleeping through present-opening, I always disrupted the family peace – and then I would wonder why they didn’t want me around. There were years when I wanted desperately to be sober, but I couldn’t stay clean. Those Christmases were the worst. Sitting alone in my sparsely furnished apartment, so lonely I could feel it in my chest. Sitting in yet another rehab, this time the pain in my chest more acute as my son spent another Christmas without his mother.
Then we get clean, and expect to be welcomed back into the fold immediately with open arms. It takes time to repair the damage. Some of us spend sober holidays alone. Loneliness amplifies as we scroll through social media, and that Christmas Joy feels like a slap in the face. Addiction is a disease that feeds off of isolation. Without support we fall away. It’s important to remember that with time and positive action, we can heal those wounds and the damage of the past. But we can’t do it alone. Yes, the holidays are difficult, but they are just days, one after another. One day at a time we stay sober, and suddenly it’s the new year and we are still here.