Holidays are a bad time for addicts. Ask anyone with a predilection for abusing alcohol, drugs, food, sex, emotions and expenses and they’ll tell you: the holidays inspire the sanest among them to drink, eat, and spend far past their abilities. There is too much food, too much stress, too much alcohol, too many contradictory feelings and passions and not enough moments or money. For those who have learned the necessity of taking life one day at a time, there are far too many expectations of joy, ideal families and friends, life as it should be but seldom is. And for the newly arrived, the ones whose search for sanity and sobriety is a recent one, the holidays verge on the deadly.
Right around Thanksgiving, people come into 12-step rooms in search of miracles, or, short of that, basic answers to basic problems. Attendance swells and some meetings are standing room only. How does one handle the family issues that resurface every year at Christmas? In many families, problems that have cropped up for decades and longer are never really sorted out; there is a silent consensus that the uncomfortable will not be brought up, making gatherings of parents and children—no matter what age—at best painful if not unbearable. How does one deal with favoritism, the addictions and addictive behaviors of others, the shortcomings, the codependence and enabling that characterize unwell families when one is trying to battle one’s own shortcomings, or perhaps simply attempting for the first time to come to terms with them?
Said one friend, “There are times I get physically ill. We get together on Christmas Eve. My father is a belligerent and often abusive drunk, my mother pretends he isn’t, and both my siblings act as if nothing at all is amiss. I’m 52-year-old woman, I have twelve years of sobriety behind me, and when I get put into that situation, I regress to being a terrified ten-years-old.”
Some cut family ties entirely, a painful choice sometimes forced upon them. “I don’t want my kids seeing stuff like that,” said the father of two boys, remembering a Christmas when “my brother got so drunk he fell into the Christmas tree and tipped it over. The rest of the family acted as if it was a great joke. Something like that has been happening every single year.” Others work around the problem. “I show up with my wife at her parents’ house at nine on Christmas morning. Her dad hasn’t had time to get drunk yet. We get a cup of coffee and exchange presents. We’re home with our own family by 11.”
Many create new families comprising sober friends, many more gather in twelve step rooms across the country where Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are served and meetings run 24 hours a day. The celebrations of those in recovery are often quiet, introspective, sometimes lonely. They seldom get much publicity…