I know I haven’t met you yet,
But I’m positive when I do,
We will greet each other like old friends.
I’ll extend my hand to you.
But until that future time comes,
I can only wish you well.
Cause the road you travel down
Is a solitary hell.
Littered with tears and pity,
Shame and sorrow at your side,
You keep trying the same old game again.
The Devil’s in your pride.
So, keep walking down that path you made.
Walk it all alone.
Because you need to fully feel,
The existence you have sown.
But when you reach the point,
Of choosing life or death.
I hope you will reach out for help
With surrendered breath.
For though I walk another path
Your history rings true.
To the very path I used to walk,
Because I was once just like you.
As many of you know, a few weeks ago, I published five suggestions for ways to maintain sanity over the holiday season. A few of you wrote me letting me know I left out a few key important ideas. Yesterday, I found myself at the first of my holiday parties of the season, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I did leave some things out. So, without further ado, here are five additional, but none-the-less super important, suggestions for the holiday party season!
6. Work the steps: Okay, so I caught some grief from a few of you guys for not mentioning the steps in my first post. So… WORK THE STEPS! I often hear a member of the local community say that whenever a fellow comes back from a relapse, he always asks the once again newly sober man, “What step were you on when you relapsed?” According to the man, not a single person has been able to answer the question. I’m slow to believe absolutes, but I do think it is much harder to take a drink if one is actively engaged in stepwork. When I am engaged in the steps and meeting with my sponsor, I feel more strongly connected to the program.
7. Take a sober friend. Ugh, I cannot believe I forgot this one. First of all, friends are awesome. Secondly, sober friends are super awesome. One of my favorite Christmas pastimes is making fun of holiday party jackasses (mainly because it used to be me), but in order for this to occur, one needs a sober accomplice. I’ve tried relaying the shenanigans in narrative to people after the fact; it never translates.
Sober friends also supply a necessary buffer and additional accountability. My second holiday season in sobriety, I went to a huge Christmas party at a dance club in Houston. I honestly and truly thought I was prepared for the party. I had worked my steps I was living in a sober house. But once I was there, the mass consumption of alcohol became overwhelming. Luckily, I had taken a friend. After maybe 45 minutes, I told her I needed to leave. I thought, somehow, I was a failure for freaking out. But my friend made it easy to walk straight out the door. We ditched the high heels and ended up having a fun night of great laughs.
8. Watch your drink: There are two parts of this simple advice. The first part is especially key if the holiday party involves some sort of bartender. Over the years I have heard more than one story of a person ordering a Coke and receiving a rum and Coke, or an ice tea and getting a Long Island. Just order drinks that come in containers (water, Redbull) or else be sure you can watch the bartender pouring your drink.
Secondly, do not leave your drink unattended. Keep it in your hand. Its unfortunate circumstance when a person puts down his/her drink and accidently picks up someone else’s. Its an even worse circumstance when someone puts something in your drink. Don’t risk it. I know even if I have to pay for five waters in a night, my bar tab is still less than it was when I was drinking!
9. Check your motives: The Big Book says we cannot avoid places just because there might be alcohol, but that before we go, we should check out motives. Ask yourself the question, “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… Be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good,” (101-102). I was just this morning talking about motives. It never once occurred to me in my drinking days to ever question my reasons for doing things before I actually did them. Its good practice, not just during the holiday season, but year round.
10. Tis the Season: Though I am not including them individually, I hasten to add some final little tidbits offered to me by some of my closest friends…
Be honest. This is a tough season. We always lose some people. If you are struggling, let it be known. You never know whom you might be helping.
Keep chocolate in the house. “He thought all alcoholics should constantly have chocolate available… many of us have noticed a tendency to eat sweets and found this practice beneficial,” (133-134). It’s in the Big Book. Look it up!
Finally, I was reminded of something important after my first post. My over consumption of alcohol was my problem and no one else’s. Most of the world drinks more or less responsibly. My recovery is an internal problem that stems from my mind, not an external problem that exists with Christmastime. Remember, we have a “Daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition,” (Big Book 85). So, stay in touch with your higher power, call another alcoholic, and go to a meeting. And as my friend would say, “I’ve done drunk Christmas and I’ve done sober Christmas. Sober Christmas is better.”
If you have anything you would like to add, please comment below or on Facebook.
Ann G. Kroger.
A man I have come to respect, George G., always says, “Alcoholism is a threefold disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” It makes me smile just thinking about it. Next week is Thanksgiving and it officially marks the beginning of yet another holiday season. The holidays are a stress-filled time with obstacles and pitfalls. In light of that, I decided to take a moment to write down some of the suggestions I have received over the years on how to remain sane over the holidays!
1. Read the Big Book: I had a sponsor who told me that every time, before walking into my parent’s house, I was to read page 66-67. It works. “We realized that the people who had wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like the symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves were sick too. We asked God to help is show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’”
The Sick Man’s Prayer reminds me that I never know exactly what I going on in the mind of anyone else. I have had times when I became angry or said hurtful and intolerant things because I was the one in distress. Oftentimes, it had nothing to do with the other person. They just happened to be in the direct line of fire. I try to keep this very thought in mind during stressful times. If something is directed at me, I think, “Is that a valid complaint?” If not, I do my best to let it go, and turn my thoughts and my hands to service. Which brings us to Number 2…
2. Be of Service: Being of service sounds like drudgery. I tend to think of it more like helping out, being a good sister and aunt. I always try to do something that is helpful. There are a lot of members of my family. Sometimes we are like a tornado. I try to lessen the blow of family gatherings by helping cook or washing dishes. Sometimes my service work is simply playing with my nieces or nephews so that my siblings can have a moment of quiet (that’s the best kind of service because it’s also the funnest!)
Being of service allows for two things. First, it makes me feel good about myself, like I generally made a positive contribution to the gathering. (Something that was not always true in the past.) Second, I feel like if I have to make a quick escape or if I inadvertently say something inappropriate, it gets tempered. “Did you hear what she said?” “No, but did you taste those mash potatoes she made? Yum…”
3. The Car: When I first got sober, I was prone to anxiety attacks. It felt like the room was suddenly closing in and I could not breathe. I learned the only way to end these attacks was to leave, sometimes unceremoniously. First, always drive yourself. Do not be beholden to someone else and their time frames. If you gotta go, then go.
Additionally, my parents have a long driveway only one car width thick. On more than one occasion, I got blocked in. Nothing is worse than needing to leave and having to ask three other people to move their cars to get out. Not only does this make one’s leaving largely conspicuous, there is the additional stress of interrupting conversations and waiting for people to find keys and then while one is finding their keys, another decides to use the restroom… Just park in the street. This same system is also true for valet parking. Nothing is more irritating than having to make mindless conversation with a stranger as you are waiting for a valet to finish his smoke break. Park your car yourself.
4. Just leave: You know, I make this mistake all the time. I want to leave, but I feel guilty, so I stay. As my impatience and anxiety rise (as it always does) the party becomes increasingly more uncomfortable.
Leave the party. If you think you may be too uncomfortable with the whole, “I’m an alcoholic in the midst of an anxiety attack (or craving) and must leave immediately” excuse, come up with a few other’s in advance. Sometimes, beforehand, I say I already have another engagement. “I have to be somewhere at seven.” Then, if I end up staying later, I say, “Well, I was having such a good time, I called and told them I would be late.” This has the additional pleasure of making the host feel happy that their party is such a huge success.
5. Go to a Holiday Meetings: One of the things about Christmas is that everywhere I look, people have more presents, more fun, more everything than me. Even the glow from the Christmas lights makes everyone better looking than me. Envy is a killer, man. It’s useless and pointless.
Because of this, I always try to make it to a meeting on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s. Once again, there are a couple of different benefits to the holiday meeting. First, I think it is important for someone to be there to unlock the door and help the newly sober man or woman make it through his/her first holiday season. Second, this service works in the same vein as sponsorship. By being around the new man during the holidays, I gain gratitude for all that I have rather than wallowing in envy and self-pity.
My list is my no means exhaustive. These are just the ones I have personally come to live by. I know there are a ton more suggestions out there and I would like to hear them. If you want to contribute to the discussion, please post your comment below or email me at email@example.com. I am more than happy to keep your suggestion anonymous.
I hope everyone has a sober and safe Thanksgiving!
It was in the mornings that Lydia had been most aware of her alcoholism. The brushing of her teeth often resulted in her dry heaving and coughing into her bathroom sick; her head aching and spinning. On more than one occasion, Lydia found herself splayed on the bathroom floor, dizzy and weak. It was disgusting and messy. The headaches and the lethargy had so long been a part of her life they seemed the normal, casual, expected.
By the end of her first week of sobriety, Lydia was shocked what mornings could feel like.
Lydia stood hunched over the granite countertop, the coffee cup warming her hands. She stared at the pristine, white ceramic cup against her aging hands. Those hands had held husbands and babies. They planted gardens and cooked meals, taken temperatures and mended clothes. They had calculated algebra problems and molded clay dioramas. But they had never had a job. A job, job. Not a church volunteer canned food drive or a book fair at the school, but an actual got paid money for services rendered job. She never thought she would need one. But then Henry left. When she was drinking, she would have moments of panic, but she tried to forget. For the past couple of days, though, it was all she could think about.
Lydia had been betrayed. He left her. He promised her fidelity and friendship forever. Lydia knew her drinking had been a problem, but she only drank because he was never there. If only he had come home for dinner. If only he realized how much she missed the children, how alone she felt. If only he had cared as much about her as he had his job, she wouldn’t have had to drink.
She wanted to call him and scream at him. And she wanted to tell him what she was sober and cry to him and let him hold her. She hated him and she loved him. He abandoned her, but he was still her best friend. She wanted to tell him she had been sober for seven days, that this time was different, but he had heard all the promises before. He wouldn’t believe her. And she couldn’t blame him.
She couldn’t call him. She could call a friend, but she didn’t have any friends. Not real ones. She had lunch friends and shopping friends and mom of her children’s friends. But as she clicked each one off in her brain, there was not a single person she trusted with AA.
And then she remembered the list. Lydia walked over to junk drawer beneath the phone and opened it. There, atop the stapler, pens, and forgotten bills laid the white envelope with names and numbers scrawled on one side. Lydia gingerly picked up the packet and returned to her place at the kitchen counter. She ran her fingers around the edges of the white envelope, looking at all the names of the women. She turned the contents out and looked at the pamphlets as they tumbled out onto the countertop. “This is AA” “Is AA for you?” “A Newcomer Asks.” The pamphlets were all titled as if they were CBS afterschool specials. Lydia smiled.
She picked up the envelope and her coffee and walked into the living room. She wedged herself in the corner of the sofa Indian style, as if she were a little girl, and pulled a throw pillow up close against her chest. She looked down at the phone and slowly dialed the first number on her list. After the third ring, a woman answered, “Hello?”
“Hello. Ummm… This is Lydia. You gave me your phone number at a meeting last week…”
Here’s how it went down: First we got in an argument. Not a real argument, a baby one. A spat. The kind of argument a couple has when they’ve been together for a while and one of them, namely him, thinks he is being funny and the other one, namely me, doesn’t. And so I walked away.
But then, shoot, I needed to remind him to do something, so I texted him. No response. So, I texted him again, nice this time, please and thank you. Still no response. I texted him a third time, a little huff in this text. Silence. Here is where most people would stop, thinking that maybe he just needed a little time to himself, but not I. I texted him again. Indignant and self-righteous. And again. Self-pity. As I look back over the texts, I can see the downward spiral of alcoholic thinking from sanity to anger to self-aggrandized woe is me.
Three hours later, his text messages started rolling in. “Hey. I haven’t heard from you all day and then a few minutes ago, I got a whole bunch of texts.” And “I’m sorry.” And the kicker… “I called the guy. I sent you an email telling you everything he said.” Turns out the cell phone system was down. He hadn’t receive any of my text messages over the course of the whole day.
“It is plain to see 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… we began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill,” (BB 66).
“The wrong-doings of others, fancied or real.”
I cannot even begin to tell you how vivid my imagination is. It will highjack my thoughts in an instant. To prove it, I spent the entire day obsessed at something that existed only in my mind. By the time I realized my mistake, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I had, in fact, completely squandered my day.
An any given point in those eight hours, I could have written a quick gratitude list of all the things he does for me. I could have meditated. I could have done a spot check inventory. I could have simply given him the benefit of the doubt. If he needed space, I should have given it to him. If I was worried, I should have called him, like big people do, instead of continuing to text. If I didn’t want to call him, I could have called a friend or read the book. The friend would have told me I was being crazy. The book would have reinforced it.
AA has given me the tools to deal with life, but I have to be willing to pick them up and use them. The Big Book tells me, “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it,” (83). I cannot find acceptance through osmosis. I cannot retain sanity through blind wishing. I have to work towards it.
Luckily, I did no lasting damage to my relationship. We mended fences quickly and moved on. But my crazy has left a lasting impression on me. It was a reminder, a little nudge, that I will never be so sane that I do not have to work this program. And thank goodness for that.
Usually, even the worst of us can stay off the drink for a day or two if we are seriously motivated by the adequate amount of force and calamity. The real trouble often begins around day three when the brain starts to convince one that maybe they have made too big a deal over whatever currently has them in a knot. I can stop. It ain’t no thing. I bet I could have one beer or two. Everything will be okay.
Lydia was conscience of being awake long before any move was made to get up out of bed. Instead, she laid there in the semi darkness of the curtained bedroom and tried to assess her physical and mental state of being.
The rhythmic beating of her heart seemed to pulsate throughout her body. She sensed she could feel the blood running through her arteries and back again. Next Lydia moved on to her stomach. She had eaten too much last night. In the mood to ride the wave of hunger, Lydia gorged on junk food and ice cream. It had made her feel better in the moment, but as the laid down to sleep, her stomach, unused to such sustenance, surged and gurgled. But by morning, everything seemed to be quiet again. With her eyes still closed, Lydia promised to take it easy with the food today.
As to her mental state, Lydia did not want to get out of bed. She had an odd sense of energy running through her, and yet simultaneously, she was so exhausted, she thought she could easy melt back into sleep. She had only fallen asleep a few short hours ago after hours of trying. Stress, fear, questions, had raced in her mind for an unendurable length of time. Having awoken to a sense of calm, Lydia was unwilling to let go even as her body was aching for movement and a shower. Lydia opened one eye, then the other, as the realization slowly started coming into focus. She couldn’t quite think through the thought. It was still fuzzy and out of focus. And yet there it was.
Her body seemed to be resisting the choices her mind was making. Was her whole life an ongoing battle between the desires of her mind and the reality of her body? How could that be? Weren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t the body support the mind? Wasn’t the mind the superior entity?
With a shake of her head, Lydia dislodged the thought and moved off towards the shower.
As she pulled into the mall parking lot, Lydia realized going to the meeting was a little easier than the day before and a lot earlier than the day before that. She was starting to get a feel for the layout of the club. She was starting to recognize some of the faces. If it wasn’t home exactly, at least it wasn’t terrifying.
Lydia ordered a hot tea and made for the meeting room. She was a few minutes early, and the room was empty. Lydia had realized over the last couple of days that people tended to walk through the door just as the meeting was starting. Lydia walked over to the large poster on the wall labeled, “The Twelve Steps.”
“Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.”
“Powerless over alcohol.” Lydia knew from endless TV shows and movie, from culture, that admission of the problem was the first step. But it looked different in this format. Powerless. It sounded so much more ominous and permanent and old fashioned than a simple, “Admitted we occasionally drank too much” or “Admitted we sometimes got a little out of control.” Lydia wasn’t even sure if she knew what that word mean. Powerless. Lydia kept rolling the word around in her mouth, tasting it on the tip of her tongue. Lydia was conscious to pick a seat for the meeting that had a full view of the steps. She took a sip of her hot tea. Powerless.