For many of us, the holidays in America are fraught with tension, expectation, fear, uncertainty and above all, an overwhelming sense of obligation. “We have to do this, that or the other, or X will happen,” we say to ourselves (and very often to one another), and no one wants the dreaded X to happen- no one.
Otherwise, it’s delightful fun and the most wonderful time of the year!
So imagine my own surprise when I stopped drinking – again – on November 28, 2007 and found that it stuck. By that point I’d tried on several other occasions throughout the calendar year and failed, so I most certainly heeded the addictive voice when it warned me that anywhere on, around or near some holiday, event, milestone or other anniversary – let alone any day that ended in ‘y’ – was the absolute worst time ever to give up drinking.
“I mean, it’s like deciding to go on a diet the week of Thanksgiving: You are automatically doomed to failure, and it’s hard enough as it is, so why put yourself through that on top of it?” it says in it’s most reasonable, dulcet tones. (“And then another six months can pass unabated, and all will be well. And all shall be well,” it also doesn’t say, but is precisely what it unequivocally means.)
But I’d had enough – I was “sufficiently horrified”, as they say in one of my groups – and I didn’t give a rat’s patootie if it was Doomsday, it had to stop some time, and I had to be the one to stop it.
So I did what I had to do: Get up in the morning. Go to work. Come home without stopping by the Quickie Mart for a six pack, and park myself in front of my computer, where I spent the great majority of my evenings all through those first days and weeks, relying heavily upon my e-mail groups and the LifeRing online forum. In the meantime really didn’t worry myself a damn about the Ghost of Christmas Pending. I didn’t decorate my apartment that year (I didn’t clean it, either, but that’s another story). I shopped only as much as I had to, which wasn’t much but enough to let the people I loved know I cared. I spent time with my Mom, for whom the holidays were always a very big, huge deal enough not to worry her that I’d given them up, but I also didn’t hang around long when her traditional Christmas totty started to take its toll.
And since I’ve always been a film fanatic, I remembered with renewed clarity a scene from the movie “Clean and Sober” – starring Michael Keaton as Daryl, the addict who’d never grasped the concept that he was an addict, and Morgan Freeman as Craig, the counselor at the rehab Daryl had checked himself into to get out of one of his addict driven jams. Daryl had picked a fight with Craig and thus got himself kicked out of the rehab, but then came back when he found he was in his bullshit so deep he had nowhere else to go. So while Craig has Daryl pee in a urine sampler for him – standard rehab operating procedure when an addict’s been left to his own devices – he asks him a few pointed questions, including whether he knows how addicts get clean, and what he had to say became a mantra that ran through my mind over and over and over again throughout those first days (and mercifully in that gorgeous, velvety Morgan Freeman voice to boot.):
“You know how we do it, Daryl? A second at a time. A minute at a time. An hour at a time. One day at a time.”
It was probably the first time in my life I’d ever lived that way, and as a result, except for the few brushes with alcohol one will find themselves in at any point in early sobriety but particularly during the holidays, it was simple. Focused. Purposeful. I did only what I needed to do – nay, what I wanted to be doing. I gave my energy only to those people, places and things that deserved it, and the rest all fell away and I missed none of it, nor did any of it miss me: The running around department stores like a chicken with its head cut off. The hand-wringing over what to send far-flung relatives who I really didn’t know and who really didn’t know me, but with whom I exchanged gifts because that’s what we did every year. The silly purchasing of this, that or the other because there just had to be more – as opposed to less, but more meaningful, more thoughtful – gifts to put under the tree.
Most of all, there was time. Just…time, that I directed as I chose to direct it. I really don’t remember Christmas that year, per se. But I remember all the days leading up to it pretty well, and as difficult as some of them were, they were the first, best days of the rest of my life.
So if I have one piece of advice for you, my fellow brethren, wherever you may be on our communal Journey of Hope, it’s this: You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Really – you don’t. You get to decide what’s important to you, what’s most meaningful and valuable to you, what you really, truly do want to do, and who you want to do it for. And that is the only criteria worth considering at times like these.
In the meantime, here’s a little Black Friday humor to set it all off right. 🙂