This guest post comes from the lovely and very wise Suzy Morrison who works in the addiction sector and has many years in recovery herself. She shared her ‘Sober Story’ with us here, and participated in an ‘Ask An Expert’ post which you can see here. This is her very pertinent take on how to survive the upcoming Silly Season sober.
Christmas is coming. It’s one of those ‘emotional anniversary’ times. You know, when those memories, conscious or otherwise, of what we did or didn’t do at previous Christmas parties and/or family festivities begin to make themselves known. Add in to the mix the relationships that may have been affected during the year due to unskilful behaviour … and hurt feelings can come sharply into focus. There are also twinges or sledgehammers of shame and resentment that go with the territory.
And then there is New Years’ Eve. Seeing in the New Year. People who would describe themselves as someone who ‘doesn’t drink’ will often be imbibing at this time of year. Aunty Betty is on the sherry. The alcohol is flowing and the subtle or unsubtle pressure is on to be part of the festivities. “Come on, have a drink, surely one won’t hurt?” “You’ve done so well this year and now it’s time to celebrate and welcome in the new.” “C’mon, get over yourself.”
Or another scenario could be where people are making a point of not drinking in front of us, thereby contributing to our feelings of being ‘different’. Why don’t they understand us???
We can’t expect others – family included – to understand the particular challenges we may be facing at this time of year. Or at any other time of year for that matter. It’s not possible for people who haven’t been where we have been to ‘get’ us. It is not possible for them to understand what it is like to come to terms with the reality of being dependant on alcohol and/or other drugs … and the feelings that go with it. They haven’t experienced the dawning realisation that the alcohol that used to be our friend in times of need – at times of stress or celebration – is no longer working. They don’t understand the obsession, the fear of living without it, the need to learn a new way of managing emotions, and the fight to not pick up that first drink.
It is not possible for them to understand how difficult it is initially - day by day, then week by week, then month by month – choosing not to use, one day at a time, despite the cravings. The unrealistic expectation that others understand our experience can lead to misunderstanding and frustrations in family situations.
But it is not possible for them to understand, and that’s okay. They can support us in other ways.
Family relationships may have been undergoing repair since the drinking has stopped, and since we’ve been practicing new skills on how to live well without partaking of any mood altering substances. Just because we’ve stopped using alcohol or whatever, doesn’t mean we are sorted. It’s a process. It can still be really tricky as we gather together for ‘emotional’ events such as these.
As one of my favourite teachers, Ram Das, says “if you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family’.
It’s important to be patient and kind with ourselves and others. And it’s so important to stay connected to the people who do ‘get’ us – either online, face to face, or via a phone call or text message. Get a plan in place before you face into the festivities. Run it past one of your recovering friends. Ask someone to be at the end of the phone or text on the day as a check in, a grounding, a touch stone, a reality check. It’s a way of taking care of the feelings. Self-care in action.
You are okay.
If this is your first Christmas and New Year in recovery – welcome. I am here to tell you that you can get through this time well … the tears and laughter, the food overload, the ‘family stuff’, the heightened emotions without picking up (and even possibly enjoy some of it).
There are others here online who will back me up on this. Stay close to the people who support you, who ‘get’ you.
It’s a ‘we’ thing.