Not everybody has a great Christmas in recovery.

I had a great Christmas and am continuing to enjoy the holiday period, as I have been allowed extra time away from work commitments, which I needed, to be honest. This was my eighth Christmas in a row, that was alcohol free and I am pretty comfortable with dealing with the holiday period by now, although it is still a little strange, being around the “seasonal drinkers” at work etc. Nobody really worries these days, if you don’t drink at a party, in the kind of circles I tend to move now, but other people may have a different experience and find it rather stressful, especially if all their family are hard drinkers.

Although I have moved on from AA, and given many of the reasons why on this site, I still do take part in other recovery groups from time to time. I find this keeps me connected to the recovery process and hopefully I can offer some helpful suggestions, to those looking for solutions. This does bring me into contact with people who are new to the recovery process, and not everyone did well over the Christmas period and I’m sure New Year celebrations will claim a few others.

There are many reasons for this, some are due to felling awkward, or left out when in a social group that feel it is normal to drink on these occasions, some is due to peer pressure, and other people are stressed out by their families. Other people may be very lonely at Christmas, especially if their family, turned away from them when they were drinking or using, or they have dropped their heavy drinking friends, in an effort to remain abstinent. People in AA tell newcomers, to go to lots of meetings around this time, so that they can remove themselves from situations that lead to drinking and so they can spend some time talking to others in a sober community. This is probably good advice. Smart Recovery, has excellent solutions for dealing with cravings and provides online meetings over the Christmas period to help those that ask for it. Other informal groups such as Soberistas offer support via a chatroom. All of these things can help, and those who are engaged in the recovery process, generally get through the holiday period and actually find themselves enjoying themselves.

People who do not do so well, have often moved away from their support group and become disengaged from the recovery process.  You might feel this is a strange, hypocritical thing for me to say, as I have clearly started a site that talks about moving on from AA, but I am more about pointing out alternative solutions and methods that can help, and I acknowledge that AA is a useful resource, for those who enjoy being a member and who are attracted to its spiritual solution. I certainly do not think that you should walk away from AA and simply ignore recovery issues, and expect everything to go well. I have mixed feelings about some of the statistics that are mentioned about recovery, such as AA is no more effective than spontaneous remission. Although I have no faith in the God part of AA, I try to point out that most people who go to AA, have attempted to stop on their own and have not managed to do so, yet some do well when caught up with the dynamics of a group. I also think that Smart Recovery often gets people joining who have moved on from other solutions and are already engaged in the recovery process, who are more selective in their approach, which may be one reason people seem to thrive in it, although in my case, I also find the solution they offer, much more rational than that of the 12 step world, and find it has more practical value than other methods. Having said that many do better just being part of a recovery group on a daily basis and that is something that only AA can really provide at the moment, with its massive number of meetings that are available to anyone. There were a few difficult days in my early recovery when I went to three meetings in a day. Lets face it nobody is going to buy you a drink there and the travelling and talking afterwards can take up a lot of time, if cravings are that bad.

Angry Drunk

There does seem a tendency for people to really bash themselves up when they have a drink during the Christmas period, as it leads to a loss of sober time which is held up to be really important. This is quite a dangerous idea, that I used to think was really just an AA problem, that went hand in hand with the powerless concept, but it seems to be quite common in other groups as well. People feel like they are a failure when they wake up the next day after a drinking spree, and may feel desperate and carry on. This is when the “harm reduction” message pushed by groups such as Hams or the methods in the book “Recover” by Stanton Peele, really make sense. Although abstinence (at least for a period) is a good goal to have, the reality is that most people will drink from time to time, especially but not exclusively, in the early days when they attempting to make major life style changes, that living sober often demands. The counting days idea can be motivating for those who are successful, yet can make those who are not, feel desperate and disheartened. The Harm reduction idea helps people get things in perspective. Drinking on Christmas day after a couple of months of being alcohol free is not the end of the world, and if you look at the overall picture a person that has done this should see the last couple of months as progress. You do not lose your sober time in my opinion if you have  bit of a slip up. It is all part of the recovery process.

There are many ways to do recovery and unfortunately some of our biggest lessons are learnt from our worst mistakes. Different people need different types of support and attracted to different groups for personal reasons. Recovery certainly won’t always be plain sailing, but is certainly possible if you can find a type of support that is suitable for you. There are people in online “recovery groups” who simply try to push the solution that worked for them as the best way to recover. This is stupid, and can cause people problems. Blaming recovery groups that they chose to be members of, for any failures in abstinence is also common and can also be very dangerous for others looking for solutions. People are vulnerable in recovery and need support, not bullying by self righteous idiots. I agree that some recovery groups have limitations due to the dogma and strict approach by certain members, but this is often blown out of all proportion by some people, with a grudge against a particular method.

People who have suffered from addiction or alcoholism often have other issues such as depression  and can become suicidal. Sadly I do know of somebody who attempted to kill themselves over Christmas. They had become disenfranchised from the recovery process, and it seems they had allowed things to build up until they became unbearable. Christmas is always a busy time for the Samaritans, as many are overcome with emotion. It is hard to help people when they are not asking for it, but it can also be be very counterproductive, to make broad based statements about different recovery solutions, especially negative ones, when people are searching for solutions. Sometimes, just finding a recovery group at this time of the year and finding somebody sympathetic to talk to, can make all the difference. Although I moved on from AA a long time ago, I am glad there is a place to go on any day of the year, for those who are struggling. That is something that more modern approaches cannot really offer at the moment, and is something that limits their overall effectiveness.

If you are feeling dreadful, please try and find some help, somewhere! It may not be your preferred solution, but as a temporary measure, it may save you and that can only be a good thing. Sometimes going back to a basic idea such as deciding to not have a drink today, can save you an awful lot of grief in the long run.

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  1. That’s a beautiful post, really well put. Happy New Year. Best wishes for a safe, sane and sober 2015. JS

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