The first day of a new year is a time of celebration and renewal, for committing oneself to new healthy habits and recommitting oneself to healthy behavior lapsed upon in the previous year. For many of us in recovery, it is, quite literally, a sobering time. On the one hand, we may recall many a past New Year’s celebration soaked in alcohol or fueled by our favorite drug-of-choice; others that we either cannot or would prefer not to remember. And on the other hand, we are inspired to consider the miracle of our sobriety—how the previous year was the beginning of our newly recovered lives, or yet another in a series of years living life clean and sober.
We may also find ourselves feeling a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment from having successfully made it through the holidays with our sobriety and mental health intact. We might live through the holidays by experiencing an emotional mixture of gratitude, joy, sadness, and depression.
The holidays are just that: A time to feel intense gratitude for sobriety, a Higher Power, loved ones, and sometimes for just being alive. This gratitude is combined with waves of depression and sadness, brought about in part by memories of how the disease of addiction for so many years kept us separated from those things for which we are now so intensely grateful. Those memories are uncomfortable, but we keep them close to the vest, knowing that we need them, that they will be useful.
When thoughts of using and drinking crop up again, we need to recall what our life was like in active addiction. We need to remember not how good it felt to be intoxicated, but how completely empty and detached from everything being under the influence caused us to become. Perhaps we were supposed to play a role in our best friend’s wedding and failed to show up for the ceremony, choosing instead to drink ourselves into oblivion alone in our apartment. Perhaps we were addicted to smoking crack in order to forget about the phone call we received from our stepmom, informing us of our dad’s heart attack. Perhaps we remember how our skeletal, emaciated selves spent more than two months subsisting on cocaine and alcohol before finally stumbling into treatment and recovery. We need to remember our last run, how it ended, who we were, and the innumerable lives we affected as a result of our addiction. We need to remember how our untreated additions came ever-so-close to ending our life, and the multitude of people we harmed while we mindlessly created complications in everything we once held dear in an inevitably fruitless effort to keep from feeling pain.
We also need access to those memories so that we can share them at meetings, with newcomers, and with prospective sponsees, if we live a 12-Step lifestyle. Cautionary tales from our past that help to remind us why our recovery is so important to maintain. We share these experiences with others in recovery to help them understand that they are not alone; that the similarities between our stories of addiction suggest that one alcoholic/addict helping another is how we stay clean and sober, one day at a time.
Remembering the dark days is important, but we also need to remember that we are now also free to enjoy living life in the present moment. When we get a call from a sick family member, we immediately see it as an opportunity to be of service, to contribute to our living amends to them for past harms done. If asked to participate in a friend’s wedding, we accept with cheerful readiness, knowing that our recovery will permit us to show up when we say we will show up. Our holidays today are marked by our participation, rather than by our absence, and we get to be that brother, uncle, and son upon whom our family members can depend. We experience some depression and sadness during the holiday season, but it passes, and it is never mixed with feelings of regret. Our choice is not to regret our past, but instead we choose to see it as something we can use to help ourselves and others stay clean and sober one day at a time.
And when New Year’s Eve and then New Year’s Day arrive, I just relax and take it easy. For the third year in a row, I’ve managed to get through the holidays with my sobriety intact. As I look back on the previous year, I notice that it was far from perfect. But I am okay with that, because I am not perfect. The last year may have been an imperfect one, but I am utterly and completely content knowing this. More often than not, I have been helpful to others and have made good decisions. Today, I feel hope.
If you and your family are in need of guidance and support, call Hired Power today. We are here to stand by you. Call: 1-800-910-9299.