Holiday Lessons: Staying Sober During the Holidays

I put down my last drink in September of 1977. All through the first three months of my sobriety I was obsessed with the thought of how I was going to get through the holidays without a drink. I was told to stay in the moment, to concentrate on the day at hand, to take my days one day at a time.

My sponsor told me that for an alcoholic a holiday was just another day. I was far away from my family. The many losses brought on by my disease were magnified tenfold at the holiday season, as was the pain of early recovery. The holidays were the true test of my resolve to stay sober that first year.

Experience is a great teacher and some of the greatest lessons in my recovery were learned at that time. I learned about The Fellowship of AA. By staying close to the people in my home group outside the meeting halls, I was able to associate with AA people throughout the holidays. We had Thanksgiving at the home of a newly sober couple. They invited several people who had nowhere to be on that day to their home. We all cooked, watched football, talked program and laughed over “war stories”, our common bond. After dinner we went to a meeting and then back to the house for dessert and more coffee and conversation. When I woke up late Friday morning I was surprised to realize that I had made it through the first of the three holidays sober.

Christmas taught me how to ask for help. As the day approached I used the meetings to express my growing anxiety about being alone on Christmas. As a result a new friend invited me to his home on Christmas Day. He had seven kids, very little money and was newly sober himself. Yet when the gifts were opened that morning there was one with my name on it. I was absorbed into his family and spent the day putting together toys, playing with his kids and of course going to several meetings. The previous year I had spent alone with a case of beer and a TV dinner. By asking for help I was able to experience the unconditional love offered by my friend and his family. Another holiday had come and gone and I still hadn’t had a drink.

New Year’s Eve taught me about getting outside of myself and helping others. In our area it was customary to have “alkathons” which were marathon meetings. The meetings were put on by individual groups each hour and offered food and plenty of coffee. My home group signed up for the midnight time slot on New Year’s Eve at Cambridge City Hospital. About ten of us piled into two cars early that evening. We stopped at a nice restaurant for dinner and then took the hour drive to Cambridge. This inner city meeting was held in a smoke filled, cold basement. There were several hundred people there and the speakers were frequently interrupted by the sound of wine bottles dropping on the floor. For many of the active winos the sandwiches and relative warmth of the hall represented the total of food and shelter in their lives. Their presence helped me to “remember when” and filled me with gratitude for my new found gift of sobriety.

I had made it through the holidays. I had learned about fellowship, how to ask for help and how to get outside of myself and care for others. Were these holidays “just another day” as my sponsor had suggested or were they, in fact, holiday gifts from my Higher Power?

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