Can you feel it? Temperatures dropping as the fall winds usher in our winter season. The faint aroma of chimney smoke as it escapes into the night air. Sweaters retrieved from summer hibernation, soft with encompassing warmth. Snuggling up to the one you love with popcorn and a soft blanket for a night of movies. The wafting smell of hot cocoa as it rests between your hands, causing your senses to anticipate that warm chocolate heaven rolling across your pallet. Enjoying the feeling of being completely enveloped under a billowy down comforter; the warmth of which escorts you into a blissful night's sleep. The joy of a favorite winter chili or stew, which never fails to provide lingering warmth in the belly. Or the excitement of college football, and anticipation of the playoffs drawing closer. Yes, these are but a few of the experiences we all have in one form or another, igniting in our conscious minds a reminder that the holiday season is drawing ever near.
For some, this leads to a sense of joy, excitement and anticipation, while for others it evokes feelings of anxiety, guilt or remorse due to the memory of holidays past where active addiction/alcoholism may have caused undo pain and ruin for those whom we love and have held most dear. This pain can cause feelings of loneliness, hopelessness or even relapse. But no matter what feelings or circumstances are being experienced as the approaching holidays arrive, for all of us a genuine gladness and gratitude can be embraced. Feelings of loneliness replaced with connectedness, hopelessness replaced instead with hopefulness, and thoughts of relapse replaced with the miracle of life and recovery. One might ask, “How is gladness and gratitude possible in the midst of such struggles?” Well, we need only look at the immediate blessings that exist before us.
Let’s start with the good news - this is a NEW season. The years past are just that; they are now “seasons gone by”. Recovery affords us the opportunity to have a “do over,” or to “start anew”. The past holiday season could have been absolutely terrible, but that was last year. This is a new day, and can truly be the beginning of fresh and wonderful memories! Some may ask, “How can I be happy, because I am not even with my family now,” or “I don’t have my home anymore,” or “I have lost my job,” or “I can’t buy gifts for everyone.” This does not mean that this holiday season can’t be filled with beautiful and lasting memories. Gratitude is always a good way to kick start ourselves in a different direction. Let’s look at a few of the things we can say we are grateful for today:
I am clean and sober!
I belong to a fellowship of great people, many of whom are now dear friends. (Some might say, “I don’t know anybody that well yet. How do I know I won’t stay lonely? How do I know I will get close to people?") Because if we are clean/sober and are practicing a program of recovery, we find that we are NEVER alone again.
I have literally years ahead of me – things will get better! (How do I know that?) Because nothing stays the same forever. If things are bad, they logically have to get better. While in ourselves we are limited and finite, we give ourselves over to a Higher Power that is infinite and limitless.
Another area of gratitude to motivate those of us who have survived so much already: We are ALIVE! It is the easiest of blessings to take for granted. I need only go out into the cool night air, feeling the breeze blowing through my hair and against my face, gazing upon the moon and stars as they cast their subtle light upon me, breathing in through my nostrils the coolness of night and hearing the earth as it gives way beneath my feet as I take in my surroundings on a late night stroll. It is in this moment that my mind becomes profoundly aware of the greatest gift, the most tremendous of blessings, causing my heart and mind cry out, “Thank you that I am alive!”
Recovery has some important principles to it that deserve application during the holiday season. One of the most important truths we learn in recovery is that “feelings” don’t keep us clean, nor do they contribute in any way to the growth and strengthening of my spiritual condition. The only thing that does this is A C T I O N! We know the “actions” that keep us growing in our recovery are things like, step work, sponsorship, prayer and service work. This principle of action is a guaranteed successful tool in not only surviving the holidays, but quite literally making them the BEST EVER! A principle we learn in early recovery is that “self” is the root of our problems, and that “selflessness” is where our solution can be found. You know the saying, “We keep what we have by giving it away,” right? Along those same lines, there is another principle I have found to be true – “To get what we’ve never gotten, or to get back what we lost along the way, (perhaps hope, joy, peace, sanity or maintained recovery through the holidays) we have only to get out of ourselves and try something new.
Here are some suggestions for staying clean & sober and making this the best holiday season ever!
Stay in close communication with your sponsor (daily if needed).
Volunteer for service work in your home group or within the recovery community for meetings and events being held through the holidays.
Be sure to have a listing of no less than 5 people with strong recovery time (5+ years) and their contact information to reach out to at any time that you may need them.
Provide YOUR number to at least ONE person who is “newer than you” that might need support during the holidays so that you can be there for them!
Find out what events and needs The Watershed Alumni Department has; you can get involved in and be of service to the patients at the facilities or to new Alumni.
Strive daily to do a random act of kindness – whether it is for a friend or a total stranger. (If you do it in secret, never telling a soul, your Higher Power will know and it is truly a wonderful experience!)
If you see a homeless person, smile at them. They may have felt unnoticed for a long time.
Along those same lines, if you see someone who is hungry or thirsty, bring them some food or water
Check out service opportunities where you can volunteer in your local community: A soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity, The Angel Tree (Provides toys for kids who won’t have them otherwise) – Even if you can’t afford to give, you can afford to assist in volunteering to help gather the toys; or even figure out your own charitable drive, like collecting sweaters, jackets or blankets to give to the homeless on the streets.
If you are lonely, rather than waiting for someone to invite you somewhere, (they may assume you have somewhere to be) why don’t YOU be the one to give the invite! To either go out as a group somewhere, or to come to your place for pizza, popcorn and a movie! Perhaps in doing so you will give someone else a brighter day!
Leave a small gift for someone who serves you. Perhaps your postal worker, gas station attendant, grocery store clerk, pastor or rabbi; perhaps a waiter or waitress where you frequently eat!
Make a full gratitude list of quite literally everything you can think of! (From sunlight, to water, your breath, the wind, sight, sound, a mind that still works, etc…)
On Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and/or New Year’s Eve – Go to a 12-step meeting and make a conscious effort to look for someone in need of support. Be the one who is there to offer your hand to that struggling member.
If you are really having a hard time (as we sometimes do), and find you can’t pull yourself out of the rut you are in, ask the God of your understanding to do for you what you cannot do for yourself by perhaps saying this: “God, please help me see with Your eyes, hear with Your ears and love with Your heart today.”
What a wondrous life! The opportunity for a fresh start to live again; not the life that we “deserved”, but rather one that was freely given to us. One of the most tremendous gifts I believe we have been given is in being blessed with knowing our “life’s purpose” (at least one of them). A lot of people in this world go to the grave wondering why they were put on this earth in the first place and never get that answer. We know at least one incredible purpose! It is something that will lift me up and I can do any time - to be a vessel for my Higher Power and offer my hand to another sick and suffering addict/alcoholic, sharing with them the solution I have found by way of my experience, strength and hope. How incredible is that?! That someone like me, with a medical prognosis at 19 that I needed to live in a group home, be put on disability and could never function independently – would become someone that the God of the Universe would actually use to provide hope, love, joy and a working solution that would change the lives of the hopeless!
It is my most sincere and heart-felt wish, that this holiday season will be your very best! God bless you all!
© 2011-2014 Rebecca Balko