By: Michael Murphy, Transformations Alumni Coordinator
The Bermuda Triangle and recovery. Two things you don’t typically see being discussed together. Kind of like lamb and tuna fish (where my Big Daddy fans at?!). However, in the rooms of AA it is an annual discussion. And for good reason. This time of year can be detrimental for anyone attempting to navigate the course that is, The Holiday Season. Especially in early recovery. And don’t fret my Mental Health Warriors. You’re along for this ride, as well. It ain’t all eggnog, coquito, and Manischewitz.
When a person makes the decision to get sober or address their mental health, they must understand a lot of what they know or are accustomed to, needs to go out the window. Like avoiding certain places, people, or activities. But, sometimes that is easier said than done. And you obviously cannot avoid everything like the plague. Hmm. That one didn’t age well. But, you get what I am saying. And holidays are one of those things. They’re everywhere. And, it feels like from October to January we are engulfed in it.
When we think of The Holidays, more often than not, we think of family time (for most of us, not all). But, we damn well know that isn’t the case. Holidays have become increasingly social over the past few decades. From Holiday work parties to things like “Friendsgiving”. Honestly, I cringed a bit typing that. Let’s call it what it is…Turkey dinner with shots. Oh, and New Year’s Eve. I don’t think I really need to even touch on that one, folks. New Year, New Me usually meant waking up on Jan. 1st still in the previous night’s clothes and wreaking of pour decision making (see what I did, there?) and regret with a hint of shame.
So, what do we do now? How do we prevent ourselves from becoming a social recluse all while protecting our newfound sobriety or mental health? I mean, this time of year is about as trigger-happy as a hyperactive child playing Buck Hunter. For this guy, it meant surrounding myself with like-minded people and not fixating on the past. With a dash of service, as well!
While in Treatment and afterward, we are constantly reminded that we cannot do this on our own. And this is absolutely true. We need people around us who are not only going to help lift us up when we are down but also hold us accountable when we are slipping up. And to me, there are no better places than in meeting rooms and support groups. I was VERY worried going into my first sober Holiday season. But having the advice and encouragement of others who have gone through it before, made it a lot more tolerable.
Some people will trash “Old Timers” at meetings. Me, personally? LOVE ‘EM! And some of the best advice you can get comes from them. And, THE STORIES. Holy Moly the stories they’ve got. One old-timer at a former homegroup of mine, let’s call him “Slick”, told me about his final Christmas Party drinking where he spiked the punch bowl and calamity ensued. And that one he decided to get sober he started counting “firsts” again. Like, “My First Sober Christmas”. He also explained to me how Service helped him through Holidays. He told me instead of sitting around on Holidays feeling bad for himself, he would go out and volunteer at a local Soup Kitchen back up in Mass. and help out for the day. And that it would not only take up a good portion of the day to get his mind off things but also it would humble him and remind him of how grateful he is to be living the way he is now. And he said something along the lines of, “All I needed was two shakes of Bourbon to be on the other side of that soup kitchen. And volunteering there was a helluva reminder of that.” And know what? Turns out Slick knew what he was talking about.
This year I plan on spending my second Christmas at the same Soup Kitchen in Ft. Lauderdale that I spent last year. Keeping my mind occupied all while helping some others that are not quite as fortunate as me. And while helping others is great and all; I do need to place an emphasis on the keeping my mind occupied part. The last few years of my life before getting help were spent in a deep state of isolation and depression. And I know that if I start isolating and throwing pity parties for myself, that The Bermuda Triangle of Recovery gets even smaller. And can close in on me pretty quickly. Maybe even like a triangle choke from one of The Diaz Brothers of UFC fame. And much like my drinking career, both have the tendency to end in blackouts with me on the floor wondering how I got there. Joking aside, I know I have to keep myself engaged and active in order to stay away from the dangers of disappearing off the radar again, forever.
Lastly, I want to touch base on boundaries. Boundaries will be crucial during this time of year. You have to know where to draw yours. This includes with family and close friends. For the majority of the world, holiday get-togethers include copious amounts of drinking. And while we cannot expect everyone in the world to change their routines or plans to better suit us, we can know when to walk away from an uncomfortable situation. If you need to leave a certain situation or get together bc you are starting to feel some kind of way, just go. Sure some people won’t understand or may even get upset. BUT, that is on them.
Do not let your mental health or newly found sobriety get compromised simply bc you don’t want to upset anyone. You’ve fought hard for what you have, now you have to protect it.
With all that being said, I wish everyone a very happy, safe, prosperous, and SOBER Holiday Season! It’s really not all that bad, folks. You just gotta stay the course. And be wary of triangles. Well, except pizza. That gets a pass. Even if it is circular when whole and then put in a square box.
Happy Holidays and I will see y’all in 2022!!