Magazine

December 2013: Unwrapped

This year, her gifts did not come in a box

My last drink was on March 18, 2012. It capped six months of daily blackout drinking, and more than 10 years of increasingly heavy and destructive addiction to alcohol. I then completed two and half months of outpatient rehab and underwent surgery to repair the arm I had damaged from multiple drunken falls. I was also asked not to return to the job I had held for 10 years, nor to contact any of my former coworkers. The arm injury and the loss of the job and coworkers were casualties of my drinking. I was told my liver was also damaged, but that it was mostly recoverable if I never touched a drop of alcohol again.

I attended at least one, sometimes two, AA meetings almost every day, except for the day of my surgery. With the help of a loving but firm sponsor, I worked my way through the first three Steps. By the time Thanksgiving came, I was well into admitting the exact nature of my wrongs. I had mended a lot of the damage I’d inflicted on my family, and I made living amends by being present, sober, accountable and loving.

Despite my progress in the program, I was really anxious about Christmas—and still full of self-pity. Not only would I have to cope with the usual holiday drama, but I’d have to do so without alcohol. And also without my mother, who had just lost her own battle with addiction.

It was AA—my home group and the clubhouse where my home group met, as well as my sponsor and new AA friends—that made all the difference. All this and prayer helped me accept all these feelings that flooded me: There was the grief I felt seeing my mother’s empty stocking and hearing silence where her laughter used to ring; the anxiety caused by the needling of my brother-in-law; the exasperation of being tucked between my bickering niece and nephew at dinner; and the flash of disappointment when I realized I wasn’t getting that eBook reader after all.

To help me get over my nearly terminal case of self-centeredness and self-pity, I engaged as best I could in service to others. Even though I have to observe a strictly gluten-free diet, I baked and brought in breakfast cookies and muffins—gluten free, of course—to brighten up our 7:30 a.m. meetings. Everyone devoured the goodies, and I felt good about this little bit of service, especially because many newcomers came in off the street and they didn’t have much else to eat.

I contributed to the holiday party the AA groups were putting on for the children of members who otherwise would have faced a rather sparse Christmas or Hanukkah. It also felt good to share what little money I still had so a child would have a little holiday joy.

I chaired several meetings during December, including my home group’s Christmas Eve morning meeting, which required me to really listen to others and to pay attention to everyone in the room so that those who needed to share, especially newcomers like me, wouldn’t be overlooked. Hearing members share about their struggles to repair the damage from drunken holidays past and their anxieties about relapsing, really helped me feel grateful that my Higher Power had removed my obsession to drink, and that with his love and mercy, I still had my family and another chance at life.

Then, when the usual family tensions arose and I started feeling anxious, sad and afraid on Christmas Eve, I had a place to go: our holiday alcathon at the clubhouse—24 hours of AA meetings, every hour, on the hour. I went to two meetings on Christmas Eve after the family dinner, and when I couldn’t sleep in the pre-dawn of Christmas morning, I went back for three more! There was something so calming about six sober drunks clustered together in a sea of chairs at 4:30 on Christmas morning, sharing about the gifts we had been given this past year. Instead of mourning my losses, or feeling sorry for myself, I was giving thanks for the gift of sobriety.

A few more people came to the 5 a.m. meeting, where we talked about the power of the Serenity Prayer during stressful times. And then when 6 a.m. arrived, so did about 60 or so alcoholics and their loved ones, for a really joyous meeting. I never expected to be sitting in an AA meeting watching Christmas morning dawn, and yet, there I was. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere more perfect or more beautiful.

Not only did I survive the holidays, the holidays became even more precious to me. My self-pity dissipated and my heart swelled with gratitude and love. As I counted all the gifts I got this year, I marveled that not one of them came in a gift box or a gift bag, or in a bottle or a glass.

—Sam Marie E., Atlanta, Ga.