Magazine

December 2013: Recipe for a sober holiday

How to stay away from the Yuletide sauce? A member whips up some ingredients that work

The holiday season always poses special problems for we who are avoiding the Yuletide sauce. If we are working our program one day at a time, each of these days should be considered the same as any other, I know. But as I make meetings in early December, the ominous question on many lips, especially newcomers’, is “How am I going to get through the holidays?”

My first Christmas sober was a tough one, and may be for others, too. So I’d like to pass on my favorite holiday recipe for a sober Christmas: Take a lot of meetings; mix generously with some finely grated Easy Does Its; add a day at a time; simmer over a few well-seasoned remember-whens.

For me, meetings are an essential key to any success in the AA program. Those members whom I see putting one sober day at a time back to back also seem to be making lots of meetings. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. How many meetings one should make is surely an individual matter, but if the holidays pose special problems, as they always do for me, “too many” simply doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact, if I’m uptight over any situation anytime during the year, meetings offer at least a start, and often a solution, to getting loose.

I think Easy Does It gives sobriety some durability. I’m inclined to be an intense person, and remembering not to take myself so seriously also keeps me loose. It can be hard to live a day at a time when advertisers are hitting us from mid-November on with nearly 800 messages daily that there are only so many days till Christmas. They have their own program to work, but I have to be careful not to let the pressure and expectations of the season lead me to blow my cool.

“A day at a time” is a great philosophy of life, in addition to being the only way I can stay sober. My first year in AA, I was wondering on Thanksgiving Day how I’d get through an office party in mid-December. (How futile!) Sometimes it’s even necessary for me to break the day down to a few hours or even a few minutes at a time. (I’ve often imagined myself as Grapevine’s Victor E., thinking, “One beer commercial at a time.”) The nice thing for me is that every minute, hour, or day gained makes the hump that much easier to get over.

When I remember Christmases past, I have a tremendous temptation to rationalize all the “wonderful times” the liquid season brought to my otherwise dreary life. Christmas always broke the routine of drowning my sorrows alone. Police officers were more understanding. Tavern-owners (already wealthy on my daily contributions) were generous and bought for the house. And of course, didn’t everyone get a little tight for Christmas?

But then I have to pause and realistically remember when my children’s father spent the holidays in fluid drive. I have to be honest and remember those “wonderful times” at our house: the loans to pay for the presents, to cover the guilt of never being a parent; the loans to pay “the electric bills” (when I knew all the time that the money would go to pay the bar tabs); the last-minute shopping that ended with “just one quick one” on Mahogany Ridge and only a $1.98 hat for a wife who had waited all day for me to come home; the used watch purchased from the barroom therapist in the white apron (who would, of course, put it on the tab); the “wonderful” sense of accomplishment I felt on Christmas Day watching my four children open their gifts, as I nursed a big head and a weak stomach and wondered how I’d repay the loan that had paid for the presents that were bought to pay for the guilt of taking the loan; and the hope that in the whole deal I’d bought some respect and given some love.

Boy, those were “wonderful times”! I found it really tough to give all that up. But now it’s much more pleasant to think of the four great Christmases my family and I have enjoyed in sobriety.

Looking back, I see that my recipe lacks one vital instruction: It should be baked 365 days a year in an oven of gratitude. The deep gratitude I have for the AA program and the life it has opened for me is beyond expression. There must be a Santa Claus—or something!

—Ray S., Snyder, N.Y.