It’s that time of year I suppose, the beloved, yet sometimes dreaded, months between Thanksgiving and New Year’s - the time of year when we reengage with old family members and celebrate togetherness and gratitude. When I give a quick thought to the holiday season, I immediately think of traditions – decorating the tree with my family while listening to Christmas tunes, having my Aunt come down from Boston and getting manicures with all the women in my family, and seeing Santa light up the Christmas tree at South Park mall. Earlier this month, traditions were jeopardized when South Park attempted to put a glacier up instead of a Christmas tree. Although my understanding of the situation was for the mall to be more inclusive, I ultimately discovered that traditions are something that people will rally around and fight to protect, regardless of the meaning of the tradition itself. It’s almost as if we pass blindly through the holiday traditions, as mindlessly as putting the right foot in front of the left. For years people have complained that the meaning of Christmas has been lost due to the “traditions” developed by the media and commercial markets. Although I’m not arguing this point and would rather not get into a political banter, I mention it to lay the foundation for my argument.
When a person enters treatment and recovery, they are asked to change a lot. In fact, we often joke that “the only thing we ask you to change is everything.” But what about traditions? What about the tradition of Grandad drinking a bottle of wine at Thanksgiving lunch and telling jokes all throughout the afternoon? What about the tradition of New Year’s Eve when everyone toasts with champagne and sings Auld Lang Syne? These traditions can be obviously triggering for someone in early recovery, as they put a person in the presence of alcohol. However, even if the alcohol was removed, many traditions can be triggering for people in recovery as they bring up old memories and old senses that one might connect with past using experiences. Not to mention that family can be triggering regardless of the situation, but especially on a high pressure holiday.
This being said, I think it’s time for a challenge. Before the holiday season is in full swing, list out all of the traditions you and your family have. Bring them to your sponsor, your treatment group, your fellowship. Evaluate what they really mean to you and determine whether they are healthy or not for you and your recovery. And then set aside time to make new traditions. Pave a new path for your family that is healthier and recovery-centered. Establish an alcohol-free Thanksgiving, allowing Grandad to show his sober humor. Replace the champagne with fruit punch or sparkling cider. Include meetings in your new traditions, attending Alcothon events and helping with holiday meals in AA, Al Anon, or NA. Get out and be of service for those who no longer have a family with whom they can create new traditions. And most of all, enjoy being sober and present to celebrate togetherness and gratitude like you’ve never been able to before.