Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hope for the Holidays

Holidays rough but there is hope

As if the calendar wasn’t enough, the phone calls and e-mails are telling me that the holidays are upon us.

Maybe it’s the approach of a new year and the desire to wipe the slate clean, to start over and make a resolution to do better in the next year. Maybe it’s the desperate attempt to clean up in time for Christmas, to give the family something more than busted promises and disappointment.

Whatever the case may be, addicts and alcoholics often find themselves in dire straits during the holiday season.

I remember well a few of my own — trying heroin for the first time on Christmas Eve, sitting in an acquaintance’s apartment with a couple of using buddies and a drug dealer who eyed us all with a mixture of greed and contempt, never in my life having felt more alone and desperate and certain that I was about to cross a line from which there was no coming back.

Shopping for presents, paltry and meaningless, and angry with the loved ones for whom I was buying them because I would rather be spending the money on Oxycontin, and then hating myself for feeling that way.

Getting up on Christmas morning, not from the excitement of holiday magic or the desire to fellowship with family, but to sneak into the bathroom before anyone else awoke so I could shoot up and make it through the day without feeling sick from withdrawal.

Truth be told, every day is a rough one when you’re in the grips of addiction and/or alcoholism. But the pressure of the holidays and all of the expectations on us — to be social, to be kind, to care about others more than we care about ourselves — goes against the self-centered nature it takes to survive as an addict.

We’re anti-social, we don’t like spending our money on anything but what can get us high and we despise who we are and what we’ve become — being around other people, buying them gifts, taking stock of ourselves like most people do as a new year dawns; all of those things make us more aware than ever of the train wreck that our lives have become.

For some, such increased awareness leads to more feelings of hopelessness and desperation. That’s why suicides among addicts increase during the holidays; sometimes, death seems a preferable alternative to facing the disappointment in the faces of those we’ve let down. Others go all out for the last few weeks of December, resolving to stop using and turn our lives around come Jan. 1.

Still, others want to put the brakes on immediately and discover just how difficult it can be getting into treatment in time for a clean and sober Christmas.

There is hope for the holidays, however.

There’s no magic pill, no instant cure-all, that will make addiction and all of its problems go away. Addicts trying to get clean need to realize that they didn’t become addicted overnight and didn’t wreck their lives overnight; therefore, they’re not going to clean up and straighten out all of their problems overnight, either.

Recovery takes time, and it’s a rocky road at first. It takes willingness and commitment and acceptance, and sometimes those with a drug problem have more of one than another or a little of all three but not what it takes to stop getting high.

The hardest step is that first one — the one where we look in the mirror and realize we can’t go on like we have been. Once we take that step and resolve to do anything it takes to get better, the next get a little easier.

Whether it’s calling around to treatment centers or finding a 12-Step meeting or calling a minister or getting into therapy, there are baby steps those in active addiction can take to putting their lives back on track and salvaging what remains of this holiday season. Like I said, it won’t make everything go away. There won’t be any Christmas miracles that get us out of debt or repair the emotional and spiritual damage we’ve done to our family members. There won’t be an overnight cure where we wake up on Christmas morning and find ourselves rid of the obsession and compulsion to get high.

But there will be hope. I’m living proof, and so are hundreds of others in recovery like me, that addiction can be arrested and that a new way of life can be found. It’s never too late and it’s never too early to stop looking for it, whether it’s Dec. 25 or June 25. The holidays don’t have to be bleak, and they don’t have to be meaningless.

Any addict can lose the desire to use and find a new way of life, if they’re willing to put as much effort into staying clean as they were into getting high.

That’s the promise of recovery, and that’s the message I hope those affected by addiction — the addicts and the families and the friends and the loved ones — get from these words.

Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times.

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