I haven’t been in addiction treatment for the holidays. But I’ve been in addiction. And jail.
I’m in recovery now. But the holidays can still be a challenge for me. Here’s my story and what I’ve learned about being in recovery this time of year.
Last year was the first year I celebrated the holidays while in recovery. It was amazing. It’s wonderful to actually remember them; the gifts, the feelings, the memories, the joy. To look back and smile.
But when I look back on previous holidays, I don’t have the fondest of memories.
A few Christmases ago, my then-husband and I opened presents with our young children, like any other family.
But unlike other families, the only thing I could think about was when, where, and who I was going to get my next fix from.
It was the anxiety I was used to. The anxiety I had learned to live with every single day: Where was I going to get it? From who? And when?
But it was different this time. It was heightened – it was dread.
It was Christmas. My usual dealer wasn’t answering his phone. I didn’t want to be sick for Christmas – I wanted to be high.
I never thought I’d spend my holidays trying to figure out how I was going to get high. But that’s exactly what I did. As soon as my kids were done opening their gifts, I got in the car and started calling around.
I had to find something.
I finally did. I remember sitting outside of a gas station selling the gift card I had just received so I would have cash to buy the drugs.
After that, I don’t remember much.
But I’m sure my pattern repeated itself: I told my family my allergy medicine was making me drowsy. Or that I had taken a Xanax to help me sleep. I nodded off. I don’t remember what traditions were kept or made, jokes that were created, sentimental words and gifts floating around.
The only thing I remember is that familiar anxiety of, When, when, when, when? Where, where, where, where?
The next Christmas wasn’t much better. I was in jail. I didn’t want to spend last Christmas in rehab, and I sure didn’t want to spend this Christmas in jail. But I did.
I spent most of Christmas daydreaming about the delicious feast my family was enjoying right at that moment, as I sat down with my bagged lunch with other inmates.
A lot of my day was spent wondering why my mom didn’t bail me out. It was Christmas – didn’t she want me there?
(I learned later a family friend convinced her not to with one simple sentence: If you bail her out, she will die and you will never forgive yourself.)
Here’s the funny thing, though: Christmas in jail was better than Christmas in active addiction. It was the first place where I didn’t have a choice; I literally couldn’t use in jail. I wasn’t able to get my hands on any drugs. My power was stripped away for me. I had distance from the substance. I had to enter recovery when I entered jail.
And I have to say, it was better than my Christmas the year before. I learned how to laugh again. I learned what it was like to be present and aware of every moment – good or bad. I learned how to feel again.
I knew it was time for a change – time to accept help. So I did.
Last Christmas was my first great one in a long time. I was in recovery. I spent the day with my family and enjoyed each moment. I was present again.
By the end of the day, I was ready to go to a meeting. And I did. I was so grateful there was one for me to go to.
Being in recovery during the holidays can be a triggering time for people. Sometimes, it’s hard being around people, including family, who aren’t in recovery. They don’t get what you’re going through. I still struggle with guilt for not being around in the past. I don’t always feel good about myself and the things I’ve done.
I’ve had to accept that I’ve done some not great things while I was using. But it’s time for me to move on. I can make things different from here on out. I won’t miss another holiday because of my addiction.
It’s a gift to have my family look at me differently; they’ve forgiven me and learned to trust me again.
When I talk to people who are hesitant to enter treatment for the holidays, I tell them this: It’s harder for your family to see you in your addiction than it is to not see you for the holidays. It’s not easy being away from your family, or your family away from you, but it’s one holiday to sacrifice for the benefit of having many more holidays in recovery, where we can be present and actually enjoy them. It’s worth it. I promise.
Dawn is an RSS at Recovery Centers of America at Bracebridge Hall.