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Dr. John Wallace: Christmas Time and Early Recovering Alcoholics PDF Print Email

The holiday season is all fun, good cheer, chestnuts roasting, and merry, merry, merry. Right? Wrong. For many persons, holidays can be a time of joyful reunions with families and friends. For others, the holiday season may be depressing and filled with stress.

People in early recovery from alcoholism and other drug addictions are often vulnerable to the negative aspects of the holiday season. In early recovery, many people come face to face with the wreckage brought about by their past alcoholic and drug behaviors. They may be separated from their families, either temporarily or permanently. Money is usually in short supply and financial stressors can be almost unbearable. There is often no money available to make the rent or pay the mortgage, buy gasoline, or pay the utility bills, let alone get gifts for the children.

The holidays may usher in painful memories of happier times for people in early recovery. The high number of divorces among recovered persons means that many persons are alone and struggling in early recovery. Others may still be with their families but resentments, shattered expectations, anger, rage, and fear continue to disrupt family relationships long after the drinking stops. It is often during the holiday season when these negative emotional states can erupt into full-blown marital discord.

What can recovering persons and their families do when alcohol and other intoxicants are flowing freely as they are during the holiday season?

First, recovering people need to pay attention to their feelings and avoid those holiday parties in which the drinking is likely to make them feel very uncomfortable and that pose a risk for relapse. Caution and mindfulness are indispensable at this time of the year.

Secondly, recovering people can choose to step up their programs of recovery. If they are members of AA, NA, or Al-Anon, they can increase their meetings to daily meetings or twice-daily meetings if necessary. They can call other recovering people on a daily basis and increase their meetings with their sponsors in their 12-step programs. A number of AA groups hold AA "marathons" in which meetings, food, coffee, and fellowship are available all day long. The Hastings "Lighten-up" AA group, for example, has meetings throughout Christmas Day and evening starting with a breakfast at 9:00 AM at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Hastings-on-Hudson. On New Year's Eve at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church, The Dobbs Ferry Group is holding AA meetings every hour on the hour from 9:00 PM until 7:00 AM New Year's Day. People already enrolled in substance abuse-treatment programs can ask their therapists for extra sessions. Hopefully, all the people in early recovery will take advantage of the services available and everybody will make it safely through the holidays.

Editor's Note: Dr. John Wallace is the Director of the Maxwell Institute of St. Vincent's Westchester, a program that is partially funded by the Community Fund of Bronxville, Eastchester and Tuckahoe. Questions about alcohol and other drug addictions can be addressed to him by calling 914-337-6033.


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