For most people, the holiday season is a time of year filled with of joy, revelry, and togetherness with family and friends. But for those of us in recovery, the holiday season can also be a time of great stress, with lots of obstacles and stumbling blocks that can stand in the way of healthy long-term recovery.
In active addiction, my world revolved around things that I wanted but didn’t have, or things I had and wanted more of… Things that would either feed my addiction or feed my ego (which in turn would feed my addiction). I was obsessed with more. Getting more, having more, taking more, wanting more. I was suffering from the disease of more. I had an unfillable hole in me, into which I shoveled all the things I thought would make me feel better: money, sexual partners, alcohol, drugs, status symbols, cars, clothes, jewelry, gadgets, and baubles of all shapes and sizes. But it turned out that none of these things could ever fill the void.
Then finally, I found my path to recovery. Through working a program, I learned that tangible things will never make me happy. The gifts I needed to become happy, joyous, and free couldn’t be bought, sold, or stolen. The gifts I needed could only be given to me by steadfast work in a program of recovery, through self-improvement, through giving freely of myself and helping others in need. In short, the only gifts I needed were the gifts of recovery.
One of my favorite passages of recovery literature comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83-84, in which the authors of that famous tome list, in no uncertain terms, all the gifts that one can expect from a life in meaningful long-term recovery. This list is known as the 12 Promises, or simply, the Promises.
Originally written to outline the results of working a 12-step program of recovery, I believe the Promises are universal to all forms of recovery. There are many ways to recover, and recovery programs and fellowships are not one-size-fits-all. So while I will neither promote nor condemn AA, 12-step programs, or the Big Book, I will say that these promises have come true in my life, and in the lives of others. All it takes is a little dedication, hard work, and honesty in your program.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness
Addiction is slavery. Slavery to substances, to sick thinking, to getting and finding and using more and more. During active addiction, the misery of the being enslaved by a substance feels insurmountable. But after only a short period of abstinence from mind-altering substances (usually about 90 days), something amazing happens. Once we’ve broken the habit of daily use, our mental and emotional state drastically improves. We become sharper and more in-focus. Our brain chemistry begins returning to normal. We laugh. We make new friends at meetings. We learn how to live life without alcohol and drugs. We begin feeling… happy. We begin feeling joy. We begin feeling free.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it
The desire to change the past is as old as time itself, and no one feels this desire more than people who have suffered from addiction. But in a program of recovery, we learn to accept the fact that we can’t change the past. Then, as more time passes, many of us become grateful for the past, because the past helped shape us into who we are today. Instead of groaning over past mistakes, we are given a chance to learn from them. Instead of trying to forget the pain of active addiction, we learn to keep that pain close to our hearts lest we forget about the misery our addiction once caused us. The past is a useful learning tool. And while we can’t change the past, we can use it as a reference point in order to change our own future.
We will comprehend the word serenity
Serenity, true serenity, is a blissful feeling. In active addiction, I skittered from one obsession to another. I was constantly chasing my desires, and always wanting more. Through recovery, I learned how to be content. And through this feeling of contentment, I learned to comprehend serenity. Now of course, just because I can comprehend the word serenity doesn’t mean I feel serene all the time.
Life happens. I still get frustrated, angry, jealous, uneasy, and anxious, just like I did during active addiction. The difference is that now I know these feelings won’t last forever, and there are things I can actively do to bring some serenity into my life without the use of alcohol and drugs. Simple things like meditation, exercise, prayer, health and wellness practices, seeing a therapist, talking to my sponsor or another addict or alcoholic, or any other positive action will help to bring about a feeling of serenity.
We will know peace
Life in active addiction is a life of chaos. The more I used, the more chaotic my life became. My emotions were unpredictable and I was gripped by sudden mood swings I had seemingly no control over. I surrounded myself with other people who suffered the same malady, compounding the chaos and creating a life where the only peace I could find was in my drug of choice, and even that peace was fleeting. Finally, in sobriety, I found the peace I’d been searching for. I gradually weaned myself from my craving for chaos, and I learned how to sit still, how to be still. In sobriety, I don’t have to worry about where the next fix is coming from, where the next bit of money is coming from. I don’t have to worry about my friends robbing me or the police catching me. I don’t have to worry about overdosing or getting sick because I ran out of stuff. My life today is peaceful and relaxing, all thanks to my recovery.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others
When I first began my journey of recovery, I felt like my life had no meaning, no future. Sure, I was getting sober, but I was broke, I was a felon, I didn’t have a good job, I was years behind my non-addict peers who had gone off and gotten good jobs, bought houses, gotten married, had kids. I felt like I had missed out on life because of my addiction. That’s when I started helping others.
I shared freely with my fellows about what my addiction had done to my life, my regrets, my pain. I found people who had once shared my feelings, but had gone on to turn their lives around in recovery. Eventually I turned my own life around, and was able to use my own experience, strength, and hope to help other people in recovery turn their own lives around. Nothing feels better than helping someone else who is struggling with their addiction, and because of my own history, I am uniquely qualified to help.
The feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear
In active addiction, I had no purpose. Or, I should say, my sole purpose was to support my addiction and feed my ego. Other than acting out on my addiction, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have any hobbies, I didn’t exercise, I wasn’t a member of a community group, I didn’t volunteer, I worked dead-end jobs. I was rudderless in the water, aimlessly drifting through life. But now through recovery, I live life with purpose.
My purpose is to stay sober, help other people get sober, and improve my own life for the good of my family, my community, and my fellows. Today, I live a well-rounded life. I have a family, I have hobbies, I’m active in my community, I exercise, I eat healthy (most of the time), I go to therapy, and I have a program of recovery. Today, I am no longer useless. Today I have a purpose.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows
It goes without saying that in active addiction the only person I really cared about was myself. In all situations, I made alcohol and drugs my priority. There was no person, place, or thing that was more important to me than by drug(s) of choice. I ruined friendships, lost romantic partners, became estranged from my family, got fired from jobs, got arrested, all because of my lust for alcohol and drugs. I became a misanthrope. I shunned society, community, family, and friends, all because I was in love with alcohol and drugs.
In sobriety, I learned that helping people feels better than helping myself. Whether it’s taking a commitment at my home group meeting, calling or visiting people whom I know are struggling, or simply answering the phone when it rings, helping other people in recovery is one of the greatest joys I know.
Self-seeking will slip away
Today, I no longer exclusively look out for my own best interests. That doesn’t mean I put myself and my needs last – after all, my needs and wants are valuable and important too – it simply means that I no longer believe that myself, my needs, and my addiction are the center of the universe. Today, I am generous and kind to others because I like the way it feels. Today I care for people in need because it’s the right thing to do. I help out. I lend a hand. I give my time and effort whenever and wherever I can. I am of service to my fellows.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change
In active addiction, life was hopeless and bleak. My addiction brought me to a low point in my life, living day to day, never knowing where the next few dollars would come from for my next dose of “medicine.” I had given up on hope for the future, resigned to a life of constantly scrabbling to eke out my next hit, my next fix, my next drink. My family, friends, loved ones, they didn’t matter to me anymore. I’d lost the joy in my life and replaced it with poison. I didn’t care about myself or anyone else. All I cared about was feeding my addiction.
I don’t know how or why it happened, but one day I’d simply had enough. I woke up with a half a bottle of vodka under my pillow, went to take my first sip of the day, and stopped. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I went down to the kitchen, dumped the vodka in the sink, and asked a family member to help me get into rehab. It just happened. Something, a moment of clarity as they call it, had woken me up and made me realize it didn’t have to be like this anymore. I had made the first step. I’d asked for help.
Today, my whole outlook on life has changed. I’m excited about the future. I wake up most days feeling driven and motivated. I want to be constantly improving my life, and the lives of the people around me. Today I have simple goals: to have a solid recovery, a good career, a loving family, a healthy romantic relationship, a warm safe place to live. I want to be trustworthy and kind, to be dependable, responsible, punctual, and empathetic. I want to love people and be loved in return. I want to help people, and be helped when I need it. I want to recover. I want to live.
Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us
Once I got sober and had a few months of time and clarity under my belt, I realized that my addiction wasn’t really about drugs. It was about fear. Fear of feeling my feelings, fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being good looking enough, not being wealthy enough, and most of all, fear of not being liked by other people. I lived in a constant state of fear that I numbed and self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. I lied, cheated, and stole to make sure I always had enough money to get by, even though the means by which I procured the money made me feel deeply ashamed. Shame and fear, fear and shame. Twin dragons in the addict’s mind.
Today, I am not afraid. I know I’m not perfect, but I also know I’m not the worst person in the world. Today I’m not afraid to be myself, and let other people be themselves. Today, I am myself, and if feels pretty damn great.
Now as far as economic insecurity goes, make sure and read the fine print. Or in this case, lack thereof. Read the phrase carefully. It doesn’t say “economic insecurity will leave us,” (I hate to break it to you but getting sober doesn’t automatically make you rich) it says “fear of economic insecurity…” It’s telling us that the fear will be lifted. Sure, sometimes my bank balance is lower than I’d like it to be, but when it is, I still know everything will be ok. That’s the true gift. I’d rather live without fear and have no money, than to live with money and still be afraid.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us
To quote myself upon hearing this promise for the first time, “uh, what?” In the beginning, I didn’t even understand what this promise meant. I thought to myself, “I’ve never been baffled by a situation. Even at my worst, I was still in control for the most part.” But the more I learned about my addiction and the way I process emotions, the more I came to understand that every situation baffled me. That’s why I spent years self-medicating and trying not to feel my feelings. For almost every situation I’d been in during active addiction, I felt that I’d deal with it better if I had a good buzz on. If that’s not being baffled by a situation – by life in general – then I don’t know what is.
Today, I’ve become conditioned that when I’m confronted with a confusing situation, my job is to simply exist, breathe, put one foot in front of the other, and do the next right thing. Sometimes I get it wrong and I’m able to learn from that. But sometimes I get it right without even thinking about it, and that feels pretty damn good.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
O-M-G he said the ‘G-word’. That’s right. There are recovery programs out there that talk about God with a capital G. I understand that there are many of us out there that aren’t a big fan of the G-word. I’m one of them. Or I was, anyway. These days, instead of getting hung up on what word people choose to describe the power of the universe, I choose to just let others call it whatever they like. Call it God, call it the Force, call it the Universe, call it your recovery, call it the Program, hell, call it horsepower, I don’t care. All I know is that there’s a power out there greater than myself, and I’ve felt that power moving in my life in a variety of ways.
The power that I’m speaking of doesn’t lead me to buried treasure or give me magical powers. It doesn’t get me my dream job or help me find my perfect soulmate. The power I’m speaking of gives me courage, gives me strength, gives me hope, gives me recovery. The power I’m speaking of gives me the ability to love, the ability to share, the ability to care for my fellow men and women when they need help. My higher power keeps me humble. My higher gives me the courage to ask for help. My higher power keeps me sober when I’m not strong enough to do it on own. And for that, I am grateful.
This holiday season, instead of worrying about tangible things like shopping, money, and gifts, focus on the true gifts you’ve been given, or those you are about to receive. The gifts that will save you from a life of addiction. The gifts that were promised in the Big Book all those years ago, the gifts that can only be gained through recovery from addiction.
— Happy Holidays from Avenues NYC, 2018