Grief, Alcohol Abuse, And The Holidays

Loss, Grief & The Holiday Season

It is commonly known among funeral directors that the number of deaths increases after the holiday season.  One reason they suggest is that people who are sick hold on as much as they can so that their loved ones can enjoy the holiday season.  Once the season is over, however, they often have no reason to hold on and allow themselves to succumb to their illness.

This is only anecdotal information, of course, but it indicates the importance of the holiday season for family and friends.  Along with Thanksgiving Day, the winter celebration (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.) and the New Year’s celebration are generally seen as times when families get together.  Usually, this is a good thing.  What happens, however, to a recovering alcoholic who finds themselves surrounded by people they know they have hurt in the midst of their alcohol abuse?  Feelings of shame, guilt and grief can become very powerful.  In addition, alcohol abuse often begins because the drinker is dealing with mental or emotional pain from which they want to escape.  In simpler terms, alcohol abuse is often an effort to escape the sufferings that are a part of daily life.  They drink to get away from the pain.

Dark Thoughts Around Family

Family gatherings can bring this mental and emotional pain to the forefront.  The recovering alcoholic may come to believe that his family and friends are being nice, but really resent having to spend time with a person who has caused them so much pain through their alcohol abuse.  Even little things, so as deciding not to drink any alcohol while the recovering addict is around may be interpreted as a sign that the addict’s family and friends really don’t trust their recovery.  They’re just waiting for the recovering addict to go back to their old ways.  The recovering alcoholic, believing themselves surrounded by people who will never really trust him, sometimes decides that they may as well prove them right and begin drinking again.

Lost Joy & Lost Loved Ones

Other factors can also lead the recovering alcoholic to resume drinking.  Gathered with family and friends and witnessing the joy that they find in their children and grandchildren, they may grieve the reality that they will likely never know those joys for themselves.  As the recovering alcoholic reflects on past holiday seasons, they remember people who have since passed away. They may become overwhelmed by grief that these loved ones never had a chance to see them in their recovery.  They may even believe that these loved ones held them in contempt and dislike when they passed away.  Seeing no opportunity to apologize to these loved ones, the recovering alcoholic is filled with guilt or even self-hatred.  They grieve over the harm they have caused and despair of redemption and forgiveness.

Surrounded By Alcohol

Another factor to consider is the simple reality that drinking alcoholic beverages is a common part of the holiday season in most families.  A glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve, for example is almost a given in many families.  A glass of wine at dinner on Christmas is similarly common.  A glance through grocery store advertisements makes it very clear that these stores expect to sell a lot of alcohol during the holiday season.  What is the recovering addict to do when they find themselves in the midst of so much alcohol and surrounded by family friends who are all enjoying a drink of some kind?  Combined with the guilt, grief and sorrow that the individual is already coping with, it may become overwhelming.

This is one reason why all persons in addiction recovery must be especially vigilant during the holiday season.  Considering the many pressures the recovering alcoholic is already dealing with, the support of others in recovery is vital.  It is too easy to let your mind wander down dangerous paths and begin to think that you can handle just one drink.  As many persons in recovery have learned the hard way, even one drink is far too much, because it’s never enough.  Non-alcoholic beverages like mocktails provide an excellent alternative to drinking.  Keeping in contact with a sponsor and a recovery group can provide the individual with the support they need to resist their temptations.

A Time For Joy

The holiday season should be a time of joy, companionship and family, and it can be.  The recovering alcoholic who dwells on past failures and sufferings is starting down the path that leads to relapse.  Far better to focus on the present.  Enjoy the companionship of family and friends.  Take a drive to see the lights and other decorations.  Savor the good things that the holiday season brings.  The past cannot be changed, so let it go.  Live in the now and focus on the positive.  Surrender the guilt and grief of the past and wallow in the love and joy of the present.

The holiday season is not a reason for sorrow, but for joy.  So, enjoy it!