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Eat, don't drink, and be merry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The holidays are a stressful time for many people but, between holiday parties and family gatherings, they can also be a difficult time for recovering alcoholics to stay sober.

Dave, a recovering alcoholic in the Charleston area, said the first thing recovering addicts should remember is that they don't have to participate in Christmas dinners or parties if they aren't comfortable there.

"You do not have you go to your family's home for the holidays if it's an unsafe place for you," said Dave, whose name has been changed for this report. "That's a hard thing for people to do during the holidays."

If you do decide to go, drive yourself so you have a way out if you feel uncomfortable or have an urge to drink, he said.

"While you're there, maintain a close eye on your drinking glass and don't let anyone else fill it," he said.

Althea, of Charleston, has been clean for more than 20 years.

"My very first year, I was five months sober at Christmastime," said Althea, whose name also has been changed for this report. "I went to [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings every day, and we talked about the holidays in meetings and how to get through it."

In the first few years of her sobriety, Althea avoided going places where alcohol was served. It's gotten easier over the years and now it doesn't bother her to be around drinkers, she said.

Recovering addicts can sometimes overestimate how much other people care that they aren't drinking. People come to AA meetings crying because of the pressure to drink they perceive they'll have if they go to a party.

"I've been sober over 20 years, and people never ask me why I'm not drinking," she said. "It's in my head.

"Sometimes a waiter will ask, 'Why aren't you drinking?' and I'll say, 'I drank the fun out of it.'"

Althea was a heavy drinker for 16 years, beginning when she was 15, she said. She drank "hard" all the time, not just during the holidays.

"I was drunk all the time," she said. "You know you're an alcoholic when you get sober in July and you worry about not being able to drink at Christmas. Normal people don't think like that."

She joined AA in 1991 and hasn't had a drink since. Not everyone is as fortunate, she said.

Althea didn't go to treatment. She had a very rough time at it in the beginning, she said. Being able to call her sponsor in AA when she felt like having drink was a big help.

"Thank God, I believed what they were saying was true: 'We want you to call us [when you need to],'" she said.

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches its members to carry what they call the Big Book, which describes how to recover from alcoholism. Althea takes it with her whenever she travels, she said.

"It's just like anybody that's a member of AA will tell you: You just keep flipping the pages and thinking, "Oh, my God, it's me. It's me."

Dave has been sober about 22 years. He quit after six drunk-driving arrests and three times in jail, he said.

Dave said another tip is to spend the holidays with people who also are recovering from their addiction. The Serenity Club in Dunbar will be open Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve for those recovering addicts who want an alcohol-free safe harbor on the holidays. The club is open all night, he said.

"[I sponsor several people] and . . . we're going to go through this holiday season together at the Serenity Club."

The club is located at 1225 Ohio Ave., and can be reached at 304-768-2411.

Althea still has a sponsor in AA and she sponsors women who are not as far along as she is in their sobriety, she said. Helping others has been another key to staying sober.

"I have found through my own experience, and shared experiences with others, that I can't keep my sobriety if I don't give it away," she said. "I can't keep my sobriety if I don't help others. It's amazing how it works."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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