The Holidays are hard on addicts. All of us. No matter our past drug(s) of choice, this time of year finds us surrounded by fellow human being indulging in substance abuse in celebration of a year ending, a year beginning. Even normally reserved members of society get to act as total fools as they let themselves go without normal fear of self-degradation and ill-reputation usually accompanying a person caught in asinine behavior.
This is my first holiday out of the farm, so to speak. Last Christmas I was working full time in a restaurant and lodge that specifically catered to Holiday guests. Located on one of the highest peaks on the East Coast, with snow almost guaranteed, it was the perfect getaway for families, singles, and anyone else seeking to get away from everything during the zaniest time of the year.
There, I could just be me. The only expectation of me from my team of ruthless cooks was to perform. We were stressed, tense and snapping at one another. The days leading up to the whirlwind of festivities were spent prepping, organizing, cleaning, sharpening knives, thawing meats and ordering final items that had been overlooked.
Some drank, some used other drugs and nobody really cared. Nobody asked me to take a drink, apologized for drinking around me, or in any way changed their behaviorism in my presence. To do so would be offensive, both to me and the other cook, server, facilitator, sommelier, bartender or any of the other talent striving to make the Holidays an unforgettable experience for our guests.
We stacked firewood, fired grills, polished silver and copper ware, put on clean aprons, mopped the floors during shifts as foodie’s poured in and out of the kitchen in gawking droves, interrupting the flow of work in their self-absorbed insistence in having their picture taken at the stove or with the Chef. Cooks have learned to deal with this as best they can, but there are inevitable conflicts between the internet celebrities and the cooks trying to get the work done.
Cooks deal with it. Confrontations can be violent, both in-house and out, but are short lived in the face of the work to be done. We did what had to be done.
Through it all, my phone rang. My wife called over and over and over, demanding that I come home, pleading with me to walk out on my team members to come save her from loneliness. It was her first Holiday spend away from her family and she was devastated. My parents called, over and over, asking if I would be there tomorrow. Or the next day. There was food, my favorite dishes, and I was raked with consciousness and guilt. What do I do? I wanted to go home. I wanted to see my wife and son, and I did spend Christmas day with them. That was a lot more than most of the other cooks got to do.
I couldn’t leave my team without me, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have been missed. Not much. Cooks are resourceful. The truth was, I had become comfortable there, with myself.
Away from there, as I am finding this year, people make excuses for consuming alcohol, or whisper amongst themselves, “Should we hide it? Are we bad hosts? Should we even invite him? After all, we don’t have a problem.” Wine continues to flow, and even the ones most dear to you, those who suffered through the addiction and the sickness after, begin to fold to the temptation. “Do you mind?” They ask. “I’ll just have one beer. Do you care? Will it make you uncomfortable?” Or, “I’ll go to the bar, so you don’t have to be around it.” As people spill alcoholic drinks in increasingly sloppy celebration, the people that you know look increasingly worried, even guilty for the wine that they’ve been saving for so many years.
The addict, embarrassed and weary beyond belief, wishes the floor would open and swallow them. That’s how I feel sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. The other inevitability for an addict, whether it’s your first year of sobriety or fifth, is that you will, as some point, be reminded of your past. Someone dear to you, perhaps loosened by their own first or second drink, or irritated as they remain sober and ever-conscious of the presence of alcohol, will hurtfully remind you of the pain you cause.
I recently paid the price for too much exercise, strain, salt and calories. Overnight, my liver revolted and deposited ten pounds of fluid, special delivery, straight into my abdominal cavity. This was two days after the doctors gave me the cleanest bill of health I’d had in six years. I suspected the swelling was due to Ascites, but when I mentioned it to my wife, she told me it was probably too many hot dogs. I hoped she was right.
Most likely, I will be physically fit enough to overcome this reminder of my sickness. I’ve begun to realize that despite the changes I’ve made and the battles our relationship has endured, neither my wife nor I will be quite the same. We’ve made it hard on one another at times, yet joined together in others. Her blunt reminder tonight that my temporary setback makes her think of why I’m sick is just that, a reminder.
Those reminders aren’t pleasant for the addict. Then again, a lot of things aren’t. You’re reinventing yourself in the face of a lot of adversity. It can be overwhelming, shameful, lonely interminable. The thought will hit you, “I could just have one.” Don’t. Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. There is no way of knowing.
Put your back against the wall, smile at everyone, and be gracious, no matter how you truly feel. After all, our loved ones are really why we’re here. Remember how it could have been, and be grateful for the present and the promise of a future.
Things will get better. I promise.