Another Sober Christmas is on the Books

And, just like that, Christmas is nearly over. All the build up, all the anticipation, all the angst, and it’s over in less than a day. I have remarked to friends in the past that the entire fall sometimes feels compressed, as if time gets accelerated and there’s not enough of it between September and December. As if the entire fall is a run up to Christmas. And then, it’s over.

In part, I believe this has to do with the waning of the light in the Northern Hemisphere. From June 21st to December 21st we actually lose minutes of daylight each day, but it never feels linear, even if, in fact, it is. Part of this is the effect of abandoning Daylight Savings Time, now in November. Funny, that we humans like to control our clocks so much that we fuss with the time twice a year in the name of “saving” daylight.

The things we anticipate rarely meet our great expectations.

In truth, I had a great Christmas. And I feel better tonight than I’ve felt at the end of a Christmas day in a long time.

I got a a few gifts that I really wanted, and some really thoughtful gifts from my extended family. I gave gifts that people really wanted and I relished watching my son enthusiastically un-wrap gifts that I swore I wasn’t going to get him. I thoroughly enjoyed listing to my 6 year old nephew bang on his new drum set, not once, but twice.

We had a wonderful meal at my family’s house. Mom roasted a rib roast and it came out perfectly. We had plenty of side dishes which were all lovely and copious options for desert. I saw my aunt and my uncle and talked to some extended family we don’t see often on the phone.

And still, there’s a slight pang. A slight remorse that it’s all over. A slight feeling that it wasn’t good enough. Maybe a feeling that I’m not good enough. A feeling that Christmas will never be what it once was.

And it won’t. It won’t because I’ll never be a child again. I’ll never have the excitement that comes from a belief in a jolly old elf who delivers presents to children around the world for no apparent reason. Christmas will never be as big as it once was.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay because it’s my turn to do for someone else what was done for me. Life is like that sometimes.

Recovery is like that. We give others what was freely given to us. We accept the newcomers as we were accepted. We give the advice that we were given. We shine a light and offer hope.

And sometimes, we are rewarded for these efforts. Sometimes, we get to see the changes in someone else.

Christmas actually came early for me this year. In the 48 hours before Christmas, I got news from two friends who have chosen to enter the world of recovery. One had spoken to me on and off a few times about getting sober. The other was a complete surprise. Both told me that my writing helped them, inspired them, to seek a new life.

And that’s why I share my story, here and in person. To show others that there is a way out. That we can have a great life. One that exceeds our wildest expectations.

This was my third Christmas sober. It was much easier than my first, and somewhat easier than my second, but I’ll be honest, it’s still hard. Christmas brings up feelings. Feelings of loss, nostalgia, and even fears. Fears that things might never be like they were. Fears that my best years have passed me by. Fears that I’ll lose the people closest to me.

But I have tools to manage these feelings today. After my son woke us up at 5:17 AM and we opened presents in the dark, I baked some scones and fed the family. Then I got myself on line and found a meeting to go to. There weren’t many folks there at 9:00 AM, but it only takes two alcoholics to have a meetings so it didn’t matter. I got a chance to listen to others. I got a chance to voice my concerns for the day and to express my gratitude.

And gratitude is what I feel most tonight. Gratitude smothers the pangs. I’m grateful for a third Christmas sober. I’m grateful that I’m doing the right things. I’m grateful that my son loves me and thinks I’m the greatest dad in the world — even if I’m not sometimes. I’m grateful that my wife stuck by me — even through the worst of my drinking. I’m grateful that I’ll be going to bed soon with a clear head and a clean conscious.

Most of all, I’m grateful for another day.

A Story Wherein Our Hero Finds Himself at Urgent Care on a Sunday Night

I’m sitting in the local urgent care center with a washcloth wadded up and held in place by a pair of boxer briefs. This is meant to stop the flow of blood that would otherwise have stained my jeans on the way here. I’ve done something dumb and it’s hard to believe that I still do these kinds of dumb things.

We spent the weekend at Hershey Park and did a lot of walking. I was feeling a fair bit of irritation in the nether regions because I had a sizable skin tag – emphasis on the past tense. I have discovered that self surgery is ill-advised.

As I checked in they asked me when my last tetanus shot had been and I was able to answer June of 2015. That was the last time I went to the emergency room after slicing my finger instead of green peppers. We were at the beach and I’d had three or four negronis in about a half hour while I was getting ready to make dinner. I haven’t had an occasional to go to the ER or an Urgent Care clinic since I quit drinking.

So what the hell happened tonight?

I was restless and irritable after getting home from the trip. The should have been fun, but really it wasn’t. The weather has been cold and it snowed. We probably should have known that an amusement park was not a good plan. But, we went anyway.

I had visions of us riding roller coasters in lightly falling snow at night while the park was lit with Christmas lights. I had visions of hot chocolate and good cheer. I had visions of lots of smiles. But apparently the park can’t run the roller coasters when it’s less than 40°. Something about hydraulics not working properly — you know, safety. Not to mention it wasn’t a lightly falling snowfall — it was snowing hard. And it was windy. It was bitter. So, it really wasn’t the weekend to be at the park.

Since the roller coasters weren’t in operation, my son was having none of it. He was miserable and he made sure we were miserable too. Every few minutes he asked me what the temperature was, in hopes that it had risen above 40. When he wasn’t asking about the temperature, he was telling us how rotten it was that he couldn’t ride the coasters, and most importantly that we were idiots. Ah, preteen angst.

To be fair, we had a few good times. We rode the bumper cars, we went on an indoor coaster, we played some of the games — but mostly it was a slog. A lot of walking around in the cold.

So, when we got home, I had this irritated skin tag that was hurting and I decided that I’d cut it off. That was the easy part. A quick pinch and a slice with a new razor blade and it was off.

An hour later it was still bleeding and my wife was urging me to go get it taken care of properly. I resisted. I mean, I always resist the things that I know I need to do whether it’s going to the doctor, getting the oil changed, or getting to the grocery store before we are out of milk.

But it became abundantly clear that the bleeding wasn’t gonna stop despite my best efforts. So I packed my loins and hit the road.

After an hour or so at the urgent care clinic, I walked out with a single suture and a little less pride. Mercifully, the doctor hadn’t given me a lecture about performing surgery on my own body. She actually advised an alternate method of removing skin tags in the future — though I have sworn that I’ll let the professionals do it next time.

I know that my rash decision was triggered by my mood. I wanted to take things into my own hands and solve this pesky little problem. Make it go away. Right then, right there.

Interestingly, this is not too far from how I responded to things that I didn’t like when I was drinking. I’d tried to handle things right then and right there by having a drink to ease the pain. The theory was that I could just make it all go away with a drink.

But just as taking a drink often not only didn’t solve things, but made them worse, this decision had done the same. There’s a lesson in here — quick solutions and taking things into my own hands rarely works.

I’d have been much better off to have relaxed a bit. Maybe listened to some music or meditated. That skin tag had been on the inside of my thigh for years and while it had been minority irritating — and certainly unsightly — it wasn’t something that needed to be addressed in the heat of the moment.

Practicing the pause is something that I’m not good at. It’s something that I strive toward. Pausing is a goal. I recently had a rough night with the boy that had resulted in a lot of yelling on my part. The morning after that night, I got up and intentionally started the day with a meditation on conflict de-escalation.

The meditation recommended noticing the pause when you inhale and before you exhale, and then the pause after you exhale but before you inhale. I’m not always good at remembering to do this, but with some effort, some work, I can get better.

Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Inhale.