Holidays; Past, Present and Yet to be…

December 1, 2017

Captain Michael Morse, retired, Providence Fire Department

One of the most difficult parts of my never-ending quest to retain sobriety is surviving the holidays. My first few years of sober celebrations were white knuckle affairs. I lived as if I were on the outside looking in, and struggled to get through every second of other people’s festivities. I knew that when I decided to stop drinking that I was in for an uphill battle but never imagined that the memories of some of the greatest times of my childhood would turn that uphill battle into a mountain.

However, there is no mountain on earth that has not been conquered; not Everest, not K2, or even my closest mountain, Mount Washington in New Hampshire. My personal struggles with sobriety had their share of ups and downs, and some days the climb is more difficult than others, especially those magical days where the nostalgia seems to live in the present. Trying to recapture childhood emotion, wonder and excitement by using the tools at my disposal; namely beer, whiskey and champagne fails miserably, and the memories I try so desperately to recreate become miserable reminders of those conveniently forgotten and stored not so pleasant Christmas Stories.

bar nightlifeNot that drinking wasn’t part of my everyday life for as long as I can remember: it was, but the holiday season brought it to a whole new level. Strange how my fondest childhood memories exist in large part in spite of the substance that I had to forego as my life careened out of control. Growing up in a house led by highly functional alcoholics is challenging, but kind of fun too. The level of excitement that was always present in our home increased exponentially in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Booze was the glue that brought our family together. It had been that way for generations. Holiday parties centered around what we were drinking. Even the kids got in on it; small sips of champagne on Christmas Eve, condoned by the parents as a ritual to be cherished, and nurtured until we became teens and could take those little sips of delight to the next level.

Some of my best memories come from times spent in an intoxicated state compliments of booze liberated from the adults only cooler during holiday celebrations where the adults were too busy with their adult beverages to worry about us.

Somehow, we survived. Half of my four siblings drink responsibly, the other half, after decades of difficulty, not at all. It took me a lot of years, and a lot of holidays that fizzled because of feelings of loss that I had no idea how to overcome to be able to capture the spirit of the season without succumbing to the spirits in the bottle. Eventually, I learned that the holidays come whether I choose to enjoy them or not. They come without bottles and cans, glasses and mugs, shot glasses kegs or salted rims. They come every year with no expectations except those that we ourselves manifest by living in a past that has been edited, glorified and created in our image of what we want them to be.

Alcoholic thinking led me to believe that the holidays simply could not be enjoyed without something extra. Instead of simply allowing the spirit of the season to come to me, I chased it with everything I had, and not only did I disappoint myself every time, I took some of the joy of the season away from the people whose lives I affect with my moods and behaviors.

Drinking alcoholically is an isolating affair, the very antithesis of the true meaning of holiday celebrations.

Giving up what I once thought was the meaning of Christmas led me to experience what I had been missing. By letting go of the chains that kept me grounded in past fantasies I allowed myself the freedom to find happiness and contentment simply by being alive and present. Believing that any attempt to increase my enjoyment will ultimately take more than it gives is the key to my maintaining sobriety. I have given myself the greatest gift imaginable; clarity, contentment and peace, and all I had to do to receive the gift was to let go of the expectations forged from a cloudy past, live in the present and believe that my future is entirely up to me.

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