I'm no humbug, but I have not generally loved the festive season the way some seem to do. My family is very far away, and when I've visited at Christmas it's always been a fraught sort of affair. I stopped trying to make that work a long time ago. I've attended my fair share of orphan Christmas events, and I've been invited to join many people's family festivities over the years, but I find myself filled with sadness at many such events. For a number of years, I worked in a community centre and I usually took many of the holiday shifts, which was a good way to escape a certain part of the festive season, and at the same time a sway to participate in something that was usually mostly fun. Along with this, I've been with my husband for the past five Christmases, and we have developed our own very quiet Christmas tradition, which usually means a good meal by ourselves and a long walk or bike ride. A few days after Christmas we visit his parents, and that's always lovely.
I know that might sound sad, but the fact is, I have managed to find a peaceful enough way to get through Christmas, ducking a lot of obligatory cheer that would otherwise have rendered me feeling lonely and blue. And I have liked the pause that happens, when a lot of the world stops doing the usual thing, and there is actually time to slow down and enjoy the company of people I love.
So the other evening, we went to an early solstice concert. The music was beautiful: contemporary arrangements of viola, harp, piano, and vocals, and short pieces were interspersed with poetry readings, all somehow celebrating the sadness and beauty of this dark time of year. Such a wonderful, beautiful show! The last piece was a solstice carol performed by the whole ensemble (which included the composer) and the audience was invited to join in on the chorus, which we sang in a round. By the end, my face was streaming with tears and I felt filled with love for the composers, performers, poets, readers, and everyone in the room who had come together for what seemed to me a perfect way to acknowledge the season. At the end of the show, the organizer came across the room to give me a great large hug. He said part way through the show, he saw me wiping my eyes, and he was wiping his eyes, and seeing me weep made him weep even harder, and as the show ended and we all sang together and my face streamed with tears, his did too, and he told me he sang that carol directly to me. And then we hugged and cried about how beautiful it all was.
Throughout all this, I was sober. This event is part of a music series at which wine is served, and it has been one of the hardest places for me to resist drinking. Everyone always looks elegant and relaxed, and the music is always wonderful, and joining in on all this seemed always to involve joining the drinking. The fact that afterward I would go home and drink too much wine was always invisible in the moment. The past few years I have attended many of these events, and I have learned to sip a Perrier and enjoy the music and accept feeling a little teeny bit left out by not being able to drink. So the other evening, when I felt overcome with the beauty of the evening and my own joy in being fully part of it, it was only later that I realized that wine (or lack of wine) had nothing to do with the experience for me. I had only briefly missed having some, and once the show started I was absolutely swept away into the experience, and no drink would have made that any better. And though I was weeping publicly, I wasn't worried about being drunk and embarrassed! I was just happy to be part of it all. Sober.
Other than that, this past week I have attended several holiday functions, and I have enjoyed myself. I get the occasional pang, but I don't feel a steady longing to drink, and I'm greatly relieved about that. When I get these pangs though, I'm pretty honest about them. I don't pretend that booze is nothing, or that there's no pleasure in drinking, or that there is no camaraderie that's brought about by drinking with people, because I think I would be lying to myself to say any of these things. Instead I sometimes wail or cry and I acknowledge that I may be missing out somewhat. But I also remember the darkness that comes over me when I drink too much, and how hard it has been to shake that darkness yet again. And I think about how happy I have been these days--a little too busy and in uncomfortable flux in part of my life and insanely stressed in some ways, yes. Still, I'm happy. And I don't think I have ever felt this kind of happiness when I've been drinking. I've certainly never been able to live in feeling something like this, something that I think is probably what people talk about when they use the word "joy."
So that's where I am on day 90 of my third serious go at not drinking. In many ways the actual not drinking is mostly easy now, as it's been a habit most for the past 2 1/2 years. But I'm still trying to find my way with how I keep on with it. Despite my recent post about struggling at meetings sometimes, I have been attending once a week, and I get something there. I started reading a great book, Sobering Wisdom: Philosophical Explorations of Twelve Step Spirituality, an edited volume of philosophy essays on aspects of the twelve steps, compiled by philosophers Jerome A. Miller and Nicholas Plants. I know many people find a great deal of solace in the twelve steps, and in the AA program. I know that I need a spiritual way ahead if I am going to keep on this sober path, and I know that this is the right path for me, though I can so easily lose my way here. But I'm kind of an egghead, and I like to think about things, and sometimes in the AA and twelve step world (in person and online) intellectual curiosity about how the whole thing works isn't welcomed. I get that for some people thinking can stand in for doing, and coming up with reasons why something is wrong can prevent one from trying something. You've probably seen me do that, and maybe you do it too. So I figured the book would be a fine companion to my own explorations. And as it's written by a bunch or philosophers, it's not going to tell me that my problem is I think too much! I'm going to read it slowly and give it a proper review in January, but I thought I'd mention it now in case any other sober egghead types want to get themselves a thoughtful take on thinking through these ideas. (Maybe as an early sober Christmas gift for yourself? That's what I did.)
That's about all I have for now. Thanks for walking along with me here as we live through these long dark nights and wait for the light to come round again. Wishing you all peace and joy.