by Craig Grau

A car pulls into the driveway of a house where the windows dance with animated silhouettes of a rowdy gathering. Inside the cabin, the passenger nervously runs her finger along the saran-wrap tarp that covers a large sweet potato side dish. It’s going to be a long night.

“Can I do this?” the newly sober woman asks herself while considering her excuse for an early exit.

“Are you ready?” asks her companion, smiling, opening the door handle and stepping out. “Just take it easy.”

Let Rudolph’s games begin!

The business of managing an addiction during the holiday season can render a person feeling like a broken ornament—one that hangs limp from outsized expectations, persistent urges and those ever-wacky family relationships.

Like a sitcom in holiday mode, these weeks offer a unique spin on the oft-turbulent nature of addiction for each of us, blessed with a heaping scoop of emotions that weren’t so obvious during the rest of the year.

One individual may struggle with loneliness from roasting their chestnuts over the telephone, while another fights for breathing space among a packed schedule of events and get-togethers.

Either way, cracking a bottle or chopping lines might seemingly offer the addict a dubious escape from the winter’s demands.

A virtual down jacket against knifey winds, substance abuse can become a misguided tool to insulate from the requests that the season places upon us.

Relapse sits along the path like an LED rattlesnake, waiting for a misstep.

Slippery with serotonin, our mixings and minglings with romantic hookups can also lubricate the velocity with which situations get just a little out of hand. Next thing one knows on the Morning After, they awake with Day One looming ahead, all over again.

Didn’t the big dilemma used to be what sort of cookies to leave out for Santa? It’s enough for the recovery-minded to squeeze a handful of candy canes past their white-knuckled breaking point.

If only to clearly witness the calamity and comedy of others’ unfolding melodrama, the season of poultry, bare twigs and baby deities steers us to be grateful and offer generosity—the chance for us to focus on something besides ourselves, to be present and marvel at the twinkling little lights.

To think of the holiday proposition in Twelve-Step terms, showing up sober and being present and clear-eyed is service. It’s a chance to give back for all those previously mangled gatherings we orchestrated during our addictions. A chance to dangle keys in front of babies, to listen to our elders’ stories.

(Does your family remember you can still shred on the guitar?)

One way to dodge the intoxicant bullet might be to pack a survival kit to bring to gatherings.

Stopping at the organic grocer to load a backpack full of comfort munchies, seltzer water (for fizz), GABA supplements and kava relaxants is a buffer technique to maintain one’s edge.

You might even be able to work in a sugar-coated addiction story once the rest of the crowd is sufficiently liquored up, and leave the place in tears (of laughter, hopefully).

Either way, remember to scoop up the prime leftover plates on the way out, thanks to your dry wits. A full belly is a great start to the New Year!

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