How to lighten the dark days

How I dreaded the holidays a few years ago. I had just been clean & sober and suddenly I found myself in the time of the year when I started using it a bit harder in a previous life. At Christmas I drank more than was good for me and on New Years Eve I used more pills and powders to fight the hangover, and those weren't aspirins.

Journalist Mick Boskamp writes about addiction and the role that Castle Craig addiction care has played in his life. Castle Craig offers outpatient addiction care in the Netherlands in the form of day treatment, individual therapy and group therapy.

The whole enjoyment was lost

That first Christmas and New Year's Eve of my new life came through on my gums and then I thought: I never want to celebrate the holidays like this again. Of course it was great that I hadn't used and stayed clean, but the whole enjoyment had been lost. I wondered if it was possible to be and stay sober and have a great time at the same time.

With some tweaking, experimenting, being creative, taking tips from others to heart and using common sense, the following year became completely different. In fact, I was celebrating the best Christmas then since I found a miniature train and a new Beatles album under the tree when I was eight. Because I was and clean and I had a great time.

Here are my tips for a merry Christmas, a relaxed New Year's Eve and thus a good start to the new year.

A thorough emergency plan

About a week before Christmas (and if Sinterklaas is also your thing this week) you start with the preparations. Because then you make a thorough emergency plan. What to do when you are with family or friends and you have such a sigh that you cannot bear it? Easy. Then you have spoken to your sponsor and / or someone from the fellowship you feel comfortable with in advance and asked if you can call him or her at Christmas if the need arises. You have also checked with your home group or the group where you are currently in the area what to do with and around the holidays. Whether there are, for example, special (walk-in) evenings or emergency numbers that you can note.

Not that it's all necessary, but if you know that you can always get into the action if things don't go the way you want, then that already creates a lot of peace.

Bring your own drinks

Many hosts make the mistake of bringing non-alcoholic wine or Champomy children's champagne into your home. It's well-intentioned and endearingly sweet, but if there is one thing that can get you cravings, it is to bring it from a wine or champagne glass to your mouth, even if it is filled with innocent grape juices or apple bubbles. When I was long and broad in my recovery, I was offered a glass of non-alcoholic white wine during a pleasant evening at people's homes and when I took a sip, I immediately thought of cocaine. How it would be if I sneaked to the toilet at that moment to start using. Because that was apparently so in my system that even a placebo could have caused me to make a mistake.

So bring your own drinks. Most supermarkets now sell delicious fruit juices. Or even better: drink tea during your Christmas dinner. That may sound crazy, but if you've ever eaten at a good Chinese restaurant and had your Peking duck (and duck is a game dish) accompanied by green tea, you know how great that combination is.

Full of action

Have something to do. For example, ask if you can help with laying out plates, serving them or cleaning them up. Offer your services. Are there people who have looked too deep into the glass and cannot drive? Then tell them you can drive them home. And if that is dismissed, tell them that it makes you feel good and is part of your recovery. It works in two ways. We used to hang loose on the couch or slumped in a chair, unable to do anything useful and now we are in the action, which in itself is nice to experience. But moreover, nothing beats the feeling of being there for others instead of the other way around.

If you take the above tips to heart, it can only be that the dark days become a lot brighter.