I’ve always been one to romanticize “holiday magic”, yet I’d never truly felt it before recovery. Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. It’s hard to describe the overwhelming sense of love and appreciation I felt as I moved through (what appeared to be) an ordinary day. But in part, I put it down to the magic of the season. This feeling first struck me, in the quiet of an empty mall. I saw a beautiful young family, they were taking photos of their toddler who was looking up in wonder, at a glorious display of lights. There was magic in that moment and like a wave, I felt it wash over me. It was only when this family walked away, that I even noticed I was standing in the middle of a gourmet food emporium.
In an effort not to take my food neutrality for granted, I consciously remember that it wasn’t always this way and I recall the measures I took to stay in recovery.
I happen to celebrate Christmas and with each year in recovery, it has brought new and different challenges. Some of which I can now laugh at and some of which have given me a deeper sense of humility. My personal experience of recovery has shown me that no matter how much abstinent time I have, every time there is a “first”, it requires me to explore new levels of planning, surrender and support.
Let’s go back to November 2018. I was approaching my first Christmas in recovery. Still working as a pastry chef in a high end bakery, my first 11 months of abstinence had gone very well. Despite this, deep down I was truly wondering if I could maintain my recovery throughout the month of December.
What was it that was so different about December? Why was December looming over me, casting doubt in my mind and filling me with fear?
My disease was telling me that recovery in December was insurmountable. I mean, thus far, I had maintained my abstinence while navigating such things as travelling, health crises, weddings and everything in between, yet somehow, my addict brain would have me believe that “December is different”.
December was the busiest month of the year, I’d be working long hours on the night shift. With this knowledge, I decided that December was no reason to stray from the key pieces of my program. First, I would arm myself with a plan and next I would commit to following it, one day at a time. I prioritized meal planning. I continued to commit my food (daily) to a sponsor and an accountability partner. I listened to recovery resources during my commute. I added another layer of structure by setting alarms on my phone to ensure that I was eating my meals on time.
I was off to a good start!
Until an unexpected and surprising challenge presented itself….
The daily arrival of Starbucks promotional emails.
(That’s ok, go ahead and do a double take! Thankfully, this is one that I can chuckle at now!).
At the time, it was shocking to me, the range of emotions I felt when I saw “Starbucks” in my inbox. I felt fear mixed with excitement. I felt longing mixed with grief. These emails might as well have been love letters from a long lost ex.
While all of this sounds dramatic I’m sure, perhaps even absurd, it is the very nature of addiction. I had been receiving these emails all year and yet suddenly, day after day, I was
deeply triggered by them and I didn’t know why. In a moment of clarity, I recognized that I was powerless. Powerless over my reaction to those emails and the images inside.
I was in that space of wanting freedom from the torment but not wanting to let go of that which tormented me. Up until this moment, I had always measured and judged my own acts of recovery. Certainly for an act of recovery to have impact, it had to be grand, no?
With one quick click, “unsubscribe”, I learned that no act of recovery is too small.
As I continued through the weeks, I simply didn’t let anything get in the way of putting my recovery first. I heard that there would be a 24 hour “open meeting” running in my community from noon December 24th into the 25th. I kept this in mind, considering I might attend “if I needed it”.
When December 24th arrived, I had worked my last night shift. Exhausted (but peaceful), I was eager for alone time before gathering with family the next day. Sitting in a cozy chair, I settled into the silence and looked out the window to see my most favourite sight. Huge fluffy snowflakes tumbled and swirled, all was beautiful and calm. Suddenly, I cried tears of gratitude, not only for this moment but for my abstinence itself. I felt relief at the thought that I didn’t “need” that 24 hour meeting after all.
Then I experienced one of those magic moments. At a soul level, I felt that I owed my recovery, my very life in fact, to those who had gone before me, who shared their hope and offered support.
I will never forget that first Christmas Eve in recovery. Carrying a spirit of joy and a message of hope, I walked through the door of that 24 hour support meeting. I sat with strangers until the wee hours and shared in the magic, not of the season but of recovery.