Holidays Can Mean Big Challenge 

Nadra Kareem , El Paso Times© 

Eggnog. Rum cake. Cider. 

Those are just some of the treats Americans indulge in during the holiday season. But one sampling of such goodies is all it takes to make a recovering alcoholic take a holiday from sobriety. 

Instead of running from booze, those in recovery need to be able to navigate through a society in which alcohol is heavily integrated. The rule also applies to overeaters trying to cope in a season overflowing with treats and too much food. 

Sheila (whose identity is not being revealed in compliance with Alcoholics Anonymous rules) has been sober for 12 years. Her first sober winter was fraught with intense desires to drink. 

"It's just the stress and the pressure of the holidays," Sheila recalled. "If you're an alcoholic, you don't need an excuse to drink, but the holidays was an excuse for you to do it openly because everyone else is doing it." 

Elaine Crnkovic agrees. She is the director of clinical services at Mesilla Valley Hospital in Las Cruces, which specializes in chemical dependency and psychiatry. 

"Most get-togethers include at least some alcohol," Crnkovic said. "For many, it's the first time where they won't be using or drinking, and they're unsure of what to do." 

The holidays are a high-risk time for recovering addicts for other reasons as well. 

"We have such an idealized expectation for the holidays. If you think of your favorite Christmas song, the movies that we see, they all promote a very idealized reality," said Crnkovic. 

Crnkovic said that when reality doesn't match up with the Norman Rockwell view some recovering alcoholics may have of the holidays, they drink because alcohol has been their coping mechanism in the past. 

But for every obstacle the recovering addict faces during Christmastime, there is a solution. In fact, some in recovery say they don't feel more tempted to drink during the holidays than at other times of the year. 

"An alcoholic like myself doesn't need a particular occasion or reason to drink," said Ken (another Alcoholics Anonymous member whose identity is not being revealed at the organization's request). "When I was drinking, I would rarely go out on holidays like Christmas and New Year's. We used to joke that's when the amateur drinkers were out there." 

Crnkovic recommends that those in recovery take their own beverages when attending holiday gatherings. 

"If you have a glass in your hand, someone's not going to offer you something to drink," she explained. 

Bobby Ashworth, a licensed chemical dependency counselor at the Peak Hospital of Santa Teresa, suggested finding something to do that's not going to put people in recovery in a high-risk situation. 

"Don't take them to that kegger. Open a dialogue, say, 'I love it that you're sober. If you think you're going to drink, call me,' " Ashworth said. 

Party organizers can also help make festivities more comfortable for the sober. 

"It would be nice and sensitive for someone to have soft drinks rather than just alcoholic stuff. They should make everybody aware if it's a rum cake or rum bonbons," said Ben Bass, the director of Recovery Alliance. 

Bass has been active in various detox programs for 15 years. 

Most experts agreed that people in recovery should not shrink from places where alcohol will be served. However, when recovering alcoholics feel uneasy due to alcohol's presence, they should remove themselves. 

Alcoholics Anonymous will have extended hours from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day to help respond to the needs of people in recovery. 

But alcohol is not the only addiction people battle this time of year. For those in other forms of recovery, Crnkovic has the following tips. 

"If you're a recovering drug addict, create a tradition of your own, but don't go where the drugs are," she said. "If you have a tendency to overshop, have a safety plan. Put those credit cards away. Set yourself a limit of $50. Don't take your checkbook." 

Compulsive overeating is the hardest addiction to battle this time of year, because food is so plentiful and eating is a necessity. 

Crnkovic's advice for compulsive overeaters attending holiday parties is to make themselves one plate and to work on it for the entire evening. 

Ultimately, anyone in recovery will reach a point where he or she can function normally in the presence of the substance to which they are addicted. 

Alcohol Anonymous Central Office of El Paso: 562-4081.

Source: El Paso Times©, November 25, 2002

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