How to Survive the Holidays with Your Sobriety and Your Sanity Intact

The period of time from mid-November through the end of the year can be a tough time in anyone’s life, even the strongest, most together person.  Think about it.  You were enjoying a nice autumn, maybe one that was unseasonably warm, then November arrives, and you realize that the holiday season is upon you, and you are completely unprepared.

ID-100160820For those of us in recovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction, the holidays often bring an extra dose of resentment, disappointment over unrealized goals, and plain old family dysfunction.  You see, for many of us, the holidays were a time to party, most often with the help of booze and/or drugs.  And many times, we partied with our family.  And now that we’re in recovery, how do we cope?  With our families that are still using?  With the increased levels of stress that accompany the holiday season?  With the family dysfunction that we are now able to see through the lens of sobriety?

I had been without a drink less than two months, fresh out of rehab, when I tackled my first sober Thanksgiving.  I don’t remember too many specifics, just that I was very scared.  I knew that I was going to be around people who were drinking, most of whom could drink responsibly.  It made me angry and resentful that they could drink, that they would drink, without a care in theID-1009873 world.

At the time, I don’t think I had a sponsor.  If I did, I didn’t call him like I should have.  I remember sitting there the whole day, a fake smile plastered on my face, my fists clinched so tightly that my knuckles were literally white.  I guess that’s where the term “white-knuckling it” comes from.

As the years have passed, and as I have gotten some sobriety under my belt, I approach the holidays with a much different mindset.  I think the biggest thing for me is to focus my energy on something positive.  Fortunately, I have three kids and one grandchild, providing me with an extra incentive to make their holiday experiences meaningful and memorable like mine were when I was a kid.

There are several options for tackling the holidays, and the inevitable family get-togethers.

The first option is to hold the holiday get-together at your house.


  • You have control over who you invite
  • You can set the time
  • You can ensure that there is no alcohol in your house


  • You may not be able to control who actually shows up, and you may have difficulty actually turning an unwanted guest away, particularly if you are newly sober
  • You may not be able to control if someone shows up intoxicated, and you may have difficulty actually turning them away, particularly if you are newly sober
  • You have the job of cleaning up when everyone leaves
  • People may stay past the allotted time, wearing out their welcome, and you may have difficulty asking them to leave, particularly if you are newly sober

I would not recommend this if you are newly sober.  The holidays are stressful enough.  Adding the responsibility of having a gathering at your house is a recipe for relapse.

ID-10059844The second option is to travel to someone else’s house for the holiday get-together.


  • You can come and go as you please, which is good if you become uncomfortable
  • You don’t have to worry about being left with a huge mess to clean up after everyone leaves


  • You have no control over who is invited
  • Depending on where you are going, there may be travel-related stress

For someone who is newly sober, this is a much better option.  You have control over how long you stay.

The third option is to skip these kinds of get-togethers all together.


  • You don’t have to deal with anyone else or their issues
  • You are in complete control


  • Isolation during the holidays is usually difficult to deal with, particularly if you know that others are celebrating without you
  • Your family may lay a huge guilt-trip on you if you skip holiday get-togethers, which can lead to resentments being formed (or re-kindled)

ID-1008696The fourth option is to celebrate the holidays with other people who are in recovery.


  • You are spending time with people who are like-minded, at least in terms of recovery
  • You may actually learn something about yourself and/or your recovery


  • Your family may lay a huge guilt-trip on you if you skip holiday get-togethers, which can lead to resentments being formed (or re-kindled)

This option is probably the best one of the lot if you have a dysfunctional family.  A lot of local AA/12-step chapters have holiday parties and meals, and may add more meetings around the holidays to help those in recovery deal with the additional stress that comes with the season.  Meetings are always a good idea, but it doesn’t hurt to pick up some additional ones around the holidays.

However you choose to celebrate, keep handy a list of phone numbers of people in recovery, and don’t hesitate to call someone if you start to feel like picking up a drink or using.  We’ve all been there, and someone will drop what they are doing to help you.


Book Review: The Scare by Robert Shaw


images (2)Ethan Harris is a sixteen your old boy who lives in the coastal town of Emerald Bay.  He harbors a lot of guilt over the death of his younger brother a year before.  One day, he meets the new girl in town, Shay Cassidy.  Like Ethan, Shay has a dark past.  The two immediately become inseparable, and Shay becomes member of Ethan’s inner-circle, a close-knit group of friends.

The town bully, Viktor Sols, has his eye on Shay Cassidy too, and will stop at nothing to have her.  Viktor is shrouded in mystery, living in creepy old house that overlooks the ocean.  It is rumored that he has a wheelchair bound-brother.

Soon, people start dying, including some in Ethan’s inner circle, victims of horrific murders.  Ethan, Shay, and their remaining friends soon find themselves locked in battle with a strong supernatural force that is determined to see them all dead, all but Shay that is.

The story was told from multiple viewpoints, and had the distinct feel of a classic horror story, complete with a creepy old house on the edge of a cliff, and plenty of horror and killing.  The author was also very effective at blending haunting nightmare sequences with reality, making the reader question the very fabric of what is what is real and what is not.

The tension slowly built over the course of the book, and it seemed as though each chapter ended in a cliffhanger, pulling the reader further and further into the book, making it difficult to put down.

The main protagonists, Ethan, Shay, Quincy, and Eejayce were well developed by the author, and came across as the kind of friends everyone would like to have.  They were thoughtful, loyal, and brave.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book.  It took me back to my teenage years, when I would watch some of the horror classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

With all the things I liked about the book, I have a couple of complaints as well.  First, some of the dialogue in the book seemed as though it was taken right out of a bad, low budget horror film.  There were times when I was reading this bad dialogue that I could almost hear some third-rate actor reciting it.  Also, all of the following words were used in one chapter of the book: lambent effulgence, fulguration, and pyrexia.  There were all used in the appropriate context.  I know because I had to look them all up.  There are appropriate places for words like this.  A horror novel is not one of those places.

Bottom line: The book had a few shortcomings, but it was a fun read.  Also, there was some fairly graphic sexual content, so I wouldn’t recommend it for kids.

Album Review: IV by Blackfield


downloadBlackfield started as a collaboration between Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson and Israeli pop and rock singer Aviv Geffen.  The first two albums, Blackfield and Blackfield II are brilliant albums that are hard to categorize.  When I describe early Blackfield to people, I say it’s “dark pop.”  There are some guitar-heavy moments on each of these albums, but most of the music is a maudlin mix beautiful, lush melodies, and lyrics about isolation, lost love, and abuse, themes common in Steven Wilson’s songwriting.  2011’s Welcome To My DNA found Steven Wilson ceding creative control to Aviv Geffen, which is evident when listening to the album.

Disappointingly, this trend has continued on Blackfield’s IV.  I’m not taking anything away from Aviv Geffen.  He’s a good singer and songwriter, and there are some well-constructed songs on IV.  The musicians’ playing is solid, with Steven Wilson contributing on guitar.  Wilson and Geffen both sing on the album’s opening song, “Pills,” which is perhaps the best song on the album.  Wilson sings lead vocals on “Jupiter,” the only song aside from “Pills” that actually sounds like Blackfield.

“X-Ray” is a beautiful song, featuring Vincent Cavanagh of alt-rock band Anathema on vocals.  “Firefly” and “The Only Fool Is Me” also feature guest vocalists Brett Anderson (Suede lead vocalist) and Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips) respectively.  Geffen’s use of these talented guest vocalists doesn’t add value to the Blackfield brand; in fact, I would argue that it actually weakens it.

Geffen provides vocals on the remaining tracks on the album, none of which stand out.  I think this can be attributed to Steven Wilson’s absence in the song-writing and arranging process.

Bottom line: IV is a decent album, but it doesn’t sound like a Blackfield album.  I realize that some bands change their sound or style over time, but this album goes beyond a change in sound or style.  The songwriting is not up to par with the first two Blackfield albums, or even with the band’s third album, Welcome To My DNA.  This is a direct result of Steven Wilson’s minimal involvement with the album.  What a shame.

Album Review Dream Theater by Dream Theater


downloadEvery time I hear that Dream Theater is going to release another album, I get a little excited–not like I do when I hear that Rush is releasing a new album, but excited nonetheless.  On September 24, 2013, Dream Theater released its eponymous twelfth album.  The album begins with “False Awakening Suite,” a short, majestic piece that highlights Jordan Rudess’s keyboard playing.  The next song, “The Enemy Inside,” is a blisterin

g, guitar-heavy song about living with guilt and shame.  Mike Mangini’s drumming is machine-like.  Hearing these two songs left me hopeful that the rest of the album would be as good.  Instead, I was left feeling cheated and disappointed.

The musicians in Dream Theater are at the top of their game.  The musical interplay between John Petrucci, John Myung, Jordan Rudess, and Mike Mangini is mind-boggling and awe-inspiring.  James LaBrie still has great vocal range, though much of the time he brings a level of pomposity to his singing that is exceeded only by Creed’s Scott Stapp.

Disappointingly, Dream Theater’s song-writing hasn’t evolved at the same pace as their musical prowess.  On this album, songs like “Behind The Veil” and “Surrender To Reason” are devoid of emotion.  Then you have “The Bigger Picture” and “Along For the Ride,” two sappy ballads, typical of many of Dream Theater’s more recent albums.

“Enigma Machine” is a decent instrumental, with Petrucci, Myung and Rudess interacting musically on a level that most musicians can only dream of.  But still, there is something very sterile about the way the song feels.  Maybe it’s that the playing is too perfect, too mechanical.

The final song on the album, “Illumination Theory,” sounds like an exercise in using a computer to combine discordant pieces of music into a 22-minute song.  Again, the playing is excellent.  However, the song  doesn’t flow  from one section to the next very well, not like Rush’s “Natural Science,” “Xanadu,” or “Hemispheres.”

Bottom line: The musicianship on this album is excellent, but the song-writing is lacking.