Wow, this year was a whirlwind, but I won't go into all that right now. I'll save that talk for next week when I'm reflecting on a new year coming up. This week I wanted to talk about the holidays. I've already offered practical advice for staying sober during the holidays, how Christmas is much different for me now that I'm sober, and why you should be grateful in recovery. I have to stop and think about how when I drank I always wanted it to be some other day of the year. I was always waiting, for the next party, the next happy hour, the next bag of cocaine, the next birthday, the next celebration, or the next holiday. It was a waiting game. I was waiting to fall in love, waiting to find the perfect job, waiting to be happy. Expecting contentedness would someday find me. Alcohol always made me feel like I was living the high life. I felt pretty, glamorous, and happy while intoxicated, but the day after I always felt like a fraud. I couldn't figure out why the feelings didn't last and that's why I went on the search to find them again, as quickly as I could.
I describe gratitude as a word I never used before in my life before getting sober. I don't think I knew what it meant and I certainly didn't know how it felt. You see, being on the constant search for more, it's impossible to feel grateful for anything because I was always looking for more than I had. During my first year of sobriety, I began to experience these moments of overwhelming emotion and unexplained clarity. I was overcome, with something. I didn't know what. Now I know it was immense gratitude for everything around me.
Imagine a baby just coming out of the womb and experiencing everything for the first time. The colors are sharper, the smells are so strong they hit me like a ton of bricks, the wind on my face feels like nature's kiss, and I am brought to tears because I've never felt anything like this in my life. Or maybe I have when I was a child, but the memories seem so distant I can't recall. It's a testament to just how long I was numbing myself with drugs and alcohol. I had no idea the depth to which my pain ran until I got sober. Can you imagine just scraping by in life? Thinking you're living an awesome, glamorous life, while feeling close to nothing? And on top of it all, not even being aware of it until it stops? Yeah, that was me.
This is what it's like getting sober. If you think it's just quitting drugs and alcohol, you know nothing.
So what does this have to do with Christmas? Well, the other day on Facebook my friend Robert Ashford said something that could not be truer: Every day is Christmas when you're in recovery. It gave me the idea for this post. I wanted to express how gratitude is the key to recovery. I wanted to tell you that when you're in recovery you don't need the spirit of the season to feel grateful, to start giving, and appreciate those around you. This is how life is for me every day.
I often say that in sobriety I wake up every morning just grateful to be alive and on a podcast I was on a few months back, the host asked me "But how did that happen? What clicked that moved you from discontent to content?" I told him that there was no concrete answer for that, but what I do know is that when I left alcohol and drugs behind for good my world changed exponentially. I no longer felt the desperate need to search for more in every aspect of my life. I no longer felt empty inside. I was always afraid that without alcohol my life would become boring and I would be missing out. The opposite happened. I finally feel like I am free. I know the strength and the joy of gratitude and I can testify that it can change lives. It has changed mine.
I feel like every person with a substance use disorder, no matter where they fall on the spectrum, is searching for something. They are filling the void with substances without knowing they're losing touch with reality with each drink they take. All I know is when I stopped taking destructive substances, the destruction left my life.
Now every day feels like Christmas. I wake up excited and I open my present of life. Each day is a new day to start over, to set goals, to achieve what I want, to give to others, to pass on the message, and to feel the spirit of the season... of life. I am happy to be alive, not because it's Christmas, not because everything is going my way or nothing bad ever happens, but because I am grateful and because I am sober.
If being in recovery is like Christmas year round, then call me Santa Claus because I'm going to continue spreading recovery joy loud and clear for all to hear! There is no better life than this one. There is no other life. That's why I choose to live it free from substances because I cannot imagine missing one more second of this precious amazing life I get to live.