It’s that time of year already — the gatherings, the food, the family — and, what I’m personally looking forward to most of all. The resentments. Gathering over the Thanksgiving table, around the Menorah, the Christmas Tree, the Harvest Spruce, whatever, is the perfect time to take out all those unresolved little wounds and give them a polish. After all, there are relatives around you may not see again for another year, some may be older, some may be living overseas and who knows when you’ll get your next chance.
Of all my most cherished resentments my favorite could be titled: Social Chemical User. Those oblivious, lucky bastards. It’s the same around my house every year, if it’s not the Prosecco at the table, it’s the pot smoking on the porch. Not only are my family and friends getting buzzed with impunity, they will, after doing so, return to jobs from which they have not been fired, spouses who have not fled from them in despair, parents to whom they still speak and children with whom they either live or maintain cordial contact. That is, if I do not poison and/or strangle them in their sleep.
Yes, it’s a pointless question, but I can’t help asking it anyway: How is it that some people can “drink socially” while the smallest bit of recreational mood altering sets me firmly on the path to the nearest homeless shelter? Why can some people incorporate a bit of inebriation in their lives while I would only blow mine to complete shreds? Of course it’s like a diabetic asking why sugar doesn’t make her go into insulin shock while her sister eats chocolate cake for dessert — no reason, just deal with it. And yet….it hurts…in fact, it hurts twice. The first pain is mere envy. I didn’t get to be an addict by not liking to drink and get high. The other pain is deeper, the sense of exclusion, the sense that the majority of the world is not like me in some very fundamental way.
I think this is the real reason for both the high holiday relapse rate and the higher attendance at 12-Step meetings. The rooms are the one place where my freakishness, in this respect, is normality. If I were to sit at the Thanksgiving table and say, “I hate some people for being able to drink three glasses of wine over one evening and not somehow wake up across state lines, alone and unemployed by New Years” it would be one of those Moments. In a meeting it would be about as weird as saying “Hello.”
I’ve been in and out of “the Program” for 25 years now, and I’ve come to realize that my life goes better when I’m in, and when I’m in, I do better when I admit to myself why I need to be in. There is no time in my life, ever, when I personally am going to be around certain things without being tempted to use them in an excessive manner. I am a person who is subject to intense cravings for large amounts. This includes food, love, sex, social acceptance, and anything shiny or glittering. I see the 12-Steps as a very common sense method of dealing with this fact without succumbing to self loathing. For me, this has little to do with huge matters of spiritual awakening,but rather, small matters of spiritual awakening. I cultivate a spiritual and social life that, invisibly, buttresses me against my ongoing difficulties. I don’t know what I’d call this but I know what I wouldn’t, it’s not a Judgement. And for most of us, Family Time is Judgement time.
This is why, even if I haven’t been in ages, I make an effort to be In The Rooms on The Holidays. It’s not that I am white knuckling it — it’s that I don’t want to have to. There’s a reason they call it “Fellowship.” Simply put, the holidays are the time when I need to know that there are people like me. People who are neither good nor bad, better or worse, but who have the same kind of challenges as I do at this particular time of year. The Holidays can be joyous and difficult for everyone, but not for everyone in the same way. This is the time of year I tend to need my Fellows.
And now, a Santa Clause joke as told to me by an 8-year-old friend: “Ho, ho, ho. Ho ho ho ho. Your mama and your sisters standing in a row.”
Tidings of comfort and joy, my fellows. Tidings of comfort and joy.
Emily Roiphe Carter is a freelance writer from Maine via Minneapolis.