The mere thought of getting sober in autumn was overwhelming for me, and I truly struggled with the idea of a sober holiday season, shorter days and fast-approaching sober nights. I had to reach deep inside myself to find the courage and the strength to put one foot in front of the other if I wanted to save my own life.
By Kristin C.
Reflecting back to the end of my drinking, I can remember being filled with heavy depression and extreme anxiety. I would ruminate about calling friends the morning after a night of crazy drinking to find out what happened the night before. These thoughts used to send shock waves throughout my body and paralyze me with fear.
For me, crossing the imaginary line into obsession was when alcohol became a daily necessity to numb out the pain of my depression, anxiety and to feed my physical addiction. I spent a decade self-medicating with alcohol, and eventually, it stopped working. The combination of extreme anxiety coupled with hopeless depression dominated my life on a daily basis. Not having or wanting the proper coping tools to deal with life on life’s terms was the catalyst for my true self-destruction. Jails, hospitals and numerous other unfamiliar places didn’t scare me enough to charge or admit that I had a problem.
My final trip to the emergency room was Sept. 8, 2012. I was told by the detox physician that if I continued to roll the dice with addiction, I’d likely die within five years. My mind, body and spirit were completely dominated by the mental obsession of alcohol. And I felt fearful walking into my first 12-step meeting, but I was desperate enough to try.
It was 6 a.m. and still dark outside. The mere thought of getting sober in autumn was overwhelming for me, and I truly struggled with the idea of a sober holiday season, shorter days and fast-approaching sober nights. I had to reach deep inside myself to find the courage and the strength to put one foot in front of the other if I wanted to save my own life.
I'm Sober. Now What?
The alcohol has been removed, and the depression and anxiety are still here. Now what? I walked through hell for more than a decade, and I was ready to truly experience freedom. As a newcomer, I did what was suggested, and I got a sponsor, worked my program, went to meetings and got involved in service work. But where was the relief?
I was impatient. My head would spin, and I felt depressed. Here it is, November, and I’m already ruminating about the upcoming holiday season. The beautiful warm summer nights were well over, and I was headed into another rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. Just the thought of the rain and darkness brought heaviness over me, and anticipating my first sober Christmas was completely overwhelming.
But I wasn’t going to give up. I kept working on my recovery to the best of my ability during those cold, dark autumn and winter months. When the mental obsession surrounding alcohol had lifted, the anxiety and depression remained. I began to question what life is recovery was going to be like. Is this it? A life of sobriety coupled with hopeless depression? Or am I feeling this way because I wasn’t doing enough in my recovery program? Why do I feel this way?
My First Christmas Sober
Christmas approached slowly and carried the smell of snow and spice in the air as it does every year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through my first Christmas sober. As far back as I could remember, alcohol was a part of all my holidays, especially this one. The anticipation of an alcohol-free Christmas Eve and Christmas was enough to drive me insane.
The closer it became the more anxious I was. I would have moments of feeling like I was going to crawl out of my skin, and going to meetings, step work and reaching out to other alcoholics were what provided me with relief. I felt like I was learning how to ride a bike or tie my shoes for the very first time: difficult and frustrating. I spent a lot of time in meetings during these days, and as the holidays passed, I was incredibly grateful to make it through sober. It wasn’t graceful by any stretch of the imagination, and I stumbled my way through, but I did it sober, and I learned a lot about myself, my program and my disease through the process.
Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
As each year passed, I began to notice a pattern with cold, dark winter months and depression. I questioned if I was losing the joy in my recovery and feared that I would begin to miss my addiction. According to Dr. Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer of Hazelden, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) could be the culprit. SAD is a type of depression related to seasonal changes. I learned that SAD symptoms typically start in autumn and continue through the winter months as the amount of daylight hours become shorter. Seppala shared helpful tips with me on how to cope with SAD symptoms. He suggested exercising, getting outside as much as possible, making my environment brighter with light boxes and continuing to be diligent about my recovery program. Awareness around my patterns with depression and seasonal changes has helped me mentally prepare for challenges during those months.
Today, I look forward to all of the seasons and practice acceptance around what they may bring. My focus is to be healthy, happy, spiritually fit and free from the mental obsession of addiction. I embrace the journey set out before me, and I’m grateful to experience what it is like to “feel” again even during challenging times. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other — one day at a time.