Lonely This Christmas?
The isolation inherent in active addiction, accompanied by the loss of family and friends, the terror, anxiety, despair, depression, the overwhelming burden of shame, and the fear of being caught or, even worse, being seen, conspire together to create a deeply lonely state of existence. Especially at Christmas. In my experience, loneliness has manifested in many forms: pervasive, insidious, deceptive, and destructive. However, it has also been the catalyst for change when met with kindness and human connection.
Christmas, often portrayed as a time of joy and togetherness, can be particularly isolating for someone battling addiction. The media and advertising often bombard us with idealised images of perfect families gathered around festive tables, exchanging gifts, and sharing laughter and love. For those on their own these images can painfully remind them of their lack of community or connection, deepening feelings of isolation and sadness.
During my struggle with addiction, Christmas would often resurrect memories of happier past Christmases. These recollections exacerbated the pain of my current situation, highlighting how much my life had changed. The loneliness was compounded by realising that the people and moments I once cherished were now just echoes of the past. In this state of isolation and emotional turmoil, the urge to numb these painful feelings became overwhelming, ironically through the very behaviours that led to my predicament: substance misuse and patterns of addiction.
Additionally, the holiday season's pervasive emphasis on alcohol in advertising further alienated me. Advertisements glamorised alcohol consumption, portraying it as an essential element of festive cheer and social gatherings. This portrayal starkly contrasted with my reality of dependency and self-destructive behaviour, intensifying my feelings of alienation and inadequacy. I felt like a complete outsider, unable to participate in what was portrayed as a universal holiday experience.
In the depths of addiction, my behaviour led to extreme isolation, partly because I had alienated friends, family, and colleagues, and partly because I chose solitude to avoid interference with my addictions. The loneliness was profound, yet I had no idea just how desperate I was for connection. When I ventured out, I fit the description from AA’s Big Book of someone seeking understanding companionship and approval, only to face the Four Horsemen' of addiction: Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, and Despair.
Spiritually, I was also alone, having lost connection with everything outside myself, including music, once my biggest love. Substance use became my sole means of creating and numbing emotions and what better time to do so than Christmas when it was practically licensed?
However, a sober Christmas in recovery offered a renewed sense of community and fellowship. The support of 12-step meetings provided a sanctuary of understanding and belonging. The festive season became an opportunity to forge new friendships and create sober traditions, bringing genuine joy and authenticity to my celebrations.
Recovery also opened doors to reconnecting with friends and family previously alienated due to addiction. Christmas transformed from a period of despair to a celebration of my journey toward a healthier life. It became a symbol of triumph over past struggles and a testament to resilience.
In recovery, I reconnected with others, finding solace in shared laughter and pain with my peers. This identification brought relief, and I realised I was no longer alone. While early recovery had its lonely moments, the fellowship with others in similar situations brought immense comfort.
For me Christmas can still be punctuated by difficult memories - it would be naive to think that they never go away - but today I choose to treat them as helpful reminders of what it used to be like. But the older memories are now balanced out with many new, much happier memories, full of the richness, connection, companionship and community that recovery can bring.
One thing I have learned is that in any area of my life, if I attempt to be stoic and tackle my problems alone, I’m setting myself up for trouble. I need to acknowledge, communicate, and connect with others. There is nothing more powerful to ease loneliness than meaningful human connection. Especially at Christmas.
Here’s to a happy, connected, and hopeful holiday season, wherever you may be.
The Forward Trust and all Taking Action On Addiction partner charities are reducing loneliness and building connections one person at a time. If you are struggling, suffering, feeling lonely, or at risk, help is available. Reach out, as you may be just one connection away from recovery.