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Misguided Ideas About “Fun” on New Year’s Eve

New Years can be a very difficult time for the recovering alcoholic.New Year’s Eve! This is the one night of the year when society unites in a pro-drinking mentality that accepts and excuses all manner of drunken folly (except, of course driving drunk). It is not just that excessive drinking is tolerated on this night; it is that it is encouraged and promoted. Ads on TV for sparkling wine and other assorted libations are excessive. Security guards and long lines appear at liquor stores and images of “happy” alcohol related celebrations decorate billboards and shopping malls. The excessive advertising for Christmas spills over into the Boxing Day madness with a greater emphasis on the available “specialty” wines and liqueurs. Bars and clubs vie for the attention of their patrons with promises of the “best” drinking environment for the most celebrated drunken spectacle of the year. What’s going on here? The message is: the only way to enjoy yourself is to get drunk.

While this is in itself a disturbing suggestion that affects the whole spectrum of society – children included – it has particular consequences for alcoholics. No one knows the dangers involved with excessive drinking better than those who suffer from alcohol addiction. The concept of the association of the “good time” and alcohol is a driving psychological motivation for many who struggle in recovery. Learning that what constitutes a real “good time” does not necessitate the use of artificial stimulants can be a difficult lesson to absorb in sobriety. Attending parties, watching Saturday night hockey, dinner with friends – these are all environments that usually involve the use of alcohol. The recovering alcoholic learns to adjust to these environments (sometimes needing to avoid them completely in the first months of recovery) and often discovers that that they can still be enjoyed with a glass of soda instead of wine. But these situations are common and occur throughout the year. They are not outlandishly special. Adjustment to them is a necessary component of the sober life and treatment centers and rehab facilities incorporate behavioural programs that assist in the adjustment process. 

But New Year’s Eve is different. The aura of excessiveness – feeding off the excessiveness of Christmas – coupled with the mythological perceptions regarding the “end” of the year and the “beginning” of a new one – build up a particular sensibility of Dionysian indulgence that renders the “unacceptable”, acceptable. And herein lies the great danger for the alcoholic. In recovery, what is deemed “unacceptable” is a drinking mentality that leads to self-destruction and alienation. It is not so much about how many drinks or if one drink can be “handled”. It is about a mental state of mind that is destructive to the suffering individual and is “triggered” by the consumption of alcohol. It is that state of mind that is “unacceptable” to the alcoholic and the societal encouragement at New Year’s Eve to embrace the alcohol induced unacceptable behaviour has a very different affect on the alcoholic than the “social” drinker. The myth of New Year’s Eve is that it is the “exception”. It is the one night where there are no rules. For the alcoholic, when he or she is not sober, every night is the “exception”. The “exception” is the norm for the active alcoholic and the road to recovery involves a rethinking of what constitutes the norm. A friend, now ten years sober, told me years ago that the one night of the year that he did NOT drink, was New Year’s Eve. His rational was that that was the night that his drinking would not be exceptional and the alcoholic mentality dictated to him that in order to satisfy the “suffering” nature of his affliction, joining the “acceptable” night of indulgence reduced the pseudo satisfaction that his drinking encouraged. This is what distinguishes the alcoholic mentality from the others. In recovery, while attempting to integrate into the non-alcoholic world, the alcoholic runs the risk of forgetting that he or she has an affliction that will always keep them marginalized from the majority when it comes to alcohol. The build up to the night of the “exception” can have a dangerous lure for the alcoholic. The temptation to “experiment” on the one night of the year when it will not be noticed within the crushing debauchery of the accepted excessiveness is an issue that must be confronted by those in recovery. The “exception” has the potential of destroying that recovery. It is imperative that the alcoholic remember that, outside of the myth, New Year’s Eve is just another day – another day of wondrous sobriety. The myth is a fabrication, fuelled by the alcohol producing conglomerates in their pursuit of sales. Let those who wish to partake in the mythological indulgences do so – that is their choice. But the alcoholic needs to recognize it as a “myth” – there is too much at stake. Alcoholics know that there is no need to designate a single day for excessive drinking – any day can adopt that designation. The recognition of this fact is wisdom. And it is that wisdom that the alcoholic needs to embrace as he or she manoeuvres through the bacchian mythological fabrication that is New Year’s Eve, a fabrication that encourages universal drunken stupidity.

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