Tuesday, November 26, 2013

'No, thank you' is an acceptable answer on holidays, especially for those with addictions

(My latest Addiction and Recovery column.)

By Bob Gaydos
  The rare confluence of Thanksgiving and Hannukah ushers in the holiday season this year, a season that also presents a trifecta of challenges for people dealing with addictions. Eat, drink and be merry may sound like a positive message, but to members of Overeaters Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous, it can be a warning cry: Beware, it’s a long way to Jan. 2, 2014.
  Even people without addictions find it difficult to avoid imbibing, eating or spending to excess during this time because, well, society virtually demands it. It’s almost sacrilege to turn down a drink, politely refuse a tin of cookies or keep a credit card firmly tucked away in one’s wallet during this time. And yet, for someone with a problem with alcohol, food or uncontrolled spending -- or some combination of them -- it is essential to maintaining a sense of sanity.
  Fortunately, people prone to addictive behavior who have managed to find their way to one or more of these 12-Step programs and are serious about recovery have a variety of “tools” available to them. With practice, these tools can help them navigate stressful situations that can trigger old behaviors. Meetings, program literature and sponsors and friends who have recovery experience to share are all useful and easily accessible sources of healthy behavior.
  For example: Bring a recovery friend to a party. Have your own transportation available if you want to leave an uncomfortable situation. Keep  track of your drink. Deal in cash; forget about credit cards. Don’t feel obliged to try every dish on the table.
  And: “No, thank you,” is a complete sentence and a wholly acceptable answer to any offer of food, drink or opportunity to acquire something really special without actually spending any of your own money.
  That “No, thank you,” can be a tricky thing for the non-addicted as well as the addicted. If anything, it’s exaggerated during the holidays. A recovering alcoholic attending a party at which alcohol is served may be aware of the several ways to protect his or her sobriety, but, especially for those new in recovery, societal pressure -- “C’mon, you can have one. It’s Christmas!” -- can be hard to resist.
  The problem is that, while people in recovery may have learned that “No, thank you” is an acceptable answer (without further explanation necessary), a lot of of the rest of the world hasn’t gotten the message. This column, then, is a diversion from the usual. It’s really aimed at the people offering the food, drink or time-share opportunity available with the swipe of a credit card.
  Obviously, not everyone who turns down a second helping of stuffing or a piece of pumpkin pie is a member of Overeaters Anonymous. Not everyone who prefers a ginger ale rather than a beer is a member of AA. Not everyone who won’t go into hock for a swanky New Year’s Eve party is a compulsive debtor. But some of them may be.
  Dare to say, it would be a healthy change if, as a society, we could recalibrate our behavior during the holiday season from one of conspicuous indulgence to one of modified merriment. I’m not holding my breath on that. However, it doesn’t seem to be too much to ask that we not expect others to share our views on how much turkey must be eaten, how much wine must be drunk for a party to be a success.
  So, some “tools” for holiday hosts: Honoring a guest’s wishes is a sign of respect. Anticipating them in advance is even better. Encouraging someone to eat, drink or spend money when they don’t want to is, at the very least, not gracious. Pressuring someone to partake of something when you know he or she is trying hard to avoid it is a good way to lose a friend. Addictions are not trivial matters. “No, thank you,” is a perfectly good answer.
  Members of AA, OA and DA will be especially appreciative if you remember that.
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For more information:
Debtors Anonymous: www.debtorsanonymous.org; 781-453-2743.
Alcoholics Anonymous: www.aa.org
Overeaters Anonymous: www.oa.org


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