As we approach the holiday season of Solstice, Christmas, Passover and Kwanzaa, many of us feel sad. That has definitely been true for me. What has often made me feel sad is loss: loss of people who had passed on, loss of friends who were still drinking and using and I couldn’t be around anymore, and loss of people from my life because I had moved far away.
Death of a close family member, a friend or other people we love, we respect, we admire is hard. This is true when death comes at the end of a long and fruitful life, and even more so when it doesn’t. Although I am very fortunate to have reached my mid-fifties without losing a parent or sibling, I have lost friends and family, and seen people I love lose close family and friends. It seems that time, space to talk about your loss and express your feelings, prayer if you pray, and kindness to yourself and from others are all important in grief.
Though nothing near as big, it was also hard to have to let go of my drinking and drugging friends. When the partying had to stop for me, they couldn’t or wouldn’t spend time with me without constantly offering me a drink or a toke, trying to get me to just have one, or saying it was a downer being around me when I wasn’t using. I could not afford to have people in my life who would undermine my sobriety – it was just too hard to stay sober, never mind if friends kept offering me a drink!
Another big part of the losses I experienced have been because of moving from one city to another, or one region of the country to another. We moved around a lot when we were kids, and I continued to move a lot as an adult. Not being a good letter writer (which really made a difference back in the days before the internet and cheap long distance calling), it meant losing most of my friends when I moved.
All of these kinds of loss seemed to weigh heavily in the late fall, when holiday music and advertising are all around us. There is also a lot of expectation leading up to and during the holidays. People are expected to gather with their families. There may be specific religious ceremonies to take part in. And we think we must get the right gift, offer the best food to guests, etc. All of this makes for a lot of pressure, and it is more difficult if your family doesn’t have much money, or there is a lot of alcoholism or other addictions. And if there has been abuse in the home, it is even harder.
We each have our own path for dealing with loss and with grief. For me, I learned that covering up loss with a good stiff drink or two or three … definitely does not work. Instead, I had to learn to actually feel those feelings of loss, to think about why I was sad, and to find constructive ways to cope with my grief. In the early days of my sobriety, it meant getting to more meetings and really working on my intention to stay sober “one day at a time.” It meant actually figuring out what I was feeling – which was something I had to learn to do all over again in sobriety. And it meant admitting my mistakes and making amends to people I hurt.
As I work on coping with these losses, they have gotten lighter. I have made amends where I could (Step 9 of the A.A, program), I have forgiven myself for losing touch with people I cared about and who cared about me (and gotten a bit better at keeping in touch), and I have learned to better understand how I am feeling and speak my truth.
It definitely helps to tell people that I love them more often. And I also take time to remember the people in my life who I have lost. So I close with the words that a friend, Jack, recently posted on FB:
“Let’s share this candle in memory of our friends and loved ones who are not with us any more.”