Like so many others, I’m looking forward to spending time with friends and family over the holidays while giving praise to my higher power. There is nothing in this world that gives me greater joy than to share this special time with the ones I love and care about the most. I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, there were times I’d wished the holidays would just never happen or just end quickly. Unfortunately, too many addicts – both recovering addicts and those struggling with an active addiction – feel the same way.
As much fun and enjoyment as the holidays brings us, additional stress comes with it. Stress is a part of every day life. It’s a response to a perceived threat. When presented with a threat, our body automatically produces hormones that provide the energy and sharpness to deal with the danger. To maintain balance, our brain produces ‘feel good’ chemicals to keep the hormones in check.
The holiday’s amp-up this complex cycle and can extend it for longer periods of time than we’re accustom to. This often depletes ‘feel good’ chemicals that control our mood and behavior; thus taxing our coping mechanisms. Some of the more obvious stress induced behavioral changes include a change in eating patterns (over and/or under eating), aggression, angry outbursts, drug and/or alcohol abuse, excessive smoking and social withdrawal. It becomes more complicated for addicts in that they can experience all of the stressed behaviors plus strong cravings for drugs and/or alcohol.
Before I got help I displayed all of these behaviors and a few not mentioned. At the time I was married with two young children. I was also very involved with teaching and competing in Karate. For years I fought in tournaments in the biggest venues in the country including Madison Square Garden. I was on top of my game having won dozens of tournaments and enjoyed the widespread recognition that comes with the national titles I’d earned. Law enforcement and government officers sought me out for training like so many others who were serious about learning Karate. I thought I was living my dream. But in reality I was living two directly opposing lives – one of a respected family man and Sensei and the other of being an out of control drug addict living in the shadows of the night.
I thought I was invincible and abused drugs more and more each passing day. Eventually I began to withdraw. There were times I was no where to be found around the holidays, kids birthdays and anniversaries. I felt like these types of days just seemed to magnify my addiction and trigger a greater response. I tried to hide my addiction by just going away for a spell. I’d hole up in cheap motel rooms or sleep on the sofa in one of my addict friend’s apartments.
Thirty years ago this December my family gave me a Christmas present – although it didn’t seem like a present at the time – that forever changed and quite possibly saved my life. My friend invited me to his home for a holiday drink. I walked into a room filled with my friends – many of whom I’d abused drugs with – and family. It was an intervention. Immediately my cravings kicked in and my holiday cheer turned to anger. After a lot of talk in what seemed like forever, I accepted their challenge; but only because my mother swore she’d never speak to me again – and she meant it.
To this day I believe I was one of the worst addicts in rehab ever. I was completely uncooperative, belligerent and unruly. I threatened to beat-up therapists and counselors if I didn’t get my way. Thankfully my friends, who knew the doctors and counselors, assured them my threats were empty.
Then something clicked, I call it a spiritual awakening. It was Christmas Eve night and I was in a rage because the staff wouldn’t let me go home to be with my family. I tried to kneel, but couldn’t.
I forced my knees to bend and for the first time prayed for God’s will and not my own. Remarkably, my rage disappeared. I tried to summon my rage back but my heart would not let it in.
On Christmas day my wife and kids were allowed to visit with me for a couple of hours and I’ll never forget how I couldn’t look them in the eyes. I was angry with myself for allowing this to happen to me and for the shame I brought on myself and my family. I felt guilty and broken. As I look back I now know that my rage and ill tempered behavior was nothing more than a mask hiding the raw emotions in the shell of the man I once was.
Thirty-years ago this January I walked out of rehab a changed man. I know that sounds cliché but it is true. It wasn’t easy at first and I faced more than my share of trials and tribulations. I lost my marriage and my relationship with my kids. Financially I was broke and living in a rundown hotel. I couldn’t afford a car so I rode a bike. I had to go back to school to learn the skills I’d need to move forward. Nothing fazed me because I was so much better prepared to deal with life’s challenges. I used the coping skills that I once lacked instead of turning to drugs for answers. I learned how to turn my stress into a driving force that would ultimately lead to my growth and development as a person, husband, and father, and provided me with the motivation to raise the money to open my
first treatment center, New Life. The reward I feel helping others overcome their addiction is far greater that I ever dreamed.
My holiday prayer for recovering addicts is that you continue winning your fight each and every moment. And for those still actively using I pray you get help. Millions of people have beaten their demons and you can too. Life has so much to offer that it is not worth one more day of using. I also pray for the families of addicts. I hope that you find the help that you need, the courage to guide your loved one in the right direction and the strength to see it thru. I know it is not easy for family members but sometimes you just have to put your foot down. I would probably be dead right now had my mother not drawn the line in the sand.
Addiction is truly a family affair. Remember, nothing is impossible and there is always hope.
John Giordano DHL, MAC is a counselor, Founder and former owner of G & G Holistic Addiction Treatment Center, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Laser Therapy Spa in Hallandale Beach and Chaplain of the North
Miami Police Department. For the latest development in cutting edge treatment check out his website: www.holisticaddictioninfo.com