As the leaves fall to the ground, the landscape turns to brown, and the cold weather moves into the Northeast, I know that it's time for the holiday season to begin.
Growing up, holidays were always a big deal on my dad’s side of the family and something that I looked forward to each year. It was the one time of year when the entire family would come together and cram into my grandparents’ or aunt’s house. The kitchen would be cluttered with a variety of pans and dishes full of delicious food that I couldn’t resist sampling before dinner. While waiting for dinner to be called, my cousins and I would chase each other throughout the house while playing some random game and laughing endlessly—it was only when we entered the living room and blocked someone’s view of the football game that we got yelled at. The smell of food permeated the air and the sound of laughter and indistinct conversations were heard in every room. After dinner, the playing cards would come out, with most of the family crowded around the big table with their drinks and desserts. Money was exchanged and drinks were spilled; this was the time when my cousins and I were able to sneak a few sips of the beverages strewn around the house. This was how we celebrated every holiday when I was growing up.
As I got older, things began to change during the holidays. Family members began to disappear, leaving vacant chairs around the table in their place. Relatives refused to be in the same room with each other because of meaningless fights, and I began my own descent into isolation as a result of my substance use. Holidays stopped being a time of year filled with joy and laughter. For me, the holidays became a time where I had to muster up the courage just to go visit my grandparents so I could get my birthday and Christmas money. I was unable to enjoy any of the delicious food and I did my best to avoid my family members as much as possible. I began to dread the holiday season; I no longer felt a part of any family tree.
During my journey of recovery, I have had the opportunity to regain the joy and happiness I once felt with my family throughout the holiday season. Although I know it will never fully go back to the way things were, I do regularly talk to many members of my dad's side of the family, and my relationship with my mother and step-dad has never been stronger. I had to begin the process of letting go of those past memories of what holidays used to be in order to continue to grow and change and embrace my new life today. Now, I can look forward to spending time with family—and of course, eating all of the delicious food.
Thanks to my recovery, my family tree has regrown into something beautiful, and it has sprouted new trees that fill me with gratitude every holiday season. Recovery has allowed me to grow new family trees that are not made up of relatives—I have made an entirely new family of friends in recovery. It’s amazing to behold the relationships I’ve formed with others in recovery; today, I call many of them my family. Not only do I get to spend time with my relatives, but I also get to attend Friendsgivings and holiday parties at my recovery families’ homes. During these get-togethers, laughter fills every room and a variety of food fills the counters in the kitchen. We play a variety of games until late in the night, and reminisce about past memories with each other.
The holiday season is now a time filled with joy and happiness. I am so thankful for the relatives in my family tree who have supported me on my journey of recovery, and I am extremely grateful for my new family trees that have grown throughout the years. I’m so thankful for the love, care, and support they give me. Today, I have more than just one family tree—I have many. For this, I am so grateful.