Tuesday, December 09, 2008

People's Parties

Jim Atkinson writes in the NY Times about the problem with holiday parties for those of us who are dealing with an addiction to alcohol, and he offers all of us a unique perspective on the holidays - insights that inspired me to think about more than just aiming for moderation in my own holiday alcohol use.

A few excerpts follow:

It’s not that I’m driven to drink; just to a certain uncomfortable distraction that doesn’t leave until the holiday season thankfully does. And it’s not just that the holidays seem to have been invented for the express purpose of promoting — no, necessitating — irresponsible alcoholic consumption.

There’s something in the alone-in-the-crowdness of the holiday party circuit, the forced pleasantries and laughter, the charge to be friendly and engaging — but only in a trivial and superficial way — that is very much like the existential condition of the alcoholic psyche. So the holidays not only remind me of drink; they remind me of how it felt to be a drunk.
Atkinson talks about the experience and mental state of the alcoholic:

...we all tend to be afflicted by a low-grade dysphoria, a sort of constant melancholy that causes feelings of unease, isolation and dissatisfaction with life — an “inexplicable ache,” I once heard it called.
As he looks with understandable dread to the imminent holidays, Atkinson says:

I rather like the view of radio talk show host Don Imus, himself a recovering alcoholic who has been sober 20 years. When the subject of parties came up on his radio show a few years back, Imus noted that he was invited to many but went to very few, for one simple reason: “I don’t drink.”

This seemed to me to be one of the more sensible things ever said about parties or alcoholism. So as the holiday season gets underway, I try to look at it this way. No one really wants to go to all those parties. I’m one of the lucky ones who has an excuse to beg off.
I like the holidays, but I prefer the intimacy of small get-togethers to crowded parties that tend to degrade into trivial superficiality, even when the crowd is mostly close family.

For many of us - those for whom addiction is not the primary concern - the holidays are most disappointing for the sense of lost opportunity, the absence of meaningful interaction. Sometimes a couple of drinks get in the way, but often it is simply designed out of the event by the size of the invite list, the energy expended on the menu, decorations and gifts, and countless other distractions.

This year, I hope to strike a better balance - to invest enough in the hospitality and preparations to make the holiday festive while seeking to make the most of the opportunities for intimacy - to be fully present for those I love.

No comments: