Six Weeks Until Christmas
During his first couple of weeks sober, Simon Tait began journaling some of his immediate thoughts and experiences. Moving from rehab to outpatient treatment, the writing assignments at the latter challenged him to dig a little deeper into his twenty-year alcohol addiction and he enjoyed the process of channeling his truth to paper and sharing it, warts and all, with others at the center. Indeed, some of the counselors advised Simon to continue writing after his three months finished not least because his fellow classmates started to request copies of his submissions.
Continue writing about his addiction he did, only this time new content in a new format shared with a new audience. Simon started writing a memoir of his addiction, shifting between his descent into addiction, consequent struggles, eventual surrender and emergence from rehab into a “brain new world”. He shared his new writing project, titled Six Weeks Until Christmas, not with fellow alcoholics but with members of the Houston Writers Guild critique group on Saturday mornings. In doing so, he honed his writing skills with the teachings of published authors, educated some group members on addiction and created friendships that last to this day.
We feel very fortunate to be able to share Simon's writings with you, and hope you enjoy reading them over the next few weeks.
Chapter 1: Genuine Intentions
Still fresh in sobriety I began penning this collection of thoughts. I’d like to get a few disclaimers out of the way first though.
This is not intended to be an account of wild, drink-fuelled debauchery. You can’t write about addiction without writing about the mental and physical pain it forces on the mind, body and soul. You can’t write about a continual thirst for booze without detailing the loneliness which lives and lurks behind it. You can’t write about the initial honeymoon period of sobriety without admitting surrender and embracing vulnerability.
My name is Simon. I’m a recovering alcoholic.
There, I said it.
Eight short, simple words that took twenty years to drown in, realize, process and act on. Each of those words in my two decade long journey produced enough highs and lows for a lifetime, but for now I am happy to live, as cliché as it sounds, one day at a time. Days, decades and lifetimes can very easily snowball for addicts as weeks and months become one long sleepwalk.
Some sadly continue to snooze. Some aren’t aware we are doing so. Some temporarily awaken before drifting back again, while some get lucky and smell the coffee.
The word alcoholic conjures up several images. Nicholas Cage in the movie Leaving Las Vegas, Nick Nolte in his mug shot, a drunk sleeping on a park bench, the homeless guy asking for change to pay his bus fare home or your uncle and/or aunt who is always hammered at family gatherings.
I was a ‘functioning’ alcoholic, working long hours in a well-paid job for a well-respected company and was seen as a regular colleague. Following my personal, and God willing permanent awakening, I attended post-detox outpatient class.
Karen, a wonderfully talented counselor, asked the group, “What is the purpose of your life?” Twelve of us were gathered in the room, casually dressed, a mix of races and ages from late teens. As each attendee paused and offered answers, I drew a blank.
“To be a loving husband to my wife,” one replied. Nope, cause and effect required.
“To be the best father for my son,” another answered. See previous.
“Saving the lives of others.”
My profession does not carry such incredible responsibility.
My answer? Forgettable. By the time class had finished for the day, I couldn’t recall my response.
The moment led to self-contemplation. In my professional and non-professional life, I was proud of my voluntary work with a number of organizations at home and abroad. Furthermore, I happily made regular donations to various charities and mentored high school students during their semesters of study.
But a purpose of my life set me to thinking and as a result, I came up short.
During class I submitted and shared several essays and exercises on my experiences with addiction. To my surprise, they were well received. With the encouragement of Karen, I continued to document these and was approached by others for copies to read in their spare time.
After the purpose question, I pondered continuing this effort to impart my limited wisdom. I discussed such ambitions of grandeur with Karen. We talked about my career, its emphasis of connecting individuals and groups through communication and writing. It provided food for thought.
On the same evening, sitting alone in my apartment, reviewing notes from an earlier class, I glanced at my bookcase and was met by smiles of thirty fresh-faced college students in an embossed photo commemorating their 2012 summer year. It was individually signed with personal messages as a parting gift from a previous assignment. I picked it up and smiled back, remembering cinema visits, discussing grades and submissions, enjoying sports banter, being sought for advice on dating (if only I was qualified) and offering support following family bereavement.
Mostly in their late teens, the likes of George, Kimberley, Ann and Kevin blessed me with joy at one juncture in their life. Even though I hid my addiction from them, I felt for a millisecond that I had touched their lives in a somewhat positive light. I slowly looked away and continued smiling. Seconds later I felt my smiling wrinkles turn into grimacing creases as the A4 glossy paper morphed into a portrait of personal fear.
What if an addictive mind lurked in one of them? Omar’s giant grin was replaced by an expressionless police mug shot for driving while influenced. Karen for shoplifting. Where were those flowing locks and why such heavy make-up on a natural face? I struggled to find Michael. I looked back at the paper, still in my hand, and was relieved to see those cheery, young faces smiling back as one.
I loved those students like younger brothers and sisters. The thought of them traversing the sorry path I unwittingly sought, then journeyed uncontrollably into, frightened me. Of course, the demon of alcohol and substance addiction welcomes not only college students, the more the merrier. I wasn’t in a position to save lives, but I could create a connection through words to reach another affected by addiction - be it an addict, a loving family member or spouse, a friend, or someone who thinks they just enjoy beer.
The forthcoming pages do not serve as a guide to conquering addiction. This is a personal report of six weeks when life showed up. The humdrum routine went out the window during these six weeks, replaced by a new environment and existence. Occasionally heartbreaking, sometimes heartwarming, and always somewhat confusing. I am still taking baby steps, and I hope these pages capture my thought processes in doing so.
Needless to say—but I shall—neither is it a self-help book. For the best part of twenty years I couldn’t help myself and you’ll draw the same conclusion reading about me. This memoir is interspersed with reflection on the rapid growth of my liquor lust to illustrate how I became dependent on it and the mental and physical repercussions of this dependency.
Six weeks until Christmas is not an examination of the physiological and psychological causes of addiction. Following release from detox, I went on a frenzied spree - a reading one. This was partly to educate myself on the above reasons behind this behavioral disease and partly because my still alive brain cells were enjoying their narrow escape. I occasionally reference possible causes but never approach it with an expert opinion because I’ll never make such a claim. If you do seek such a text, try Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. You won’t be disappointed.
Why six weeks? Why not six months to give a more rounded account or, better yet, a year?
Those six weeks represent the biggest single shift in my small existence on this earth. Every day was an exercise in introspection. It began with a failed alcohol test in the workplace which set in motion a series of events that led me to face my demons as I started to unravel. I had been praying for the opportunity to do so but was terrified at the prospect. It meant putting down the bottle and picking my wasted body up off the floor.
During this period I had to not only learn about me all over again but I began living anew. I’d shut myself away to the world most of the time and developed a series of anxiety disorders which feasted on my nerves. To satisfy the loneliness and kill the ticks, I visited a supermarket, grabbed bottles and slowly began the numbing process. It was easy. This would be difficult. The six weeks represent feeling out a new way of life. I was raw. Still am. But nothing like those initial forty two days.
That rawness was reflected in a simple conversation with a dear friend in Louisiana who first met me shortly after detox and later talked to me about how I appeared six weeks later. It went something like this:
“Si, you’re different from a few weeks back.”
“I don’t understand. Why am I different, Nance?”
“You’re in recovery now. Six weeks back, when you were out of detox, you looked vulnerable.”
Later that night in my hotel room, I thought back to this brief exchange. The male ego in me said, “Vulnerable? Shit.” But casting that aside, Nance had accurately diagnosed my brain new world and in that moment it crystallized. During those six weeks I slowly put it together, gently gripping the concept of recovery, but when we met six weeks previously, I was still fragile.
This time frame encompasses a phase before I embraced the principles and philosophies associated with emerging from addiction. ‘Serenity’ and ‘spirituality’ were buzzwords and the ‘twelve steps’ sounded like something occult. The ‘program’ was a study block or something on television, not a design for life. Now that I have a working knowledge and some experience in practicing these foundations, my outlook is vastly different than the way it was then but you can trace the development of these concepts as I emerged from my alcohol built cocoon.
Many alcoholic nights were spent alone. I enjoyed the company of others, but I preferred plying large quantities of wine down my throat without them seeing it. Sobriety opened the doors to more interaction with people than I had experienced before or was comfortable with. Along this six week path, I had the good fortune of meeting a host of people who demonstrated the power of human kindness, generosity and spirit. These pages will reflect the importance of connection and how we learn from others while still struggling inside.
About the author Simon Tait
A communications professional with over 15 years of experience in public relations and freelance journalism, Simon graduated with a bachelor’s degree in publishing from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. For the last ten years, he has worked in the energy industry within the public affairs and communications sphere in the United Kingdom, U.S. and Asia. In his spare time, he contributes to sports and men’s lifestyle publications and has written accounts on recovery for the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.