Advent: Deepening Our Commitment to Recovery

By Kerry Neville 12/12/18

Haven’t we struggled through the dark in our addictions and now live inside truth’s illumination? So why not spend these weeks in spiritual reflection and renewing our commitment to recovery?

Woman praying over candles, deepening commitment to recovery
We are here only to bring light in our own unique ways to those alone in the dark, to remember that light from above illuminates the unsteady ground under our feet.

Advent, from the Latin, adventus — “a coming” — is, for Christians, the season celebrating Jesus Christ’s impending birth and his second coming after his death. The liturgical readings over the four weeks are centered on hope, preparation, joy, and love. It is also the season of the Advent wreath and its four candles, one lit successively each week, and of the Advent calendar and its 25 chocolates secreted behind twenty-five cardboard windows. Reflection and prayer, sweetness and light: the dark illuminated by remembrance and anticipation.

When I was drinking? The season for wanton indulgence: cranberry cosmopolitans, eggnog, mulled wine, and Irish coffees. Parties and booze and blackouts and hangovers. Superficial, carnal pursuits superseded any spiritual meditative pleasures. How many Christmas Eves did my then-husband and I spend slogging wine into the wee hours while last-minute wrapping gifts, crankier with each downed glass? And then the wretched hangover on Christmas mornings when our kids, wiggly with Santa excitement, woke us at dawn — “Get up! Get up! Get up!”— and how we dragged ourselves from bed, desperate for ibuprofen and coffee? 

The ritual of prayer and the ritual of drink. The lead-up to Christmas and then New Year’s celebrations can be difficult for those of us who are sober and trying to stay sober: we might be tempted by the fireside glass of wine or flute of effervescent champagne, or by friends gathering in the pub or our own loneliness when we stay home alone. Even now, eight years sober, I still can feel that pull: Join us! You’re missing out! A bottle of red, a bottle of white is the easy way to holiday cheer.

I don’t. I don’t. I don’t.

I don’t consider that pull for more than a millisecond because I know that drinking does not, in the end, make me cheerful; it makes me suicidal. The best gift I can give to myself and the best gift I can receive is my sobriety which is its own advent calendar: I go to sleep in anticipation of that sweet gift the next morning — waking up sober and without shame and with surety that I am alive and well. 

But the advent season does not only have to be a Christian celebration but can guide us in deepening our commitment to sobriety. I am no longer a practicing Catholic, though I still feel a fierce keening toward sustaining rituals like Christmas carols and trees and midnight mass. Advent is a season of remembrance and anticipation of birth and rebirth, so why not spend these weeks in spiritual reflection: in remembrance of all that I lost to my addiction but also all that I have since gained in sobriety, and, in anticipation of the promises that are still waiting to be fulfilled tomorrow morning when I open my window for the day’s light.

Because haven’t we, too, experienced our own second coming, our own rebirth? Haven’t we struggled through the dark in our addictions and don’t we now live inside truth’s illumination? Haven’t wise men and women given us the gifts of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness so that we can say, in gratitude or prayer to our Higher Power, “Yes, I choose this day, this life, now and forever?”

Last week, far from home in Ireland and with news of a friend’s death, I went for a very long run, miles and miles, trying to outrun grief’s hangover and Sunday loneliness and had every intention, upon my return, of climbing into bed and pulling the covers over my head and sleeping it off. And then my phone chimed its calendar alert and a little window opened: December 2nd, the first Sunday of Advent, the candlelight choral service at the cathedral.

Immediately, that insistent voice in my head interrupted: Skip it! Skip it! Skip it! You’re tired and spent!

That voice sounded exactly like the voice that used to say: Drink it! Drink it! Drink it! You’re tired and spent!

Tired and spent, yes, and exactly why I needed to go to the service: song and ritual, darkness and light, what is coming and coming and coming for us all can be hope and love and community. I sang the hymns and prayed the prayers and cried the necessary tears of both grief and wonder as one candle after another illuminated all of us gathered in the cathedral, a reminder that we are not alone in the dark but surrounded by fellowship.

We are here only to bring light in our own unique ways to those alone in the dark, to remember that light from above illuminates the unsteady ground under our feet, and that we can travel towards each other, meeting each other inside our light.

Note: That cathedral, 850 years old, has survived Viking invasions, Norman sieges, Cromwell, Independence, and is still here, as are we, survivors all.

How are you working on your recovery today? What are you grateful for?

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Kerry Neville was raised on Long Island, New York and now lives in Georgia where she teaches at Georgia College and State University. She is the author of two collections of short fiction, Remember to Forget Me and Necessary Lies, which received the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize in Fiction and was named a ForeWord Magazine Short Story Book of the Year. Her work has appeared in various journals, including The Gettysburg ReviewEpoch, and TriQuarterly, and online in publications such as The Washington PostThe Huffington Post, and The Fix. Follow Kerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.