Your Greatest Present is Presence: Tristan’s Holiday Story

Alumni Interview by EHN Staff

In this blog post series, EHN alumni share their experience, strength, and hope for the holiday season.

Before recovery, Tristan’s holidays were forgettable for him, and painful for his family.

He remembers one particular Christmas around 2005, when he was full into the grips of alcohol addiction. He spent the Christmas holiday in Michigan with his family. However, Tristan never really spent much time with his relatives. Instead, he could be found in the basement, playing video games and drinking for hours on end. Occasionally, he would groggily surface for meals, only able to stomach a small amount of food. He then would skulk back downstairs into darkness, drinking until he would fall asleep with a glass of liquor in his hand. He would wake up hung-over or still drunk only to repeat the process over the next few days, squandering family time to hide in shame as he drank away the holidays.

Binge-Drinking Through Christmas

Instead of cherishing fleeting precious moments with his family, he binge-drank his way through the holiday season. Tristan reflects about his drinking habits, “I was a binge-drinker,” he said, and although he didn’t need to wake up and drink, he was constantly sullen and tired, appearing for the bare minimum of time to grab some food from the fridge after missing a family meal.

The impact on his family was undeniable. As much as he showed up for opening presents, he couldn’t be present with his family. While the focus remained on the grandchildren, his relatives excused away Tristan’s behaviour. Family members tip-toed around the subject of Tristan’s drinking, and walked on eggshells to avoid confronting him and drawing attention to his drinking habits.

Tristan’s Family Intervenes

Tristan recalls that there were no spectacular, dramatic blow-out arguments over his drinking, but this time, the energy had changed. His relatives were tired of pretending Tristan’s drinking wasn’t affecting them. He had missed too much crucial family time, he wasn’t fulfilling his family duties, and this was a turning point for them.

It was at this point that Tristan’s mother started doing research for 12-step programs.

Then the conversations began. Tristan imagines that his family had been talking among themselves about his drinking habits for a while beforehand, but now they began reaching out to him. His grandmother was calling, “Tris, we’re really concerned. You have to do something about that drinking.” His Dad, who had separated from his mother some time ago, warned Tristan “people were looking at the amount that you drink.”

His folks used to go to Antigua over the holidays, but were worried about leaving Tristan alone. They were worried about what they would come back to.

The Road to Bellwood

Initially, Tristan promised his mother he would go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but all he could bring himself to do was sit in the parking lot, afraid to go in and face his demons. After two years of struggling, Tristan’s mother called Bellwood, and he finally relented when “the light at the end of the tunnel burned out.” Tristan would wake up and hope to die. He went to Bellwood feeling as if everything was falling apart. “I was welcoming death, but I just thought it was the way your life is supposed to go.”

Tristan spent six weeks in treatment at Bellwood. During this time, his wife was pregnant with their first son. Tristan was scared, and he didn’t want his child to have “an alcoholic dad,” so he continued his treatment, even though it was difficult…especially over Christmas.

Tristan’s First Sober Christmas

While Tristan was in treatment, he decided to go home for the holidays to spend time with his family, but he was overwhelmed and anxious—how would his family react? How would he respond to potential triggers? He recalls being upset because he noticed that wine was conspicuously absent from the table. He didn’t want his family to deprive themselves of festive drinks just because he was not going to imbibe, but he was glad to be home with his family. For the first time in a while, Tristan’s holidays were joyful.

Joyfully Celebrating the Holidays In Recovery

Now, while in recovery, Tristan loves spending Christmas with his three children. His kids are nine and seven years old, and seven months old, and Tristan can be present for all three of them. His favourite part of recovery is being fully available for his family, remembering his children’s laughter, and being more excited than the kids to play with the new Christmas toys. Tristan laughs, bolstered by the fact that he can show up to family events and be fully present in both mind and body; he is no longer just there “like a piece of furniture.”

Now that his stepfather has passed away, Tristan is encouraging his mother to travel somewhere warm for the holiday. She can travel, Tristan assures her, without the worry of having her house burned down when she returns. Her son is in recovery with a beautiful family of his own, and is able to celebrate the holidays by embracing family and Christmas cheer.

Tristan used to think that the holidays were about drinking alcohol. Now, he knows they’re about so much more.

EHN Canada Can Help You…For the Holidays

If you would like to learn more about the addiction and mental health treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enroll yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

  • 1-800-387-6198 for Bellwood Health Services in Toronto, ON
  • 1-587-350-6818 for EHN Sandstone, in Calgary, AB
  • 1-800-683-0111 for Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, BC
  • 1-888-767-3955 for EHN Whiterock, in Surrey, BC
  • 1-888-488-2611 for Clinique Nouveau Depart in Montreal, QC

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