The joy of Christmas will enter a healthy soul like a rush, but for an addict who’s spent years building walls up within themselves to keep the world at bay and their affliction hidden in only deepens their guilt and sequestered loneliness.

The joy of Christmas will enter a healthy soul like a rush, but for an addict who’s spent years building walls up within themselves to keep the world at bay and their affliction hidden in only deepens their guilt and sequestered loneliness.

You may see them as the holiday lights grow brightest and they shy from its joyful gleam. They may become agitated and burst forth with caustic rage before rushing again to the comfort of the bottle or the pills or the bright but hollow lights of a casino.

The Holidays are a battleground for an addict.

They may wonder about Christmas joy and wonder about friends only to find that as they tremble with the agonizing fear of addiction that few friends—true friends—surround them now and that they have little joy in their hearts to waste on anything so frivolous as Christmas or the love of their families.

Mind yourself, these are not people who are weak—far from it—they have awaken every morning since their addiction began, feeling slightly worse than the day before. They’ve abused themselves almost to the breaking point and still have risen in the morning and put on a happy face to act like everything is fine. That level of denial requires an amazing amount of energy. Like a juggler they have juggled their lies for years holding their breath in doubt every time another lie is thrown into their whirling mass. To survive they lie. To survive they use or gamble. It only intensifies that loneliness and when holiday lights shine bright to reveal a personal shame they only crawl deeper inside themselves.

They feel worthless in a hollow world, and you wouldn’t believe the number of successful people who feel utterly worthless. They are surrounded by the frenetic whirling of abuse and destruction they’ve began. Only admission can bring the relief of a deep sigh as the juggling of lies ceases and the lies fall away.

At that moment within a recovery center like Project Turnabout they may hear someone whisper low and sweet, ‘you’re worth it.’

Thus in recovery a spirit is renewed. Peace is found. Joy is found. And in places like Project Turnabout one will find that the Christmas spirit often burns brightest.

“There’s relief here,” says Project Turnabout Director Mike Schiks. “People share their experiences and soon an addict will turn around and realize that this is a place that’s safe and a place where they can talk. The holidays here are a wondrously happy time here.  People can feel that ‘Christmas Spirit’ more intensely here than anywhere, because some are feeling it for the first time in many years.”

Often, before recovery, Christamas memories are deep scar for addicts and the families of those afflicted. It is at Christmas time when family comes together and often family members will get an updated look of a haggard, unhappy and sometimes violent addict who has either decided use more during the Holidays to cover their guilt or have decided to white knuckle it through family parties often only staying for a moment before rushing off to find another fix.

It’s just been so long since they’ve felt good. And their families throw up their hands and plead ‘What can we do?’, and they’ll undoubtably say, ‘but they’re such a good person inside’.
And addicts want to feel innocence again. Feel the childlike joy and excitement they once felt on fresh Christmas mornings. And they find that at places like Project Turnabout.

“Christmas is new to them, they’re like little kids,” says Project Turnabout Clinical Director Bob Schmillen. “Because for the first time in a long time that they’re sober.”

Yet for some, Christmas memories lay within them like a scar which refuses to heal. For these people like Vanguard gambling addiction Unit Coordinator Sandi Brustuen must help those in recovery to wash away the grime and uselessness of guilt and shame. Said Brustuen, “It’s getting them over that feeling of guilt, many gambling addicts may have gambled away the money they were going to buy Christmas presents with. So it’s getting them past those painful memories and focusing on the true meaning of Christmas.”

Talking with counsellors such as Bob and Sandi and Womens Unit Coordinator Deb Wacha. I feel as if I’m talking to a collection of war veterans or teachers. In all those stressful and all too often minimized professions those called to it often use humor to deal with the emotional strain of their day. And like veterans or teachers they see their work as their vocation.

Said Deb, “A lot of us in this field have gone through this ourselves. We know and understand that feeling of guilt and shame and have been through all the things that these people have been through and can share their experiences with them.”

At Turnabout they ask people in recovery: ‘Don’t you feel better physically? Don’t you feel better in terms of how clear your thinking? Do you feel like you’re not on the edge? Do you feel like for the first time in a long time you can find a moment of peace? Do you feel like these people you’ve been in recovery with are as close to you as any people you’ve ever met? Do you feel like, for the first time in your life, you can actually open up to another person?’. Undoubtedly people in recovery answer ‘yes’.

And Mike Schiks will tell you that’s hope—and he’ll tell you it can be found at Project Turnabout.
“Recovering alcoholics and addicts say that they are grateful and I know most people won’t understand this, but they’re grateful because now they are experiencing life at a new level of participation...That’s what recovery is about. It’s about freedom and we just crack that doorway of hope.” Says Schiks.

In that moment of realization when hope’s rays glow, emanating from that cracked doorway, everyday visions—taken by most for granted—inspire true and wonderous awe.
As Wacha says, “The miracle of recovery resembles the miracle of Christmas. Here we see those little miracles everyday.”

Such was the case of one recovering addict in a place not unlike Turnabout as he peered from his window and noticed a Cardinal outside. “It’s been 25 years since I’ve watched a bird...They’re beautiful.”

That man had missed it—had missed a life—and in life there is no rewind, no pause. Though sometimes in our delusion we believe there is. As if when we end a cycle of pain—enter into innocently—we will somehow be able to start our lives again from where we left off.
“You know how you get a recovering addict to cry?” asks Schiks with a knowing twinkle in his eye before he grows deathly serious and lowers his voice to a warm sweet whisper. “You tell them they are worth it...You’re worth it...You are worth it.”

If you are a person who would like to seek help, know someone who could or would like to volunteer in anyway you can call Project Turnabout Addiction Recovery Centers at 1(800) 862-1453 or for more information you can go to