I always feel great relief to see January arrive after the holiday season. There are many happy and merry moments during the Christmas season, but there are times when most of us might just want to stop and get away from it all.

I like the idea of Christmas being a period of peace and goodwill but I think we all put ourselves in so many stressful situations at this time of the year. Somehow we all seem so determined to make a few days the happiest ones in the year. I think most of us would be satisfied with a quiet holiday where people can meet and just enjoy each other’s company.

I remember my Christmas experiences as happy times when I received gifts, shared my toys with family members and enjoyed mom’s home-cooked feasts. However, there were also moments when alcoholism and dysfunction clouded my memories. I have always tried to forget these moments. From a young age, I vowed that I would not follow that path of drinking and drugging. As a teenager, however, I drifted into this dysfunctional lifestyle with an ease that caught me by surprise.

In small remote First Nation communities, alcoholism and drug use is on the level of an epidemic. Many of my people struggle year-round with these addictions, but it becomes worse during the holiday season.

For one thing, the winter snowmobile routes are open to southern communities, resulting in easy delivery of alcohol and drugs. Although my home First Nation of Attawapiskat is considered a dry community, booze and drugs still make it into town.

There is such a social norm about drinking and drugging that people just grow into it. Nobody ever taught me anything in school about these addictions. I had no information when I was young. As a matter of fact alcohol is promoted on television and in the media as a normal social thing to do. At one point a young person feels that to be accepted and one of the crowd he or she must drink and drug. Many people I know had their first drink or recreational drug at Christmas or New Years. It was more or less a right of passage.

I find the holiday season is stressful because so many activities include alcohol and drugs. It is a difficult time for a recovering alcoholic or addict. It is a stressful period of the year for many reasons and that makes me feel vulnerable. I am not at all comfortable in environments where alcohol and drugs are as normal as Christmas trees and tinsel. I have to be really careful where I spend my time during the festive season. Thankfully, Ihave sober friends and family who are on the same wave length as me.

I fully understand that some people can have a drink and can even experience drugs in some moderation. I am grateful that I realize I am not one of these persons. I pass no judgment on whatever anyone else wants to do. However, I do encourage anyone who is having problems in their lives surrounding alcohol and drugs to reach out and do something about it. There is so much help available and there are so many support groups waiting to offer you a hand.

You can always look up the number for Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous in the phone book. If you are in a First Nation you can get in touch with a drug and alcohol worker as most communities have this service. If this Christmas and New Year celebrations were hell for you, then maybe it is time to try to do something about it. Here is an easy test for you to take. If you answer yes to four or more of the following questions you may have a problem with alcohol.

♦ Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
♦ Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking – stop telling you what to do?
♦ Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
♦ Have you had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year?
♦ Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
♦ Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
♦ Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
♦ Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
♦ Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don’t mean to?
♦ Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
♦ Do you have blackouts?
♦ Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?