For addicts, holidays are tough, but sense of community can help

Addicts trying to make it through the holidays are advised to ditch self-pity and reach out.
"Be of service, be compassionate and don't wallow in your own stuff," says Gale Standen, founder of V3Tucson, a for-profit residential treatment center for young people affected by drugs and alcohol. Her clients range in age from 17 to 25.
Standen knows firsthand of what she speaks. A recovering alcoholic, she says she's been clean for 30 years.

"It takes no money to be kind and compassionate, to reach out and speak kindly," she said. "The best of life is when we're in a place of giving and being of service. Then we can have a lot of fun. We can interact with each other."
And while many addicts are finding support at the SOBER Project, a Baptist congregation in Midtown, religion is not the only way for an addict to recover, said W. Mark Clark, president and chief executive officer of the local CODAC Behavioral Health Services.
"There are a lot of pathways to recovery," Clark said. "The traditional 12-step approach is definitely oriented toward folks turning their lives over to their higher power. There are some folks for whom that doesn't work. There's a whole other self-help program called Smart Recovery, and that is not 12-step-oriented."

For most people, finding a supportive community is a key step to recovery, Clark said.
Tucsonan Roxanne Gaul remembers bleak Christmases during her nine-year addiction to crystal methamphetamine. Her son, now 20, wasn't even a part of her life back then. She was too focused on drugs.

"The saying was, 'Let's go have a white Christmas.' It meant let's go get dope," said Gaul, 40. "It was hard to find drugs on Christmas. The dealers were sleeping because they were depressed, and it was very lonely, sad and depressing. It made you want to use more.
"Sometimes if I couldn't get any meth, I would drink."

She stayed away from the local Winterhaven festival of lights because people seemed too happy. She didn't go shopping because there was no one to buy presents for.
Gaul says she has been sober for seven years now. She works at The Haven, a non-profit group that works with women and their children as they recover from addiction.
"The things that saved me early on were Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. During the holidays they have Alcathons — we'd have meetings all day long. It was like a big, huge potluck. It was a warm, welcoming place to be," she said.

As Standen and Clark expressed, Gaul says being part of a community and doing things for other people are crucial to staying sober. At Thanksgiving, Gaul and her son cooked a big dinner for all the residents at The Haven.
"Keep busy. Don't isolate yourself," Gaul said. "There are hot-line phone numbers for every addiction you can think of. Some families aren't sober, so if that's the case, take support with you to the event. It's tougher to go alone. Let people know about your addiction, and they can help you."

Standen makes sure her clients are out in the community, whether it's volunteering at Ronald McDonald House, picking up hammers for Habitat for Humanity or teaching tennis to children with disabilities.
What many addicts have trouble acknowledging is the self-centeredness that often goes along with their disease, said Standen, who says taking responsibility is a key step.
"If I act a certain way and say it's because my father beat me, then nothing changes," she said. "But if I say I behaved that way because it's a choice, then I can go to a meeting and talk about it and get perspective. The first principle of success is the principle of honesty. You have to have that insight."

● Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or