The year I couldn’t afford Christmas completely changed my approach to the holidays
In 2012, I got sober from alcohol and drugs, after being addicted for almost a decade. Even though this was my opportunity to finally be the father my son deserved, financially Sober Me was still a mess. I was able to be more present than ever for my son, but I couldn’t afford to buy just one gift for my son this sober first Christmas.
As a father, this was a huge blow to my ego. It was extremely depressing, but not only did I get out of it, it completely changed my approach to vacationing in the future.
There is a very common misconception that once you are sober everything magically improves. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Before sobriety, I had spent years destroying my life, including my finances, and it doesn’t just go away with sobriety.
During my active addiction, the only thing that interested me was how I was going to buy alcohol and drugs. Rent, bills and other financial obligations were an afterthought. During those years, I destroyed my credit, broke leases, avoided paying off payday loans, and paid high legal fees. Once I could get sober, it was all still there, waiting for me to deal with it.
I was very lucky that my own mom was able to get sober when I was 20, so when I was ready she took me to California to clean up and supported me through the process. The following summer, I returned home to Las Vegas to find my son.
I had about $ 200 in my pocket and no job. And it wasn’t long before the county sheriff’s office started calling me, asking for a hefty fine I owed for a warrant that was being canceled due to unpaid tickets I had accumulated during use. Plus, due to my terrible credit, it was even difficult to find a place to live.
I was determined to find a job and eventually found one, but it was barely above minimum wage. As the months passed and Christmas approached, the sheriff’s office kept calling me several times a week and threatened to send someone to arrest me. During those months I was saving what I could, but that fall I had to make a very difficult decision: I could either pay my arrest warrant or buy my son Christmas presents.
After much thought, I thought it was the best thing for both of us, for me to pay for this money order. But it left me without enough money to buy a single present for my son. When I told my son’s mother what to do and couldn’t afford gifts, I felt like a bad father.
I had to make a very difficult decision: I could either pay my arrest warrant or buy Christmas presents for my son.
I am extremely lucky that my son’s mother and I have been able to rebuild our relationship since I got sober and offered to put my name on some of the gifts she bought for him. Of course, it was a huge boost to my ego to let her do that, but it was one of the nicest gestures I have ever experienced. It brings tears to my eyes just remembering that she did this for me.
Yet watching my son open his Christmas presents was difficult. My inner voice kept telling me: You are not a good father. To combat this constant inner talk, I tried to practice gratitude for what my son’s mother had done for me. But above all, I tried to convince myself that it was only temporary.
I promised myself and my son to make a difference. I was able to get through this time just by reminding myself that it was right a One of the many Christmases I was going to be able to spend with my son now that I was sober.
Something I have learned is that no matter how much we try to plan, life is going to unfold in a way that we never expect. One year, you might have a major repair to do to your house or car right before the holidays, or you might even lose your job. Situations like these can happen to any of us, but we are often so afraid of looking like a bad parent that we can sink into depression or get into debt instead of looking at the big picture.
Today, I have been sober for over nine years and have been financially stable for a while now, thanks to hard work and savings, but I still know anything can happen. Through this experience, I also realized that my son’s love or respect for me doesn’t depend on what I can buy him for Christmas. And that’s because his mom and I raised him to not value things over relationships with the people he loves.
Today I look around and see parents who are financially stable but are so stressed about what to buy their children that they are making terrible decisions with their money. And when I see this, I am doubly grateful for my own experience of struggling to get sober, to stop being broke and to build a better life for myself and my son, because it has given me immense gratitude and immense perspective.
When we can take a step back and recognize what holidays are like really by the way, we can stop judging ourselves so harshly as parents. Because one thing you should never measure your parenting skills on is what you can buy for your child. You are much more than that.