It is an opportunity to celebrate with those who, through one path or another, have survived the disease of addiction. One well-known path is a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Al-Anon, where groups of peers support each other through meetings, fellowship, and “working the steps.”
Regardless of their path, many in recovery use the arts, writing, poetry, and photography as expressions of healing. I know I did!
This poem (or set of poems) came from pondering the 12 steps.
It is a “Haiku Cycle.” I was drawn to the simplicity of envisioning each step as a short description of nature as the life of recovery moves through all of the four seasons.
Let’s be honest: 2021 was not a year that most of us will look back on with a wistful sigh of nostalgia. I’ve heard words like stressful, overwhelming, awful, endless, depressing, and devastating. And, if the Facebook newsfeed is any indicator, many of us have turned to an extra glass of wine or bottle of beer to calm our frayed nerves.
“Dry January” offers an option to hit the reset button on our health or even on habits that might have snuck up on us. This annual observance has risen in popularity since its start in Great Britain about eight years ago.
This year, approximately 15 percent of the United States population will choose to not consume any alcoholic beverages for the entire month. That’s on top of the nearly one-third who already are teetotalers for one reason or another. I realize that we are already a couple of days into January, but it’s not too late to get started.
The Christmas season is officially here, which means holiday music, gathering with family, opening gifts, and waiting for Santa Claus.
But there is nothing that screams holiday spirit more than what the Leatherstocking Education on Alcoholism/Addictions Foundation (LEAF) is doing to draw attention to the great light displays local residents proudly show off in Otsego County.
And it’s all for a good cause: LEAF created the ‘Great Otsego Holiday Light Trail” three years ago as a safe way to promote sober driving.
Deck the halls! Light the candles! Hang the lights! Prepare the feast! And then wait with excited anticipation of family and friends coming over to share the celebrations of the season.
Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or a blend of traditions, the hopes for joy and peace are high in the hearts of most.
Then, for some of us, there are the thoughts of “that” guest or “that” situation everyone knows can turn delight into disappointment. We hope it will be different this year, and sometimes it is. For the most part, though, the disruption is fairly predictable. This is a real circumstance that many families deal with year after year.
How do you break that cycle? Can anything be done to increase the chances of a peaceful, happy gathering?
Gratefully, there are ways to disrupt a disruptive pattern. Because it is so common, a lot has been written on it. You can find lots of suggestions beyond the ones listed here. Generally, within families, a few themes can set off uncomfortable interactions. You probably know what they are: discussions of controversial topics, intoxication, and old family disputes.
Knowing that, here are a few strategies that you can try. They take a little planning, you will need to be vigilant for signs of trouble, and you will likely need some allies.
But remember, the goal is a joyful, fulfilling gathering.
1) In an upbeat way, create a family agreement about non-festive topics and turn it into a game. Before the gathering, make a “swear jar” (or a Krampus jar?) and list the non-festive topics like politics, religion, vaccines, social issues, etc. You may want to pre-arrange to have a few allies who will quickly agree to the game. And when someone brings up a topic on the list, they get to put a dollar (or a quarter) into the jar and come up with a new topic. It can be fun if everyone buys in and quickly catches someone veering off into controversial territory. At the end of the gathering, draw a name for who gets the contents of the swear jar.
2) If you plan to serve alcohol, do so in limited quantities. For some people, alcohol consumption results in a relaxed, jovial response. For others, it can result in a more emotional, agitated, or aggressive
response. So, put away the alcohol in the house to limit access and make delicious low-alcohol punches or festive drinks. Be sure to include alcohol-free options as well. Actually, serving no alcohol at a gathering is perfectly okay. No need to explain yourself — it’s your party. You’re allowed to serve what you wish.
3) Have a strategy in place for heading off a conversation that might be drifting into the red zone. Announce that you are honoring the spirit of giving and that you have some surprises for the gathering that will be handed out at unexpected times. Have small grab-bag gifts for guests and at random times (or when the mood starts to shift), have one of the kids pull a name from a basket for who gets to pick the next gift. Be creative. Sometimes even small redirection strategies can help stop an uncomfortable situation before it starts. They’re also fun.
These are not the last word in ways to keep spirits bright. They are just a few suggestions to start new traditions and slightly change the dynamics of potentially explosive situations. Taking a bit of our control back in what has felt like an out-of-control situation is a major step forward.
May your holidays be merry and filled with peace.
Julie Dostal is executive director of The LEAF Council on Alcoholism & Addictions, Oneonta.
In a world that seems full of bad news, scary headlines, and social media battles, who couldn’t use a little uplift? I know I certainly could and was delighted when I was given some good news I could share! And just where did the information come from? Our youth told us.
At the end of the last school year, 948 students nationwide responded to the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. They let us know how they were doing in relation to certain behaviors, how they were feeling, as well as indicating which risk factors and protective factors were present in their lives. About half reported their sex as female and half reported their sex as male and there was a fairly even split between ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. We have been asking the same questions of high school students in Otsego County since 1997, which gives us good perspective on trends.
Prevention is a common word in our culture. We use it in a variety of contexts, such as prevent heart disease, prevent bug bites, or prevent kitchen fires. It’s good that it is common, because, at the root, prevention simply means, “to stop a problem before it ever starts.” That’s the work we do at the LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addictions. It is at the heart and soul of our connection to the people of Otsego and Chenango Counties.
HISTORY PROGRAM – 7 p.m. “History Preserved in Quilts” with Aernecke Aitchison. Free webinar, pre-registration required. Presented by Sharon Historical Society. Call 518-860-5513 or visit www.sharonhistoricalsocietyny.org to register.
WELLNESS CHALLENGE – Ongoing. Start the Spring right. Each week Leaf will issue 3 challenges to Do, Visit, or Find to get you out of the house. Snap a selfie, or a groupie and post it to their page to share the fun. Enter to win chance to win gift cards to local businesses. Complete 2 challenges each week for chance to win a bonus prize of a $75 gift card. Continues through 4/20. Presented by LEAF. 607-432-0090 or visit www.facebook.com/SpringWellnessChallenge/
OTSEGO OCTET – Feb.1 – Apr. 30. Explore local trails at the state parks, forests, and land trust sites. Once you’ve completed 8 of the 12 trails send in a form & $5 to receive the Otsego Octet Patch. Participants are encouraged to post pictures. Visit otsegooutdoors.org/our-challenge/ for info.
HISTORY PROGRAM – 7 p.m. “Ghost Towns of the Wild West: Madams, Miners, and Gunslingers” with Julien McRoberts. Free webinar, pre-registration required. Presented by Sharon Historical Society. Call 518-860-5513 or visit www.sharonhistoricalsocietyny.org to register.
VIRTUAL TOUR – 2 p.m. Zoom meeting featuring walk through of exhibit ‘Highlights of American Folk Art’ with manager of arts education Kevin Gray. Free, registration required. Suggested donation $5. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown. 607-547-1400 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org
BASEBALL – Noon. Virtual Voices of the Game to honor Hall of Fame 2020 inductee Larry Walker, the second Canadian to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Will also feature Fergie Jenkins, the first Canadian inductee, to discuss playing ball in Canada and earning their place in Cooperstown. Visit baseballhall.org/events/virtual-legends-of-the-game-Larry-Walker?date=0 for details.
VIRTUAL THEATER – 7 p.m. New production of Shakespeare’s ‘Loves Labors Lost’ to stream live featuring ensemble of 17 actors from around the country. Loves Labors tells the story of the court of King Navarre as they swear off women to focus on their studies, only for a French Princess to arrive for a state visit, prompting all of them to fall in love with her. Presented by the Glimmer Globe Theater at The Fenimore Art Museum. Visit www.facebook.com/fenimoreartmuseum/ for info.
SCIENCE TRIVIA – 7 – 9 p.m. Test your knowledge of birds, anthropology, more with your friends or play solo with the A. J. Read Science Discovery Center. Registration required. Visit www.facebook.com/AJReadSDC/ for info.
MUSEUMS OPEN – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Farmers’ Museum & Fenimore Art Museum plan opening for holiday weekend featuring safety precautions, limited admission. Farmers’ Museum, Fenimore Art Museum, St. Rt. 80, Cooperstown. 607-547-1450 or visit www.farmersmuseum.org/reopen2020/
This is not your parents’ weed. Information and data from states that have legalized marijuana should give New Yorkers reason to pump the brakes on taxed, regulated recreational use. Legalization of the 2020 version of cannabis is not about consenting adults discretely smoking a joint in the privacy of their home.
It is about an industry-driven, full-on commercialization with pot shops, pot advertisements, pot sponsorships, and pot fundraisers. All of these to sell pot brownies, gummies, cookies, vapes, sodas, infused wines, distillates, concentrates, ointments, and vapes. If we legalize cannabis for recreational use, prepare to be inundated with highly concentrated cannabis products that do not remotely resemble the weed most readers might remember.
We as a community need to view legalization with eyes wide open. This is about a billion dollar industry whose primary concern is NOT your health or the health of your children. It is about dollar signs in an untapped market. There are multiple promises that the industry and its advocates have touted related to the commercialization of the drug. The public should know that nearly all of the industry’s public health promises have been disproven in the states that have legalized recreational use.
Promise: Youth use rates will go down
Reality: Youth rates of cannabis use are increasing
Promise: The black market will disappear
Reality: Black markets are thriving in legal states by selling street pot cheaper than taxed pot
Promise: Social justice issues will be resolved and fewer minorities will be arrested
Reality: Arrest rates for minorities are disproportionate in legal states and increasing
Promise: The cannabis supply will be safer
Reality: Commercialized cannabis, up to 99.9 percent THC, is a drug with far more harms than the 5 percent THC version of pre-legalization
Promise: Legal marijuana will make people safer
Reality: Marijuana-related traffic fatalities have increased significantly in legal states
Promise: People cannot become addicted to marijuana
Reality: Cannabis Use Disorder (Addiction) is an actual diagnosis
Promise: Legalized marijuana will reduce death from opioid overdose
Reality: This early assumption was disproven by a 2019 study.
Revenue projections are also not as promised. None of the NY tax-bonanza predictions include the costs associated with police for increased traffic enforcement, hospitals for increased emergency room visits, government departments for increased oversight, poison control for increase calls for pediatric consumption, businesses for diminished job performance, or mental health for increased incidences of psychosis (all of these have occurred in legal states). Those are not costs that will be borne by the billion dollar cannabis industry. Those are costs that will land on tax payers. In Colorado, tax payers spent $4 to mitigate the cannabis-related harm for every $1 gained in tax revenue. But, those numbers don’t make national news.
Let’s pump the brakes, New York. Our youth, our health, our traffic safety and our mental health are far more important than a questionable revenue stream. We did the right thing last year with decriminalization. The next step does not have to be opening the doors to a billion dollar industry whose entire job is to make stockholders happy. Commercialization does not have to be inevitable.
Julie Dostal is executive director of The LEAF Council on Alcoholism & Addictions, Oneonta.