Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

‘Tis the season… AGAIN.  My expectations of the holidays this year were really high. (Uh oh.)  I confess that I  gazed with longing at the Christmas crud stashed in our garage when I was doing some summer cleaning in June.  Not even kidding.  Visions of sugar plums?  You betcha.

But, it’s all come to a flaming, fizzling heap:  picture Clark Griswold’s immolated Christmas Imagetree, only not so funny.  My alcoholic brother–who says he’s not an alcoholic–has been drying out at our mother’s since September like a fig that got left out of the pudding.  After a year and half of his erratic behavior (note the euphemism), my partner and I let him know that, without his acknowledgment of the disease and an effort to be honest about what it’s doing to him and to our family, we just can’t move forward with a relationship.  Now, dear ma-mah has determined that it’s not really his alcoholism that’s causing all his problems (it’s his Type 1 diabetes, says she), and all this squabbling between siblings is BEYOND inconvenient at the holidays.  The villain in this piece is me, by the way.

In addition to playing Grinch in the extended family’s Christmas pageant, I get to play Bob Cratchit at home with partner and kids.  A lampoon.eddiecontract I’d been depending on to pay for Christmas didn’t come through, and now there is LITERALLY no money for presents.  Maybe less like Mr. Cratchit, then, and more like the aforementioned Mr. Griswold.  Oh if ONLY I had a redneck cousin Eddie who could kidnap the nefarious spoiler of my generous plans to lavish gifts upon my family!

 

Leave it to this ungrateful alcoholic to think she’s the only girl in Santa’s lap.

It’s my expectations, of course, ruining the season.  Not my mother or brother or even the faceless bureaucrat who canceled my contract work.  The problems I have today would seem unfathomably simple to the woman who started this blog two years ago.  It is as if, now that I have a tiny bit of sobriety under my belt, I feel I’m “entitled” to expectations–that all that stuff about not having any, or having very few, is for people who don’t have anything at all (like I was, two years ago). But now, look at me!  Good job, repaired relationships, a foundation in recovery…. Surely an expectation or three at CHRISTMAS is acceptable?  It’s Christmas for Christ’s sake!

As it turns out… this not having expectations thing applies to me too.  And the rule doesn’t Imagetake a holiday break.  So, the only thing left to do is the NEXT RIGHT THING.

And here are a few of Next Right Things…. (You can sing it…)

1.  Be grateful for my ridiculously blessed first world problems.

2.  Remember that my best memories of the holidays were squinting at the tree and waking up cold in the morning and playing croquet in the snow–not of the presents or the perfect dinner or even the fact that everyone got along.

3.  Stick out an olive branch to my brother.  Apparently, he went to a meeting.  It’s not up to me to judge what that means, but it is up to me to say that if he’s willing, lines of communication are open.

4.  Go help my aunt, who lost her husband last month, clean out her house.  Now that the contract is in the waste can, I have TIME to do more of the next right things… write cards…spend more time with my partner and kids.  Sometimes I hide behind work.  Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.

The moral of this Christmas play?

Expectatiions.  Duh. 

The challenges of second year sobriety have been getting in the way of my blogging–not exactly.  One finds one has less to say, somehow–or not the right to say it.  But here I am, to talk about some of it.  And here it is.  The real wallop so far of my  second year experience is the roller coaster, as an acquaintance of mine put it. An emotional one, with highs almost as dizzying as the lows.

Another recovery friend, who volunteered some advice to second year recoverers, said to me, “beware of pink clouds and complacency.”  I really had no idea what he meant, because I hadn’t had a good pink cloud moment since my first three months of sobriety, and I didn’t feel especially complacent.  The pink cloud, by the way, refers to that feeling of beyond-well-being that we can get in recovery.  On the pink cloud, the world is one with me and I with it, and all is ridiculously perfect.

He was right, though.  Around November, I started to get into this emotional pattern of having a day or two of pink-cloudiness.  My children seem like heaven-sent scions of the world’s goodness; my partner the most beautiful, most exciting, most thoroughly perfect companion since Heloise or Elizabeth Barrett; my life the fine tip of an inverted pyramid of serendipity–all negatives and positives leading inevitably and felicitously to this one, nonpareil moment.  Pretty sure Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus is singing in the background somewhere.  This sounds fantastic, and it is, except that after two days of this, I begin the equally inevitable plummet.

After a day or so of irritability and resentment, I seem to begin the climb onto the cloud again.  I’m giving the 20/20 of hindsight here.  It actually went on for many weeks before I started to see the pattern, and in the meantime I’d begun to feel very frustrated and scattered, except for the brief days of cloud-climbing.  I can see now how complacency would be deadly in this situation.  I have enough recovery behind me to know I’d better not let negative thoughts slip by unanalyzed, but I have found the plummet from the great emotional height extremely challenging.

This mountainous psychological terrain has appeared during the holiday season, and its given its peculiar cast to both the highs and the lows.  The highs, I’ll leave aside, but of the lows, I think all of us might recognize–from Ebenezer Scrooge, onward.

I never ask anyone what they NEED for Christmas.  No one ever asks me, either.  You don’t get people things they NEED for Christmas–not typically–because mostly you can’t.  Those are intangibles or are material above and beyond my own means.  I’d love to give my brother a well-paying job and my best friend a work-visa so that she can stay in the country, but I don’t seem to have access to these.  And, anyway, the holidays seem built for the frivolous, the unnecessary, the “extra.”  Extra scarves and cameras that no one really needs.  Extra helpings of food at every gathering.  Extra booze, for those who can drink it.  Wants, not needs.

It’s the antithesis of recovery.  Recovery tells me that my needs are simple and almost always fulfilled.  Recovery tells me that, daily, I have way more than I could ever, genuinely “need.”  Recovery tells me that my greedy, alcoholic brain lies about this state of affairs and sees lack where there is plenty.  At last, recovery tells me that seeing the world through the lens of deprivation will lead to resentment.  Resentment will lead to relapse.

What is it that the psychopath, Hannibal Lector, teaches agent Starling in Silence of the Lambs? We learn to covet?  “We covet what we see everyday.”  Part of my day, every work day, is spent at an expensive, private school that no one in my family–past or present–could have afforded for their children.  The cars that line up for the kiddies at the bell tell the same, luxurious stories:  Infiniti and Lexus, Cadillac and BMW.  A few high-end Toyotas.  One grandmother drives her Jaguar in now and then when “volunteering.”  It’s not the easiest place in the world to feel materially satisfied, I confess.  And it pains me no end to admit that all the gratitude I feel on my high pink cloud can evaporate at the sight of some chrome or a lambskin coat.

So, the drop off my pink cloud has a particular direction–a very material one–this season.  I am acutely aware that all that separates me from these people who send their precious snowflakes to the $20,000/year school is a bank account.  I wonder if I’d have more of what they have if I hadn’t spent the last ten years inside a bottle.  I feel resentment and big, fat streaks of envy.  I go home in my five-year old, low-end Kia to my duplex (rented) and nearly seethe with irritation and jealousy.

I have worked at this place for half a year now, and until now haven’t experienced much in the way of material envy.  I don’t know if it’s my place in my recovery journey, the materialism of the season, or both, but it’s had my head in a vice for the past few weeks.  And it’s led to some cravings, which are extremely upsetting.  I cannot have the new car or expensive clothes I suddenly crave, but those well-worn neural pathways spark a bright, well-lit landing strip to the liquid oblivion I can have.  The animal reductiveness of this thinking frightens and depresses.

I really want to emphasize how blindsided I have been by all of this and how these experiences are helping me understand why so many of us relapse during the second year.  I admit I am very vulnerable at the moment, and it scares me.

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So, a week ago, I’m sitting on the floor amid wrapping paper and ribbon, watching the end of Scrooged (the Bill Murray bowdlerization of A Christmas Carol), and my  partner is crying happily at the reclamation of Frank Cross, the film’s Ebenezer.  I’m not surprised by this.  Not especially imaginative cat food commercials can make her cry.  But we begin talking about it, and she says, by way of apology,  “I don’t know why films like this make me cry.  They’re silly, but I can’t help it.”

And I found myself saying, very genuinely, “It’s because we believe those changes can happen every day.  Because they do.”  Normally, I’m more cynical than this, but I’m grateful that Shelley was right, that “speech created thought,” not the other way ’round.  Because I do believe that these Dickensian fables happen every day.  Because it happened to me and lots of other people in recovery that I know.  Okay, maybe not on Christmas between the hours of midnight and…whenever the ghost of Christmas Future leaves… and maybe there are a few more stumbles along the way.  But, in all honesty, 24 hours seems like plenty of time to have the change of heart that Scrooge experiences–to me anyway.

If we do feel disbelief at A Christmas Carol, it isn’t the supernatural elements in Dickens’ story that make it implausible to some people.  The crux of the story isn’t dreams or ghosts, it’s the capacity to change.  I think most people I know would believe in a ghost with a head like a candle before they would believe that a man set in his ways could decide to change everything about his emotional life overnight.

My favorite part of A Christmas Carol–written or performed–is Scrooge’s prayer (for what else can it be?) when he wakes to find himself spared death and with a second chance.  He says that the spirits of all three ghosts will “strive within me” and that he will “not shut out the lessons that they teach.”  I love that.  I love that he will lead a life of spiritual strife, not peace; that he will continue learning, not merely rest in knowledge handed to him supernaturally.  Dickens was no slouch:  he knew a narrative had to have closure, but  he also knew that spiritual growth was based on restlessness and openended self-debate.

As an aside, the Hebrew name, Israel, seems etymologically to have meant “fighter with God” or “God-wrestler.”  This linguistic tidbit has always energized me, somehow.

Scrooge is only a slight exaggeration of the materialistic, nonspiritual culture that we all recognize in ourselves–just as addiction is an exaggeration of the problems so many “normal” people have.  A good friend intervened for him, however.  And who would gainsay the commonality of that?  He embraces his second chance and his knew life.  Not so odd…  Scrooge is also said to have “carried the message” better than anyone else–doing for his fellows a jingly, jovial Twelfth Step throughout the non-Christmas seasons.  We know people like this.  Maybe we’re becoming them.

So there’s my Dickensian answer to my Scroogy greediness–or something of an answer.  To  keep striving with my better spirits.  It’s useless to imagine that I will be “above it all,” when every commercial on t.v. tells me that if I’m not buying happiness for myself and others, I’m not doing Christmas right.  These messages become problems when I let them enter my life unconsciously, unremarked.  I have to wrestle with them, and at this time of year, that can be an exhausting process.  Feeling envy or having cravings do not make me a failure–not debating these feelings would.

Christ said he did not come to bring peace, but the sword.  Merry Christmas, then!  There is a peace that is at the end of the struggle, however, and at this time of year, I wish it for all of us.