How To Survive The Holidays – Part 2 (Black Friday & Christmas shopping Edition)

How To Survive The Holidays – Part 2 (Black Friday & Christmas shopping Edition)

We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

A few years ago on a festive Thanksgiving night, after enjoying several warm espresso drinks each, much of my family found ourselves up and still wide awake around midnight.  Most of us had never been to a “Black Friday” event, so we decided to pile in a couple of SUVs and drive around until we found a store we all liked and join the all night experience. 

The things we saw, heard and experienced would make a nun beat someone down.  Christmas shopping, “Black Friday” and in reality the holiday season in general seems to bring the “crazy” out in an inordinate amount of people. 

Here is a fact for all of us.  “SOME IDIOTS CANNOT BE AVOIDED!”  There are idiots in this world and at certain times even the nicest of people will act like idiots.  Many of us in recovery focus on how other people are idiots and use that as justification for doing things that set in motion chains of self-destructive events.

For those of us in recovery there is a rule that goes with that fact:  “IF OTHERS ARE IDIOTS WE CANNOT LET IT BE CONTAGIOUS!”   We do not have the luxury of catching the stupidity of others as if it were a cold as if somehow because the coughed “stupid” all over us we have to let the “stupid” virus run it’s course in our lives.

We avoid retaliation or argument.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

I am not trying to say that there will never be conflict in your life, but I am saying that those of us in recovery have to do everything in our power to avoid retaliation and arguments.  When someone does something that offends us, our argument or retaliation can often be the entire sacrifice of our world, life and possibly recovery just to get even with someone who probably doesn’t care anyway.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 66)

What does it mean to be free?   Does that mean you will never again experience the feeling of anger?  Of course not!  What it means is that when the feeling of anger or associated feelings come up they no longer dictate how you think, act or even feel.   Angry situations are not our problem, how we react to those situations is our problem. 

Retaliation and argument are not the solution for us, but what about people who do nothing and just keep their angry feelings to themselves.  The hidden feelings which we often act like they do not exist are called resentments.

It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.   (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 66)

The point is that holding resentment secretly devours your emotions, your mental state, and your life and shuts you off from everything that not only allows you to be happy, but also from everything that will keep you sober. 

So basically in our discussion we have ruled out angrily responding to other people’s crazy and we have ruled out doing nothing.  For many of us those are the only two options and if that is the case what we have discussed so far seems completely impossible.  After all, if those are the only two options and we have made a case for why both options will utterly destroy your entire world then there is no hope.

The problem is that these are not the only two options.  The problem we have is not one of how we respond.  The problem is why we respond the way we do.  So let’s just jump right in:

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Again the problem is not how you react, it is why you are reacting the way you do!  In many cases it is all about a feeling of “How dare this person do _______ to me!”  As if you were the Queen of England or the Crown Prince or something.  Here is a newsflash for all of us in recovery: 

THE WORLD WAS NOT PUT HERE TO KEEP YOU COMFORTABLE.  THERE WILL BE TIMES WHEN YOU ARE TERRIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE.  THE CHANGES YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR SOBRIETY HAVE TO WORK WHEN LIFE IS UNCOMFORTABLE OR THEY DO NOT WORK AT ALL!

We are all people.  We all have good and bad days.  We all get caught in the heat of the moment and do stupid things.  Part of our recovery (particularly Steps Eight and Nine) are focused on going to people we have hurt or adversely affected with our actions in the past to repair the damage.  The hope is that they will see that the person that hurt them is not who we really are deep inside regardless of if that was just a bad moment or if that was who we were and we are changing now. 

How can we expect others to give us the same benefit of the doubt if we cannot give the same benefit of the doubt to others?  When I judge the world completely on how I feel (especially in the heat of the moment) I am declaring myself God and ruler of the universe.  After all, the whole world is measured by how good or bad something makes me feel.  I have decided the whole world must bow down to my decisions on what is good or bad as dictated by my feelings at the moment.  Is that not one of the highest levels of selfishness imaginable? 

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!   (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This is the crazy that makes us unable to play well with others.  We have to learn to think of what is going to be helpful to the other person.

Let’s say I’m on the freeway on my way to go shopping and I am minding my own business when suddenly this car rocketing down the freeway speeds into my lane leaving only a fraction of an inch between our bumpers never once even considering the use of a turn signal.  Now, I get to the store I was going to and here is the guy that just cut me off hurriedly walking into the same store and he suddenly falls down dropping a handful of stuff.

I could cuss him out, I could punch him in the nose,  I could call him all manner of evil things under my breath and wish I had punched him in the nose as I walk away or I could calmly smirk and think to myself “That’s what he gets.”  Or I could calmly say something like hey you should slow down a bit as I help him out.  Then maybe mention that he cut me off earlier.  The truth is that even the last response could be good or bad.  Because remember it is not how you respond, it is why you are responding the way you are.

If the only goal is to make sure that he knows that he offended you then it is again all about you.  This is a person who is incredibly hurried and may or may not have had a reason for that.  Most of us have been late for something or just having a terrible day and have cut someone off.   Some of us have heard the words, “If you are late one more time you’ll be fired!”  Has it ever occurred to you that this person might be in the middle of some major crisis and didn’t mean to offend you specifically?  What could someone do for you when you are in a crisis and find yourself offending people that  you don’t even notice that you offended?

So, if you walk over to the guy and help him just so you can have an easy opportunity to tell him what a jerk he is (just politely) you are still being crazy.  You are just being crazy with a smile. 

If you walk over to help, because you realize that this person might legitimately going through something and you try to offer the help you would want in the same situation you have learned to think of someone else other than yourself.  Should something be stated about the fact that the person cut you off?  I believe yes.  But, with the mindset I am describing it would be a bit into the conversation and I think it would be more of a part of the planting of a seed to help the person know what things to change in his life than just pressure to apologize or to feel bad.

I understand that for some reading this sounds weak, soft, or ridiculous.  The truth is, this is what it is to be unselfish and not self-centered.   The crazy people shopping at the holidays are in a shopping frenzy.  If you cannot yet handle being offended without some terrible emotion or action arising then you simply can’t go.  I guess you are going to have to shop on Cyber Monday instead of on Black Friday. 

As for family and friends on the holidays, not only should you consider what they are going through that might be making them act however they act, you should consider what you might have done to them in the past that they are still hurt over or angry over.  Just because you are trying to go through recovery does not mean that everyone around magically forgets the hurts and anger you have caused in the past.

Also, I think it is important to note that just because you chose to have the right mindset and take the right actions that does not mean that the other person is going to respond correctly.  The guy that cut you off then dropped his stuff in front of the store might cuss you out when you come over to help him.  You still have to keep your unselfish stand and hopefully when that person is working his Eighth and Ninth Steps you’ll come up as a person he cannot find to make amends to that deserves one.  Remember, that person may still be sick and just because that person is sick, does not meant that you have to get sucked into being sick with him or her.

This is what is meant by taking a “kindly and tolerant view” of everyone around you.  This is one of the major keys to surviving the holidays. 

We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

Recovery: More Than Information and Memories

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Recovery:  More Than Information and Memories

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 35)

Why do those of us that truly want to quit relapse?  We say and believe we want to stop, we do things to stop, yet in a moment we go back.  I suppose that no single reason will cover why everyone who relapses goes back, but let’s look at one that many of us have experienced yet may not have been able to explain to others or even to ourselves.

Listen to how this man describes it looking back on a relapse:

“As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come – I would drink again. They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 41-42)

Here is the issue that this man is describing.  This man did what many of us do in
recovery.  He had listened to lots of “stuff” about recovery and what is needed, but had taken all he had learned and converted to his own recovery plan.  Let’s look back a page before I explain what that recovery plan was.

He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 40)

The plan that he had converted all of the recovery “stuff” he learned into was thinking.  If he felt any urge to use (no matter how tremendous the urge) he was going to force himself to remember how humiliating all of this was and think about some recovery facts and that would stop him cold. 

I don’t know how many of us remember the movie “The Blues Brothers,” bet there was a basic theme to the movie:  They were on a “mission from God” and to fulfill this mission they did all kinds of crazy things that didn’t even make any sense to them to achieve this mission.  I am telling you this because in the 80’s and 90’s the term “on a mission” jokingly became the terminology used for a person who had one of those periods of time where he or she could think of nothing else but using and would do crazy things to get alcohol or drugs.  In the 2000’s the common term is a “run.”  No matter what you call it, these terms describe periods of time where all you can think about is getting whatever you are addicted to and use it. 

Those of us that have had this experience know that once you get into that mindset, it is rare that you will think about anything else but getting and using your drug of choice.  This man and the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book describe those times as “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”

The term “Blank Spot” is misleading as many take it to mean that one does no thinking at all.  In fact, the truth is that a better description is that the focus on getting and using is so strong that any other thoughts are easily ignored and forgotten.

Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 24)

The mind is not in fact blank; the focus on using is so strong that everything else is completely ignored.  The point is, that if you convert all of the recovery “stuff” you learn to information and memories that you plan to force yourself to remember at the moment you feel like you are going to use, what are you going to do in those “Strange Mental Blank Spots?”  Those times when your focus on using is so strong that you cannot even consider other thoughts that come up.

I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew
then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42)

Will power and self knowledge do work in many situations, but not in those “strange Mental Blank Spots” (Not when you are “on a mission”).  That is why so many of us are fooled:  The knowledge and memories can be forced into our minds at many times that we are thinking about using and can in fact stop us from using.  Not every time that we think about using is a “Strange Mental Blank Spot.”  The fact that fording ourselves to think works a lot of the time for some of us makes us assume that it works all f the time.

Like this man, when we are down and out and getting educated about recovery, we assume that the added information is what was needed and that the information we had before was simply not strong enough.  The problem is that if you are in a “Strange Mental Blank Spot” the information will never be strong enough. 

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42)

To put it bluntly:

INFORMATION AND MEMORIES WILL NOT KEEP YOU
SOBER!!!!!

There is a much deeper change that must take place and the information and memories are just two of the tools that can be used to get you in the direction of that change.  More information and memories however, are not the totality of this change.

The idea that you can use more knowledge and memories to stop yourself from using is an absolute failure in working Step 1.  If you are admitting you are powerless what makes you think you can force yourself to think about certain things at certain times when you are the most powerless. 

I am not saying to just give up and resign yourself to the fact your powerless so you can go and use.  I am saying that you need to look at recovery as far more than just getting more information to force yourself to think and look for something far deeper.