How To Survive The Holidays – Part 1

How To Survive The Holidays – Part 1Toilet Paper Trap

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

The holidays are a time of celebration, of receiving and giving, of family gatherings and when friends get together to celebrate.  For those of us in recovery there are any number of challenges that arise from all of this.  Some of us associate all of these things with using and get a strong urge to use.  Some of us get so angry or hurt by what we get as gifts or don’t get as gifts that we cannot function well.  Some of us do not have the heart or mind for the giving part, while others of us give for the wrong reasons and end up frustrated.  Some of us have a strong urge to relapse at the mere thought of family gatherings for all sorts of different reasons.  For some of us gathering with friends is a recipe for relapse and others of us are depressed by the idea because we do not perceive ourselves to have any friends to gather with.  Some of us just simply hate the “holiday season” altogether or find ourselves depressed for no apparent reason during this time of year.   A few will find ourselves enjoying the holidays only to find that all of a sudden we cannot handle the feeling of enjoying ourselves and will have the urge to self-destruct our own enjoyment.   The way we tend to see things seems to be amplified this time of year and may seem like an inevitable train wreck waiting to happen.

The temptation is to focus on the negatives and sink into some kind of pity-party or try to act like the thoughts and feelings don’t exist.  As far as focusing on the negatives, we know that many of us that have been alcoholics or addicts can’t seem to be able to stop ourselves from seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full.  The truth is that realizing that the half empty glass is also half full is a good start, but is not enough.  For us there needs to be action to fill the glass the rest of the way also. Changing how we see things is good, but changing the parts of the situations that we control (ourselves) is better.

One of the simplest ways to begin to work through the holiday season before it overtakes you is to focus on Step 10 all day every day starting right now.

  1. Carefully watch yourself for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.
  2. When you notice any of these stop yourself; take a moment and ask God to remove whatever it is.
  3. Have mentors, sponsors, or wise persons of some kind that you can talk to regularly ready for your call, email or visit.  Whenever you feel one of these come up talk to one or more of them about it as soon as possible.
  4. If you did something that was wrong to someone else in that situation (even if that person did a whole lot more to you before you did anything and you feel he or she deserves what you did) you must make amends quickly.  Don’t let their crazy become your relapse because you are determined to prove some point (that would in reality be your crazy)
  5. Have somebody or a couple of people you are helping through recovery (sponsoring) during the holiday season.  You need to be the mentor, sponsor, or wise person of some kind that someone else can talk to regularly ready for your call, email or visit as well as working that person through the steps through the holiday season.
  6. When you perceive that someone else or some group of “someone elses” is throwing crazy into your world remember that love and tolerance is our code.  That means to respond lovingly and be as tolerant as is humanly possible of whatever it is that is going on.  Remember that other people’s crazy does not have to be contagious.  If they are in fact acting crazy, that is their sickness, if you get sucked in and start acting crazy also their sickness has spread like some plague to you with the potential of wreaking havoc in your world and possibly even causing your death.

A huge point to take away from all of this is that you have to start responding to the problem before it starts to build up.  Plan these things and make sure the people described are in place now.  Intentionally start living this way daily for the whole day so as the holiday season kicks into full gear you will already have the habit of living this way. 

…we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Change your mindset about all of the things listed from some things you do or from a Step you have to do or finish and begin to think of these things as a “way of living”.  You have to be so in the habit of thinking and acting in these ways that they simply become who you are and what you do.  These not only become how you think, but these things become the reasons behind why you think what you think.  You have to progress from:

  1. Have to – You do these things because you are told to in recovery and you realize you have no other good choice
  2. Want to – You do these things because you have done them for a while and you have started to feel good when you do them and to be able to handle hard to handle situations.  Doing them begins to be associated with feeling good.
  3. Is you – There is no longer any thought that goes into doing these things.  You have done these things so consistently and for so long that they are as natural as breathing.  These things kinda just happen (even if you don’t feel like it)

Also, take a second to ponder the word “vigorously” used in the previous passage.  In that “have to” phase (when you first start trying to develop these habits) these things seem time consuming, like a lot of work and possibly silly to some of us.  It will seem like really hard work to many of us at first to do these things.  You are going to have to “vigorously” push yourself to do these things in spite of how you feel.  Keep in mind that our feelings are important, but are often not the best guides for our lives.  Just because you suddenly feel like using or like punching someone in the face, that does not mean you should.  Just because you don’t feel like doing some of the proven recovery stuff doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either.

In the words of some excellent tennis shoe marketers:  “Just do it!”

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Grow this way of living.  Why?  Here is one person’s answer:

I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 4243)

Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 77)

Dealing with “the past.”  On hearing these words or pondering this concept many people immediately find resistance rise up from deep within themselves.

“Why do we have to talk about things that happened a long time ago?”

“I don’t think about those things, why bring them back up?” 

“The past is not my problem; it’s the stuff going on now?”

..and on and on.

These kinds of thoughts and statements are common for those of us trying to get through recovery, but simply are another part of the problem that must be solved. 

To start simply:  If your “past” affects the way you act, interact with others, think etc. in the present then it is not really your past.  It is your present! 

You do not have to be in constant conscious thought about things from your past for these things to have a profound effect on your present.  Something like an abusive first relationship can change the way you see the opposite sex, dating, relationships, marriage, and yourself even if you refuse to let yourself have any thoughts about that person or that relationship.  Another example could be growing in a terribly abusive home with abusive parents.  A person might refuse to spend any time pondering his or her childhood or parents but is completely misled if he or she thinks those things do not have a major influence on how he or she interacts with others.  Every relationship and interaction this person has will have some influence from this sort of childhood and it is foolish to deal with major problems in this person’s life and not touch on the the root reasons behind the thoughts and behaviors.

On the other hand, camping out in the past is not a solution either.  There is far more to recovery and in fact growth of any kind than just looking at the past, but to not deal with these things is to leave a huge hole in any recovery through which “crazy” can creep into our lives through.

The passage we are talking about here is not only talking about looking at the past, it describes doing everything that is humanly possible to fix these things.  Step 4 is where we look at the more destructive things from our past (particularly those we prefer not to think about or deal with).  Step five is where someone else helps us to take a deeper look at these things and admit the truth behind my problems in these situations.

Steps 8 and 9 are where we not only deal with these things from the standpoint of what is going on inside of each of us, bet we actually go to the people involved and undo our part in all of this.

For some hearing this or reading this the idea is unfathomable.  How are you expected to take the craziness of the people that hurt you the most and turn it into your problem and go try to fix it?  That is a valid concern if we were talking about taking someone else’s crazy and simply converting it into something to blame yourself for and running back to them crying about how sorry you are.  That however, is not what we are talking about here.

Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

I don’t want to travel to far into too many of the Steps as it would take us down way too many “rabbit trails” but, our recovery is about fixing the “us” not the “them.”  Your recovery is about fixing “you” not about fixing everybody else so you can finally stay sober.

In other words, if your idea of a Fourth Step is writing a list of what is wrong with a bunch of other people and your idea of a Fifth Step is to take some time to talk to someone else about what is wrong with a bunch of other people, you are not working “Steps” or working in recovery.  You are simply complaining. 

The way you see these situations is a huge part of the problem and writing that mess down and vomiting it all over some other person is not a “fix” for how you see these things.

Let me slow down and break this down a bit:

Lets see that you have a huge trauma like someone you care about being shot and killed in front of you.  Acting like you can really convince yourself it never happened (“I just don’t think about it”) is an outright lie.  The idea that you can just “suck it up and deal with it” is a Band-Aid placed on a major injury.  (There is a place for this mindset but it is simply a temporary and unsustainable short-term solution to a long-term problem).

The idea that you are not going to think about this event ever again and feel some of the associated negative emotions etc. is foolish.  It will come up again and it will somehow influence your world when it does.  The challenge is not trying to get it not to come up again.  You will never be successful.  Even if you convince yourself it isn’t coming up again, you are probably just disguising it when it does come up as something else.

The truth is you have to somehow change the way you see this even when the memories or related emotions do come up again.  In other words you have to deal with and change the way you see these things so that when they do come up the effect they have on you is different.  Much of the change that has to be done in our lives is the changing of our own perspectives and perceptions.  The other activities such as the amends we make in Steps 8 and 9 are simply a test of how much we really have changed those perspectives and perceptions.  As a matter of fact if a person’s perspectives and perceptions are changed in the way we are describing here then making amends would be a logical next step and wouldn’t even need to be described as a separate step or steps.

The main points here are:

  • If you are a heavy user of drugs or alcohol then no stone of your past may remain unturned.  If you are having major problems of any kind in your life then assume there is no past as everything is potentially affecting you negatively now (in the present).
  • Other people do crazy things that are hurtful to us and that is in fact their problem.  How you see these things and if they negatively influence the way you think and act now is your problem.  As such, they are responsible for dealing with their part and you do not control that. You however, are responsible for dealing with your part (YES THAT MEANS DEALING WITH YOUR PART OF THEIR CRAZY BECAUSE THEIR CRAZY HAS SPREAD INTO YOUR CRAZY AS IF CONTAGIOUS)
  • We look at what other people do or did to us while we are in recovery not to somehow “fix” them or to simply feel better because we talked about this stuff, but to find what we need to “fix” about ourselves.
  • If you are uncomfortable with (or outright afraid of) looking at something “from the past” or resistant to seeing particular situations differently that is often an indicator that this might be one of the more important situations from your past that you need to look at and deal with.
  • Just “sucking it up” and “just dealing with it” may be a part of the process but is triage (stopping the bleeding) so you can deal with these things later.  If you stop there you are just kicking the “craziness” can down the road to come up again later.
  • You have to fix the past in the present as part of changing your future.
  • You are not to camp in the past, but you do need to go to the past and change your view and your part (or secretly you are still camped there). 

Please don’t let discomfort with dealing with your past stop your recovery!!!  I leave you with these words from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6566)

 

Wade H.