I’ve been writing about the tough spots during the Holidays, partly because I personally find freedom by talking about what I am going through, and partly because I know others are also fragile during the holidays, more so than at other times. I have gotten some feedback about how some people don’t like it when people keep hoolding the Holidays as a hard time for us alcoholic/addicts. Their argument is that we shouldn’t be more careful at the holidays, that we should be that careful at all times. I for one think of the holidays like a potentially icy road- it might not be icy, but best to drive with extra caution in the event that you hit a patch of ice. You wouldn’t need to drive like that on a summer day, but you still have to drive mindfully no matter what. Mostly, though, I speak to the newly sober when I talk about the potential mine field the holidays can be- the first Christmas can be a difficult time.
As much as I relate to the Holidays being a tricky time, I also love the Holidays. My kids and I put up the tree right after Thanksgiving, and Christmas movies are played on rotation until the New Year. I love holiday movies and the theme of redemption best of all. Even if you don’t recognize Christmas, this is a theme that is appealing no matter what you celebrate.
For instance- Its A Wonderful Life is a classic about the power of perception. George Bailey’s life is reviewed by a bumbling angel so that he can help save him during a time of crisis. George is thinking about taking his own life, and here comes Clarence the angel to save him. When George says he wishes he had never been born, Clarence grants him his wish, and George gets the rare opportunity to see how his life has impacted others. His vision of his life had become so small, his priorities so skewed, that he was ready to take his own life. He needed to see the big picture. In our using, this happens to us. We become entirely subjective, we can only see things as they relate to us and not as they are. We take everything personally. George was able to see a world without the children he wasn’t there to help create, without the wife he wasn’t there to marry or the brother he wasn’t there to save, or the community he wasn’t there to protect. It helped him see that his unfulfilled dreams of travel and adventure were not worth resenting his life over, that his concerns for his family business were unfounded, that his life was worth living for, that it was rich with the love and grace and family and friends, and that it truly is a wonderful life.
Or, take The Grinch for example. No one knows what made the Grinch so Grinch-y, living in isolation and mad at the world, blaming the Whos and all their joy for his great unhappiness. We all know how the Grinch set out to steal their joy and discard it, as he himself felt discarded, living in the trash dump as he did. So he stole all the trappings of Christmas, all the presents and yule logs, and even the last can of Who Hash. And when he heard the Whos singing in the morning, stripped as they were of all the ornamentation and fanfare of the Holiday, he understood implicitly that the joy he sought to steal was not dependent on the ‘stuff’, but came from the heart. And suddenly, his own heart grew three sizes. I experienced that, in getting sober. I remember that feeling. In the Jim Carrey version, when the Grinch’s heart started growing, he grabs his chest and shouts, “I’m FEELING something!” I had medicated myself through every holiday for most of my life, and the first Christmas I was sober, I felt exactly that way. “I’m FEELING something!” And I was. I wasn’t even sure exactly what it was, what to call it. I had a million feelings that needed naming when I got sober, things I never let myself feel so I didn’t know what they were, what to call them, or what to do with them. That first Christmas I felt elation and melancholy at the same time. I didn’t know it at the time, I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but in retrospect, that it was it was. Thank God there were marathon meetings and my new found family of friends from AA. I learned to love Christmas without the crutch of alcohol, just as the Grinch learned to live without the crutch of his animosity and loneliness, joined his new friends and learned to love the very thing he had hidden from his entire life, the sunlight of the spirit, and the joy of connecting to others.
Finally there is the most classic of all, Scrooge. This entire story, from how he turned from the things that spoke to his heart as a young man, and instead honored the desires of his ego, is the story of alcoholics. Like alcoholics, we know the truth, deep in our hearts, but we honor the lie that that is our addiction. His life becomes, like the Grinch, like George Bailey, very very small, where everything is taken personally, where life itself is an insult. He is visited in the night by 4 spirits- the first his old business partner, who comes to tell him that his very soul is on the line. And then, in the night, he is visited by three more spirits, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. One reminds him of who he was, before his heart turned to stone. He got to see the moments where he turned his back on love, and how his heart hardened as a result. He saw the present, how the people in his life suffered as the result of his miserliness, his stinginess of spirit, and how he could change their lives if he were able to open his heart to them. And he saw his future, bleak and alone, his death, with no one there to mourn him, and the deaths of others he could have helped. Christmas morning, following the visitations, he was reborn. Reborn! As we are when we get sober. Birth is an absolute, there is only one percentage at work in absolutes like this and that is 100%. That is why our surrender must also be 100%. Anything less and there is no rebirth. And that feeling, I can tell you, is like nothing else. To be redeemed, to be given a second chance, to be able to settle old debts and right old wrongs and restore oneself and one’s life to grace, to be able to make a difference in the lives of others, to be a part of a community, and to see, every day, the workings of the Divine in the events of one’s life- this is the greatest gift of sobriety, to me. More often than not, I feel like Scrooge when he wakes up Christmas morning, dancing and singing, elated, realizing there is no time like the present, no time to waste, embrace the very moment one is in and be kind to everyone always- if you’ve ever seen the Bill Murray version of Scrooge, when he experiences his transformation- his heart opens up like The Grinch’s, and he is a changed man, nearly evangelical, passionately beseeching people via television to be kind, be good, love others, reach out, and do it now, there is nothing else in life but that, its the most important thing, to love. Love! He is crying and laughing and full of the sunlight, radiating good will. This is there for all of this. What we do for others gives us this feeling. Love lifts us up, wakes us up, melts the ice, and heals the wounds. Christmas is the time to remember that, lest we forget.
The redemptive quality of the Holidays should not be resigned only to the Holidays, but it is a time when it is more poignant, relevant, intense, and in your face. Just as it is a time to drive with caution, it is also a time to drop old hurts and simply love, in spite of yourself. There is a lot to enjoy, there is a lot (A LOT) to be grateful for, and there is an entire world that will be improved by the power of your smiling heart. Because your smiling heart will provoke a smile in someone, and theirs will inspire one in someone else, and so on and so on. Joy is infectious. Love heals the planet. This isn’t just happy hippy crap, or a hokey Christmas sentiment, its an absolute, undebatable, quantum-ly specific truth.
Happy Holidays! And God Bless Us, Every One!