When I was doing the AA book study my teacher told me “You know you’re an alcoholic. But you can recover. If you do this study to a tee and you put this work into your life, you will recover.” I sometimes go to meetings and hear people say “hi my name is John and I am in recovery.” These people go to meetings for ten years already and they are still in recovery? Why? Do they not know they can recover? Maybe they relapse all the time? Maybe they think that relapse is part of recovery? Or maybe they are scared of the end of recovery? What will do they next?
In AA book page 568 it says “Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial.”
Recover, OK? But what does it mean? Does it mean I am done with addiction of my doom for good? Forever? Nope. There is a difference between “recovered” and “cured.”
The fact that I am recovered, that is, completed the Steps and keep practicing my Step Twelve in my daily life, including staying in a contact with my Higher Power, doesn’t mean I can down a bottle of vodka and not get drunk. It also doesn’t mean I will never be tempted by a case of beer. It doesn’t mean I will never be drawn to wine again in my life. No. It means that the history of obsessions and unhealthy behaviors that I used to display in early recovery is done and gone. There is a much smaller chance for me to turn around and get hammed. I can still drink if I choose to, but each time it is going to be a disaster as I have learned it will be, and much harsher than ever before. Being a recovered alcoholic is not a 100% cured body, immune to unhealthy reactions toward alcohol. It is more of a new kind of acquired mindset plus abstinent body. It is not drinking and being happy with the way life is without drinking.
Think about it in terms of a broken leg experience. Let’s say I play in an abandoned construction site, fully aware the place is not safe, and finally get caught up in something and fall and break my leg. I am hospitalized and have surgery. My leg is now all stitched up, I have metal rakes holding it together. After surgery I am in recovery stage. I need to have my leg to return to form. Skin and muscles need to heal. I stay in bed for days until that works out well. Then doctors tell me I need to start practicing walking again. That takes quite a bit of time. That is still recovery.
Then I am good. I can walk again. I can run again. I am not cured, though. I haven’t got a new limb. The metal rakes still hold my good old leg. The trace of the cut in my skin is not going anywhere. The signs are still there to remind me of my old behavior. It can still break. And if I decide to turn by back on all that and go play at an abandoned construction site, or something similar, chances are I am going to hurt myself again. I will go down, slipping on a rusty steel plate and fall down, hitting my leg again. It’s gonna hurt. And all the way to the hospital I will be processing the same recurring thought – that was stupid. I have to go through recovery again, but this time it may be worse, because the skin, muscle, and bone, injured before, are much more compromised this time.
There it is, “cured” vs. “recovered.” As an alcoholic, I can consider myself recovered, perhaps, but never cured. And that’s good, actually, because it keeps me in check better than anything or anyone. I’ve invested many years, rebuilding my body and mind after over a decade of heavy drinking. If I go back to alcohol, I am going to screw it all and receive a tenfold of harm. I have to remember where I came form and where I don’t want to go to. I am never cured. I can still mess up if I think in terms of illusion and escape from responsibility through inebriation. But my recovered body and mind will hold me together if I am walking the right way. And now that recovery time is done, it is time for life. Responsible, positive life.
- What is a relapse? As per Webster.com, relapse is “the return of an illness after a period of improvement.” In case of substance abuse and addiction case, relapse is us returning to drink and use after we’ve been in recovery and abstinent for a while.
- Relapse is not a sudden action. It requires a pre-meditative warm up. It gets born in the thinking. If you get frustrated, you hide something, you feel confused, angry, insecure, threatened; you know you lied or stole something; you are stressed because of a change, or you are stressed out because change you wanted so much hasn’t happened, – all this can bring you to feeling like life is not fun, recovery is not fun, and all of your problems will be answered if you just went and drank or used.
- To me, relapse is not a part of recovery. I heard people say it, I read people write, and each time it makes me cringe. Here are couple of thoughts on that:
- 1) Yes, relapse is possible. No, it doesn’t have to stall or nullify your recovery and the fact that you’ve tried. But you don’t have to relapse to facilitate your recovery. Why does it have to be a part of your recovery if you are already certainly and most definitely done? The relapse is going to teach you something? How vulnerable and unprepared you were? OK, but active recovery will teach you that as well. I mean, if you screw around and you know what you should be doing instead of what you are actually doing, then perhaps you do need a massive kick in the butt. But there is such an easy way to avoid that. Just do the right things. All those things you’ve learned about in meetings.
- 2) Also, remember that relapse is not just using and drinking. It is an intense mental suffering, especially if you’ve been on recovery journey for a while and sober/clean for a while as well. It can throw you in for a loop of mind cramps. And there is no guarantee that you will make it out unscathed. There is no guarantee you will make it at all. So I focus on making it through without slips and relapses (which to me are the same thing).
- To stay sober we need to think positive. Focus on your thoughts, surroundings and attitude. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Stressed (HALTS). All these are human feelings. On their own they are normal. But couple one with another and it becomes a dangerous mix. This mix can bring you down. Keep an open eye on how do you react to life, to what you do, what others do, what you think others do.
- Don’t isolate. Get people phone numbers and call even if feeling good. Establish a strong support network. If you do that, when crap comes your recovery walls will be high and thick. It doesn’t give you a guarantee that relapse will never happen. It means you’ve taken action to push it farther away.
- Your body works up an immune system against viruses and illnesses. Your recovery and strong realistic relapse prevention plan that you practice is your immune system against relapsing.
- Addiction research found that temptations last from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Make a list of realistic activities to engage in to fill that space.
- Be prepared. Be aware that temptation will come. You don’t get immune to temptations with time. I was five years sober, sitting at an AA birthday meeting and a thought came “hey, let’s go for a glass of a light beer!” I also celebrated 6th year of sobriety with a relapse dream. My sponsor who was 20 years sober, teaching other people to recover from alcoholism, unable to quit smoking cigarettes or watch porn.
- Be aware that a temptation may turn into an obsession if not taken care of on regular basis.
- What are you putting on your RPP?
- My usual RPP is “Pray. Work out. Write.” Recently I added breathing. I never thought of that, even though I read it thousands of times in the Big Book: “through prayer and meditation.” I realized a week ago that I need to go back to my daily exercises of letting go. So I do breathing thing: I start with a complete exhale. Count to four. Visualize numbers rising. Inhale. Count to four. Repeat.
- Keep phones numbers of people you’d call close. Highlight them.
- Know what exercise you can do when thinking of a work out. Don’t hurt yourself. Go slow on those physical exercises. Pay attention to each move. The point is not strength. The point is taking focus off temptation and turning it to something else.
- If you tend to read books, choose a certain book, a certain page or chapter. You need an immediate action, so be prepared to use your skills wisely.
- If you know your mind to race, practice these strategies every day. Go to meetings. Go to church. Immerse yourself in recovery pool.
[the picture was copied from ‘ere. thanks!]
Every once in a while, out of the course of the river of addicts that float near and seem to be doing well, passing forward with no apparent desire to break away, farther into insanity, I’d be dealing with folks that don’t fit. I am talking about those individuals that seemed to have learned nothing from relapsing and recovery. For the last thirty days one such individual puzzled me greatly.
This guy (let’s call him George) had 1.5 years of sobriety through our local rehab program and was recently hired with us. Around Xmas he got lonely. He found a lady online, went out with her. He could read from her speech and body language that it wasn’t going as good as he planned. The lady ordered a drink, so did he. Stop! Where was his head? Seems like up his ass. 1.5 years of sobriety went down the wastepipe because he got negative vibes from the woman he met in flesh just an hour ago. OK.
George got sorry for himself and off he went drinking hard for three days. He didn’t show up at work. He didn’t pay his rent. He went drinking in hotels. Finally he was found out by his neighbors. He was taken to detox for three days. Then he met with me and my boss. On New Year’s Eve, symbolic date, time for new beginnings, and all that. We had a good restoration meeting to have George back in housing, heavily based on recovery and rehab principles.
George now got a plan of actions, the list of do’s and don’ts. “Yes” to meetings. “Yes” to church. “No” to meeting women for the next three months, including online. “Yes” to reaching out. “No” to isolating. He said Jesus was his higher power and he held him close, he will get through. He found out he lost his job. He missed his recovery mandatory meeting and went drinking again. This time he went for a longer walk of wreckage. He got nasty, mouthy, he thought suicide again. He lived in the homeless shelter dorms for a week. He resented it every day. He couldn’t go home and spend time with his cat, have a normal shower for an hour, cook his food, sleep in a bed observed and disturbed by none. He missed it all greatly.
We took him back home on certain promises. There were more do’s and don’ts to keep at. He’d come and talk. He seems to be in a good mood. Things weren’t going as he planned, but he seemed to be keeping up a good spirit. A week after his return home he’s reported walking drunk downtown and hooking up with ladies. He came back with a bleeding face, smelling of booze, denying drinking. “I just had two glasses of wine!” He drinks like an alcoholic and he only had two? After 1.5 years of sobriety? After so many resentments collected in the last thirty days? Meeting more women? Come on! It was a miracle he came back alive!
I was dealing with all this for the whole month. Talking to him sober, talking to him drunk. Checking on his place, regarding keeping alcohol and drug paraphernalia. Feeding his cat. Now he is evicted and I am packing his place and looking for cat’s new home.
I observe the course of the last thirty days with George and ask myself: how did he bring this whole thing down so crazily? Was the first relapse not enough? Must’ve been just a scratch. The second one? Perhaps a better lesson. Really?! He knew recovery. He did it. When in recovery, you talk, eat, and sleep recovery. He was constantly among people who were deeply involved in getting better, free from substance addiction. He lived in a house where everyone is involved. Just cross the hallway and knock on the door if you feel insanity filling up your mind. I guess those two crushing blows that reminded George how powerless he was over his addiction didn’t do a good job. Perhaps a jail would.
What is George really addicted to at this point, besides substances? Maybe then he likes disorder? Remember how in Batman Morgan Freeman says “Some people just like to see the world burn.” George is clearly burning his own world. Something makes me think he is addicted to chaos.
I did some reading (here and there) to check on that and figured that no, addiction to chaos is not what George was dealing with. It doesn’t appear George is creating mess around himself much. He doesn’t do things at the last moment. He doesn’t lose things all the time to catch up to recent failure with a speed of light. His actions don’t seem to drive people close-by crazy. He hasn’t attracted any people in the first place. It is only after he got drunk all over again that we could see what trouble he really got himself into.
However I know what they’re talking about in those articles – me. I used to go under pressure with class assignments and papers to be written and I’d do them in the last moment. That would put everything else in a tense mode and I’d have to do everything very fast. In most cases it worked well and assignments done in such way would receive good marks which in turn made me want to procrastinate more and then fight under the banners of chaos yet again. But it was stressful, of course. I guess I am lucky nobody else got screwed by this damage.
OK, so George is not a slave to chaos. Just dealing with plain alcoholism leading to disorder. Which is a bulletproof monster on its own, and no fun at all. Aren’t we substance addicts all disorderly crazies? It makes me wonder. Twelve Steps recovery started by AA is a system of learning skills to become a better person. It teaches you honesty, humility, love, connection, maintenance. If we overlook these, we don’t get anywhere in our recovery. If we turn our back on these, chaos and disorder come into our lives and mess everything up.
George knows it. George’s been cooking in the pot of these ideas for a while. Only now that action is to be taken he seems to brush the uncomfortable thought off and do it his way. Which is what? Let it all burn, it seems.
I know several people like George. You must know a couple as well. There are many of them out there. No one will ever be able to help them if they won’t allow been helped.
[the front picture was taken from ‘ere and clipped by me. thanks!]
First of all, it is a step where we look at ourselves and say “my, aren’t you screwed up!” It is not an “I think I have a problem with drinking (or drugs)” situation. It is more of a “I sure do have a problem with drinking (or drugs) and it is affecting every sphere of my life.” If you only think you may have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs, you may want to go to a couple of 12 Step meetings, get an AA questionnaire, or do a Big Book look into types of drinkers on pages 20-22. Then you can figure out whether you fit into a fellowship of people who feel the need to deal with drinking/drugging issues here and now, or not.
If you know you are in a right place, this is the first step. We are not going to get anywhere unless we make this one. And it is not an easy one.
When I joined AA and got myself a sponsor he started teaching me the Big Book. He said that the way they used to teach the Book was one-on-one, and they did the original first 88 pages, the first eleven steps. You can figure out the twelfth on your own, in so many ways, and by the time you got through the first eleven, you most likely been doing your twelfth for a while already.
At the same time, he mentioned that Step One takes the first 44 pages of the original study. That’s a half of the whole study! That is how important that is. So you don’t just say “I came to believe that I am powerless over alcohol and my life became unmanageable” and then get on to square things in the spiritual field right away, doing you step Two. No. Before you get to the “We Agnostics” which represents the study of the Step Two, you need to get through “The Doctor’s Opinion”, “Bill’s Story”, “There is a Solution”, and “More About Alcoholism.” It is a big journey.
So why is this so long of a study? Why is it so important that we put so much time and effort into doing this step?
 First thing we see when we are about to start doing our Step One is that we have to admit we were powerless. It is not something that we would like to do – admit we have no power over something. We are raised in such a way that we learn the skills to succeed and overcome and that’s what people around expect from us. Success and beating the competition is one of the pillars of the Western culture. Admitting that you have no power within that spectrum is a very difficult thing to do. We might be afraid to do that, we may get angry over it, we may deny it – all to prove ourselves right and well, keep our alcohol close as if our life depended on it. To look back at it and say “This thing has ruined my life and I don’t want to have anything to do with it” takes courage. Keeping it that way for another day takes even more courage and plenty of action.
 We learn in the Step One is that logic and self-knowledge don’t really work well when quitting drinking. In “There is a Solution” and “More about Alcoholism” chapters we have a chance to see how people try to smarten up and use some kind of rationality to beat alcoholism. Those are the stories of their failure that brought them to the most bitter end.
We try to gain control over what we are trying to master. It works that way when we learn a new technique or activity. But with quitting consuming alcohol or other drugs we beat it by not taking it. It is in the following Steps that we learn how we continue not taking the first drink, how do we hold on, but it is in the First Step that we learn of how we start.
 We learn about our lifetime powerlessness over alcohol. First we read in “The Doctor’s Opinion” that there is some weird state of body and mind that alcoholics possess that react to alcohol in the ways so many other people never experience. Once we drink alcohol we can’t stop and we want to drink it all the time. What happens inside of us is what AA so often refer to as “allergy of the body and compulsion of the mind” leading to a work of a disease that can significantly crush our physical and mental health and eventually kills us.
We are to carry this condition of alcoholism for the rest of our lives and therefore have to stay abstinent from drinking until we die. And if we do drink, there is a big chance that we go back to our worst condition we had before, or even worse than that.
 Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Our drinking pattern within the first couple of years may be minor, but the more we give into alcohol drinking, the worse we become. It starts affecting our social conduct, our psychological, sexual, financial, and spiritual states. After several years of drinking we are not the same as we once were and it is only getting worse. We start losing jobs, break relationships, get evicted, beaten up, hospitalized, get suicidal, etc. All this because of giving into something that looks and feels good on our tongue and provides and illusion we love to keep alive, but nevertheless is a deadly progressive disease.
 It is after we learn all of these things that we can see how messed up our bodies and minds are and that not only that, but our whole life has been ruined or just about to be ruined by our attitude toward drinking alcohol. It is not our fault that we were made that way. Yet we still have to remember that we are the people who cannot drink alcohol, period. But to just say “Oh, man, I just can’t drink – it makes me feel bad and turns me into a bad person” is not enough. We have to study what is wrong with us. Step One gives a good view of that.
 Here is something that we don’t directly learn from the Big Book, but I am going to mention that nevertheless. Recognizing your being powerless over something is not just reserved for alcoholics who need recovery. Many people out there will greatly benefit from doing Step One and the other steps too if they find themselves being powerless over a sphere or spheres of their lives. 12 Step system is used to help people quit smoking, doing drugs, being addicted to sex, and gambling, but it also can be used to help people overcome excessive shopping, improve their communication skills, etc. People who don’t have what we call an addiction may use these steps to better their lives. Thus Step One is not just about alcoholics being unable to manage their lives. It is about being powerless over life in general, alcoholic or not.
Powerlessness surrounds us. There so many things we cannot control. Not just substances, but behaviors, and attitudes, and desires. Stress, anger, fear, – all these things happen to anyone, not just people dependent on drugs. We cannot prevent national disasters or storms, but we also cannot control or change other people against their will. Our frustrations are many. Some of these we can let go, and some we can’t. And when we can’t let go of them, it eats us up. People without an addiction may try to go and talk to someone about it. Addicts, however, may feel more vulnerable toward these things because in our lives we used to drink and use to deal with reality. It doesn’t matter how much recovery time we’ve got, three months, or ten years. We still could go crazy about the things we cannot control, things that excite us too much, and acting that way could bring us out of balance and back to drinking or using.
 So when we do the Step One we have to remember that by joining recovery we are not on a journey toward a perfect life and than once we got a couple years of sobriety under the belt it all will be great. If we want a good life, we have to continue working at it, every day. It doesn’t have to be another work-your-fingers-to-the-bone job. It can be actually quite exciting, keeping it sober and meeting people who deal with things you deal with and help one another. But we’ll have to still live the life on its terms, with frustrations, as well as joys. We have to remind ourselves or people, places, and things that can take us out. We have to remind ourselves of our progressive disease. We have to remember that we will never be able to drink safely, just like the one hundred people who wrote this book have proved us through their experience. If we are to live a good life, we start here, at Step One and we have to take that step. Otherwise there will be no journey toward getting better.
I remember one person who came over to me how do I stay sober. I said: “I have to really want it and so I keep at it.” He got a bit upset and asked: “Well, you think I don’t want it? You think this addiction is eating me inside out and I don’t need recovery?” All I could say to that was that I didn’t know him, I didn’t know others and how they do it. All I knew is what was advised to me and I went with it. I do anything unique. I just kept doing the things that were recommended to me day after day.
I still do. I go to less meetings these days, comparing to the earlier time in my recovery, but I still go, and I still do my Step 12. I still pray in the morning and in the evening. I repeat the cycle of recovery to keep my sobriety alive and in check.
Repetition is the vital part of recovery. We’d never be anywhere if we didn’t keep trying, right? To play a guitar or play basketball you need to keep coming back at it every day or every second day to get better at it. It is the same thing with recovery. You have to practice it. Now, don’t get paranoid. There is not a lot to do, really. Just a set of little steps, repeated. Every day.
Routine, which is close in meaning to “repetition”, is often seen as a negative thing. It seems that people speak of “routine” thinking of things like depression, boredom, and dull. I have to disagree. Routine is being set in the habitual way of working toward progress. So when I quit drinking, I started following the rules of recovery: I began going to meetings, doing the Twelve Steps, reading the AA book, meeting people, etc., all in the same time, all at the scheduled times. More or less, I’ve got myself into this healthy routine. It kept me on point and kept me walking steadily. This is how I got where I am now almost a decade later.
Still, routine may seem like boring time to spend: you keep doing the same things in order to change, but change is that kind of a thing that happens over a period of time. You don’t experience change suddenly, until you look back and realize that there is certain behavioral difference in you and others. I remember looking at my time of going through recovery routine in my second sober year, thinking, “oh, this sober living is just boring!” What I failed to realize then was that I was not doing any volunteering. Half a year or so later I got into volunteering at a place that assisted the homeless and the addicted. Several months later I started working there full time and I still work there. I see crashes and miracles almost every day, and I try to provide for being a part of the solution, being active at that. That’s where my Step 12 work gets rolling (even though it is not completely so, because I get paid to do it).
Besides doing Step 12 I started writing more. I always had passion for writing, and I’ve been working on stories for years. But I was sort of lazy about it, and did it only when I felt like it. Needless to say, each time I was getting back at it, it felt like I was missing something. Some ideas I came up with days ago that I had enough power to write down briefly made no sense when I looked at them now, as if I wrote them down in a marijuana smoking rave. If I kept writing every day, I’d remember these ideas and put together something meaningful.
I also started writing about recovery. About insobriety and the terror of it. And about getting better. It is a way I meditate, I guess. I used to write every week, then ideas began getting scarce, but I still try to come up with a post about recovery each week. That way I am still in the routine that keeps me sober and well.
If someone still not sure if they want to put so much time into recovery, working it 24/7, I want to tell them this: put in as much time for recovery as you have taken away by living insane and not sober.
Here’s why and how. In the last year and a half of my “drinking career” I was pouring alcohol down my throat religiously five times a week. I drank lots. I spent a crapload of money on booze for years. It took me time to drink and time to recover. The whole time of this crazy trip took about ten years. So now that I’ve tapped into a source of power that brought me back to health and sanity, why wouldn’t I give it the same amount of time and effort to at least heal the wounds?
To achieve something I need to give it something. To be better at something I need to keep practicing it. Nobody else is going to do that for me. It is my horse shit to shovel. And the place always looks so good when it’s clean, especially if I know the work was mine. Now, to remember how to do it well, without freaking out, being prepared for slight unexpected turns, to keep the cool, I need to do it repeatedly. Little by little, a prayer and a hope at a time. It is through repeating of putting one foot in front of the other that I make it down the path toward something that I need.
That is certainly not a new thing. You are not going through something new, unnatural, or unique.
I think I know what you’ve been told so far. I am sure they were all the right things. All these, “it’s not your fault”, and “you didn’t know what you were doing”, or whatever. They are all the right things. But I am going to give you something different today.
I don’t know if any of you had experience of studying philosophy, sociology, or psychology, but that’s what I am going to talk about.
OK, the lad in the second row is giving me a mean look… for a very right reason.
I was joking. I am not going to load you with scientific and psych crap. I am here to be of help, so I am hoping to do succeed. Just pay attention and we’ll be fine.
I was watching this movie last weekend, it was called Nymphomaniac. It is a really good look into people and addiction, not just sex, but all addictions, but also at many people who are not addicts at all. Anyhow, what I am going to talk about is about something different.
In one scene this girl comes to a hospital where her father is dying. She says she had a fight with her mother because the mother is not coming to visit. Her mother is briefly known in the movie as a rather cold person who loved to play solitaire a lot. In conversation through tears the girl calls her mother a stupid cowardly bitch. The father is rather relaxed, even knowing that he is to die soon. He says the daughter is wrong about her mother.
When I watched that scene I recalled my ex-girlfriend who used to tell me that her mother abandoned her when she was six. The father was not much of a parent either, and though he kept paying the rent for the apartment, she as a child had to do everything herself. No doubt that provided for a serious trauma in the future.
I was sitting there thinking of why her mother would leave her and just walk out of her life. And I came up with something.
I was thinking how we as people live with so many expectations and so many roles to play. Remember Shakespeare:
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.” (William Shakespeare, As You Like It)
Besides those roles that we assign to ourselves, such as “I am a good boy”, “I want to be a fireman”, “teacher,” etc., there are certain roles we are assigned by others, say “children”, “parents”, “blue collar workers” or “white collar workers”, “doctors”, “secretaries”, “music fans”, “caretakers.” We live through many of them, every day. Each of them has an expectation. As a “child” (which is divided into “son or “daughter” which is quite a bit a stress on their own in their difference) you are expected to do your homework, be a good kid, listen, learn, and submit to the will of your parents. Our parents are the people who look after us. They have been there all the time we knew them, from the beginning. So we most of the time know them as “parents”, and quite often may deny them a right to be their own people.
Now, think of mothers. “Mother” is a female that had to go through a lot of changes in her body, usually unpleasant and uncomfortable, for around nine months of nursing a baby inside of her. During this time she feels gross, she gets sick, she may not be fully in control of her abilities and skills as she used to be taught before. Then she goes through an ordeal of excruciating pain of giving birth. Then for a first couple years she looks after the child with so much care, so much attention, taking care more of the child than of herself. How many times did you hear about mothers dying after giving birth? How many times you heard about children been so sick after birth that they almost died? I know I was one. Almost didn’t make it. My parents looked after me for months in the hospital soon after my birthday. At any rate, imagine all that and think of why would a mother abandon a child and how it is perceived in the society. How a mother who leave her child alone is scolded in the media, or in court, or in public. She is a “bad mother” and “should be punished.” Not many think of how extremely difficult life has been for the mother through all this time of caring, giving birth, and looking after the child during which this woman had to deny herself so much. Being a “mother” is just one of the parts that she is. There are so many others, including one which is owing herself being happy and taking care of herself. Can we not see that after years of being a mother some women can just break? Get physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted of being committed to someone they gave the best years of their lives?
So even though a woman called a “mother” may want to have so many good things for herself, as hanging out with friends and play poker, have a drink once in a while, have good sex, a professional massage, books, chocolate, and other shit that the entertainment industry made us believe women cherish the most, there are plenty of other roles and expectations dropped on her. She also must be a “good wife”, “respectable daughter,” “caring sister”, “responsible driver,” “attentive secretary,” “get things done on time,” pay taxes, clean the apartment, and get Christmas shopping done.
These are a lot of responsibilities, a lot of roles, and a hell of a lot of expectations, as if a person in question lives in some kind of mental and physical slavery. I’d admit, some of these could be joyous experiences, some can be truly altruistic things people simply love to do for others. And yet there is so much stress, some even daily stress, and it seems so often that you are not allowed to fail.
Now besides all this load of “fun”, we should also remember that we are all different. Even if we think we are very much alike, I don’t think that is true. We come from different backgrounds, different economical status families, countries, ethnicities, minorities, – how can we be the same? All of these differences cause plenty of stress to get used, to change, to break to fit in, to understand others, to make it through. Some take weeks to adapt. Some take years to assimilate.
If we take a look at life of a human being at this angle, can we not see how a person can break? Not necessarily a mother. “Mother” was just a very good example of a titanic stress. Each of us is a “mother” in that regard. We all deal with lots of expectations, responsibilities, we are assigned hundreds of roles, many of which we have to play successfully each day. We have to deal with our and other people’s differences, find common language and try not to hurt each other.
As if all that was not enough, add to it a substance addiction or a mental illness. That is another beast in itself, crossing and twisting everything in the life as you know it. If previous stress was not enough, now you mess it all up. Physical and mental pain, shame, break of trust, loneliness, separation; cast out, disgruntled, confused, mistreated, misunderstood – these are many components of the life of a person diving into addiction.
Having listened to me philosophizing about this mountain of stress on your shoulders from the very beginning of your life, are you getting any closer to letting go of your guilt? Are you getting any closer to forgiving yourself for not being perfect, for making mistakes that you did? Are you willing to see that if you got to this point in life, this age, had all this terrible things happening to you, and you are still alive, and wanting positive change, and fighting for it, that you are actually a hero from an epic tale?
‘Cause you are and you deserve to have a break and love yourself, and if you do, you will me it through. Just be easy on yourself. Even epic heroes are not perfect.
I come from a country that officially banned religion, faith, and spirituality for 70 years. Along with them out the window went all religious-related celebrations and holidays. So New Year’s in Soviet Union became what, I guess Christmas used to be before that in Tsar Russia, and certainly something what Christmas was and is in the Western culture.
After the Union fell and all things spiritual were brought back to the land, Christmas holiday returned as well. Only by this time it had no such significance as before. It had to wrestle with the New Year’s popularity. Also along with the Eastern Church tradition in the calendar it stood after New Year’s. Beat that!
When in 2000 I went to the US, it was the first time that I saw Christmas being so huge and thought it was the weirdest thing. Everybody was running crazy decorating everything, getting gifts, “merry Christmas” everywhere. I was a grump, I guess. I was still drinking. My motto for the happy December world was “seasons killings” and “more beer!”
First Christmas in Texas my family spent together and it was a good time. Second one I don’t remember. But before the third one my Dad and I flew to Canada and we hung out together for several days of Christmas holidays around the Mall and the area and it was good. Next one was in Russia with my family. I had to hold my crap together so I actually was sober for about thirty days or so. We alos figured we’ll go for Catholic Christmas, then New Year’s, and then Eastern Christmas. The more holidays, the better!
Then I had one more Christmas around the time I still drank, but I was sober for that one. My girlfriend at that time took me to her friends’ family place and it was a good time. Next Summer I sobered up and each Christmas after that was a sober experience.
Strangely enough, with my aberration to Christmas as a monument of consumption and expectations, I still hang out with people on this date. Just like in marine code “no man is left behind,” Canadians seem to have a Christmas code that says “no one is left by themselves on Christmas.” So as I lived Edmonton alone, far from my family, folks that I knew from my college kept inviting me to come over for one family Christmas dinner or the other. I’d bring some food and we’d have a great time each time. Then I fell in love with one girl and her family was totally dedicated to Christmas and they were great people and so I kept making gifts, and coming over for their family thing, each year feeling more a part of the family.
I heard it plenty of times in the Twelve Step meetings that it is hard for many people in recovery to be alone or away from their families on Christmas. Me – I could take holidays or leave them. I was OK without my family on holidays. But I was not alone, or rather I wasn’t given a chance to be alone, and it was beautiful. With all these recollections in mind, I think I understand it better now what’s the big deal about alcoholics and addicts relating to Christmas. Recovery is so much about connection. We the addicted ones prefer to isolate and separate. To come and admit our weaknesses, we need to reach out. And to stay in recovery, we need to stay in touch with others. And family is a huge thing for connection. So Christmas is extremely important to the Western people in recovery, for it reminds them of family, their kids they feel they’ve failed, holidays they spent wasted, promises they broke, relationships they neglected.
So I don’t brag about not caring about Christmas anymore. Rather, I am ready to listen and cheer people up if I can.