Holiday Attitude

The holiday season officially starts tomorrow. For many of us it will be a time of great joy, for others of us it will be a challenge, for some of us it will be an endurance contest and for others of us it will be nothing short of torture.

For some of us, this is the time of the year when we are thrown together with people that we look forward to seeing, that we have not seen in a while, and for some of us we will be thrown together with people that spend all year trying to avoid. And for some of us, we will avoid these gatherings all together, because we refuse to put ourselves in the middle of the the chaos and misery. In other words all of us have personal choices to make about the holidays.

In the past, the only thing that has ever helped me face these challenging times was keeping my expectations in check and to have an exit strategy. I no longer approached these holidays expecting that the person or people that have created scenes and chaos in the past to all of a sudden behave themselves this year. I knew that they could act out just as easily as they could get through the day without causing a problem. When possible I avoided hosting the holiday events because it was easier for me to leave when things got uncomfortable for me.

I used all the slogans. “Just for Today” I reminded myself. I can do anything for a few hours and thank God I don’t have to do it all day every day. “Let it begin with me” helped me approach the day without dread, anger, or negativity.   How important is it, played a huge part in avoiding unnecessary conflict, especially conflict that I could not win anyway.

And hey, it is Thanksgiving so my attitude was really important. I was taught early on that you can’t be grateful and hateful at the same time and I have learned through personal experience that is true. I have also learned that being grateful did not mean that I had to be happy about everything happening in my life but there was always something happening in my life to be grateful for.

Learning to control my reaction

In the beginning I confused powerlessness with hopelessness. It took a while for me to realize that my personal battle trying to control other people was sucking the life out of me, and it perpetuated a desperate hopelessness that never went a way. Nothing I tried to do to “save” or control someone else ever made those feelings of insecurity go away. Trust had been destroyed and I always felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to fall.

In my desperate attempt to control my alcoholic, often times I was critical and mean. I justified my own nastiness by telling myself that I was only telling the truth. Or I would justify it by telling myself that it was his fault because he pushed me over the edge. The problem with either of those justifications is that it never helped the situation and it always made me feel bad later. I hated that I had lost control. I hated that I sunk down to his level.

One of the most amazing choices I realized from this program was that I did not have to react just because someone else was out of control. I did not have to let what someone else said or did define or influence how I behaved and how I thought about myself. I did not have to defend, justify or explain, and neither did I have to retaliate.

In one of my daily readings there is a page that says normal, happy, well adjusted people do not hurt other people. I memorized that phased and said it to myself when I was faced with unacceptable behavior from someone else. I reminded myself that I was in the process of healing and therefore it was not necessary for me to engage in the same behavior with them. It did not always worked for me because there were times that I just wanted to get my two cents in no matter the consequences………..until I faced the consequences later and then I would be disappointed in myself.

I also used one of the slogans, “How Important Is It” to help me maintain my composure when all around me was going to heck in a hand basket. I was determined to not get into that basket with him. Over time and with practice it became easier and easier for me to do this. Regardless of what someone said to or about me I was the one in controlled of my reaction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I allowed other people to walk over me. I am saying that I learned how to be in control of my response to someone else’s bad behavior. Sometimes it was to be quite and walk away, other times it meant that I did defend or explain myself. But when I did, I was not out of control, screaming and crying and over the edge. Maintaining my composure when provoked was a sign that I was learning that I defined my own well-being.

Moving forward from the 4th & 5th Steps

I have spent most of my adult life analyzing myself. The fourth, fifth and tenth steps, in my recovery program, at times, has been a double edged sword for me. I analyzed things to death. My sponsor used to say to me to stop analyzing and start utilizing.

Step 4 says that we make a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” My first attempts were full of self-loathing, self-pity and self-justification. In other words, I wrote out my inventory the way I thought about myself and my life, and I colored everything with my own negative attitude. I did not know how to do it any other way. I went into this process looking for the good guys and the bad guys. Somebody needed to be held accountable and somebody need to undo my hurt and make me feel better about myself and my life.

I thank God for the 5th Step – “Admit to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs, “ and I thank God for my sponsor. I know now why that fifth step is so critical after writing a fourth step. But, what is even more critical is the person that you share that inventory with. With the patient help of my sponsor I was able to strip off the veneer and write the honest facts without the embellishments.

My sponsor guided me to look at the facts. It was not easy being honest with myself. I could justify and rationalize everything that I said, and everything that I did, to the point where it made sense and seemed right to me. But that superficial honesty was a recipe for failure. It was only when I could face being honest with myself that real growth began to happen. I was very good at being the bad unloveable person, or the victim. It has taken me years to be objective about the hurts in my life. True, there were some people who hurt me on purpose, other times, the person never intended to hurt me at all. There were even some people did not even know they hurt me.

Examining the hurt was one thing, moving on from it was another whole ball game. You see, for years I had nursed and fed some of those hurts and kept them alive without realizing what I was doing. I had wallowed in self-pity or self-loathing for so long I did not know how to let them go. I allowed those hurts from my past to sabotage many opportunities for happiness in my life. I drug those hurts from my past around like a ball and chain and allowed them to distort how I felt about myself.

I used to put myself first by demanding that other people meet my needs and when they failed me it confirmed the insecurities I had about myself. One of the hardest things I have ever done was to put myself first in a healthy way. I had to shout down the negative voices in my head and decide for myself my own worthiness. Regardless of what someone else did or did not do, I am the person defines myself worth. People and circumstances may never be what I want them to be, or what I think they should be, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be happy anyway. I am the only person that can live my life.

I am a work in progress. This is the first time in my life that I have many charming delightful friends. In other words, it is the first time in my life that I have healthy relationships. When I look at my friendships today I can see progress. This has been a long and difficult process for me, because I have struggled with accepting friendship from “normal people.” I don’t feel the need to suck up or kiss up to them, the only thing I have to do is just be me and being me is good enough.