Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day 254 Sound holiday advice

This came across my email today. Lots of good advice for us all.

Surviving the Holidays

By John MacDougall
John MacDougallI dreaded the Christmas season when I was a child, because I lived in a violent alcoholic household--and the Christmas season was the most violent time of all. I always got hurt at Christmas. My family was just an extreme example of the tensions that give many of us stress when this time of year comes around.
Some of us are stressed by memories of past holidays gone wrong. Some of us are stressed by an expectation that we will create a perfect holiday pageant this year. Some of us have a death to grieve, and the holidays bring it into sharp focus. Some of us have an active alcoholic, or addict (or two), and sense correctly that the holidays are the time of year when people drink the most. Some of us have old family dynamics that we don't like--dynamics that replay themselves every year.
While there is still time, we might want to try a management technique: shifting from managing by crisis, to managing by goals and objectives.
In managing by crisis, we try to solve each crisis, but the solution to the crisis becomes the origin of the next crisis. For example, if last year's family gathering was a disaster, we might solve it by refusing to go this year. That solution might become the origin of a new crisis, if we sit home alone feeling guilty, and are miserable.
In managing by goals and objectives, we figure out what we really want, and then set big goals and smaller objectives to reach on the way to our goals. To do this, I suggest a method I call "zero-based holiday planning." This is based on the budget method called zero-based budgeting.
In zero-based holiday planning, you don't start with last year's plan and try to fix it, especially if last year's plan led to a crisis. In zero-based holiday planning, you start with "zero." That is, nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
Then, make two lists: a list of topics, and a list of principles.
On the topics list, you might put things like time, money, friends, religious services, your recovery program meetings, food and meals, decorations, gifts, travel, entertaining, and service work.
On the principles list, put the spiritual principles that you would like to apply to your holiday experiences, such as dignity, respect, playfulness, generosity, community, service, grace, hope, hospitality, etc. Make your own list that reflects both who you are and who you want to be.
Then, put the two lists together, and make your plans.
Leave behind the principles and addict behaviors that you don't want, such as: being mean, getting even, competing with others, settling old scores, cutting people out of the family, getting drunk or high, isolating, and taking anybody's inventory.
When we match the positive spiritual principles with the topics, things work out well. We can give gifts that we can afford, without leaving us in debt in January. We give gifts that reflect a knowledge of the people who are receiving them, and a genuine desire to please them. We can provide sober hospitality, without feeling any obligation to serve alcohol to others that we would not drink ourselves. We can remember the teaching of Step Ten: that we have entered the realm of the spirit, and now love and tolerance of others is our code.
We might take a trip to the toy store, get some toys for the child in all of us, and rediscover play at the holidays. We could make simple decorations that signal a welcome without wearing us out. We can invite friends from our Twelve Step groups who don't have a family, or a place to go on the holidays, to join our extended family in our celebrations and to recognize our new "family of choice," as well as our family of origin.
With zero-based holiday planning, we make our plans, and then we turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand God, and offer that care to others with a sense of hospitality and hope.
John MacDougall is the Director of Spiritual Guidance at Hazelden in Center City, MN. His new book, Being Sober and Becoming Happy is available from In January, he is presenting a new recovery retreat at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center called "The Promises of Recovery."

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