The Main Event (aka: The Holiday Season)

If you’re sober, the holiday season is the marathon you’ve been training for! The main event.

Humble champion, spiritually fit for the challenge, inspiring the masses.

As a man in recovery I feel ok saying that few people are more irritating than a righteous addict/alcoholic. Except maybe a lamenting addict/alcoholic around the holiday season.

Look, I have a long list of deep and valid reasons to loath the hype and am certainly susceptible to a solid run of the blues around this time of year. I’m a summer baby and feel the crunch of short days, dark and cold, I ache more. A child and adult of the residential construction trade, money gets tight about now as people stop working on their homes and spend it on crap too. Bad weather ahead pushes back the earning season and you learn to plan on stress. Family stuff can be awkward, or we feel left out. We are different. Christmas is the landmark of all this shit for me and probably some version of it for most of us. But here’s the good news; its right there on the calendar, has been all year and every year.

muhammad-ali-vs-joe-frazier-in-fight-of-the-century-madison-square-garden-in-new-york-city-new-york-1971The times when I’ve been hit the hardest by a rogue craving, a really gnarly one that reasons with me after a sucker punch; have been when I’m seemingly minding my own business. Like heading home on a Friday after work. Cunning, baffling and powerful, but only when my guard is down. Thanks to the training of working my program, I’m not a glass jaw. I’ll take that sucker punch and come back for the kill. Here’s where the benefit of the calendar comes in. It’s a telegraphed punch.

And by ‘keeping my guard up’, I mean doing all the things I say I’m capable of as a sober man. That is; not taking a drink or a drug. And doing all the things I say I’m capable of as a practitioner of mindful meditation and conscious observance. That is; being aware, staying in the moment, impermanence of pain, sympathetic joy for others’ happiness and in general; lightening the fuck up. Because I got this. And if for a moment I don’t, I have the tools to fix it quick.

Here’s an example of a set-up you may find similar to dealing with the he holidays as they come (one day at a time);

In working and facilitating the Refuge Recovery program for a year and a half at three locations here in the SF Bay Area I take on the role of guiding meditation. A forgiveness mediation is transmitted and suggested to be practiced often and regularly, especially in early sobriety. We settle into our breath and the present time experience before repeating phrases. Setting intentions on being forgiven, forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. Now when I first started this, probably repeating my teachers, I would suggest that one not take on the biggest, most unforgivable things that came to mind, to start with something trivial like the mailman not delivering what you wanted today. Adding; not to expect results, but through lots of practice notice small improvements toward freedom from resentments and anger. But later realized; who the hell am I to say who you’re able to forgive and how hard it will or won’t be for you? Plenty of people have come up to me after meeting and said they’d never been able to meditate before, but given the simple instructions and within the group setting it came much easier. (Maybe because I never suggest that part of it will be challenging and they should only try a little.)easy-button

Perhaps a person sits in meditation with deep intensions of forgiveness and is drastically transformed, a great weight has been lifted, they see the confusion and unskillfulness of the offender and are ready to move on to ease and freedom. Then they get hit with that suggestion of; it was supposed to be hard work with a long-term, gradual affect, “shit, maybe I’m doing it wrong”.

Maybe this time the holidays just come and go easy, or you have a newfound joy and excitement around this time. Maybe not, but with your practice of using the principles of patience, tolerance and equanimity, have maintained the path and traverse it with fewer snags. Not to forget that; ‘it ain’t all about you’. Your behavior and attitude could make or break someone else’s shot at a better life.

Hidden in much of my writings is the Pavlovian response theorem. Usually abstract and this one is no exception. Drooling at a ringing bell or slumping into depression when we see poinsettias set out right after Halloween has the same back-story. The good news is; if you can see it, you can fix it (if willing).

Here are a few suggestions for your arsenal (or tool kit if you prefer):

  1. Never anticipate. Only prepare and execute. This is something that came from my sensei in martial arts training. Freaking out over facing a seasoned fighter before getting into the ring would never serve me well. Before and during the match My focus had to be on doing my best to survive and win, narrowing my focus to only what was being thrown at me at that very moment. So now the match is the company Christmas party, or the irritating older brother, or the; “come on it’s Christmas, you can have one to toast with” right hook.
  2. Change it up. Didn’t we find this working in recovery? Our best thinking and actions were blowing it for us and we kept repeating them. So instead of watching football with the boys on Thanksgiving (weather they drink or you remember how you used to) try helping in the kitchen, take the dog for a walk, see what the kids are up to and play with them. Diversion tactic maybe, or you might just find that you like it.
  3. Get off your ass. Help those in need, including yourself. This is an donkeyaction, by the way, thinking about it doesn’t count. It could start as simply getting out for a walk, even in the dark and cold, with a new set of eyes in place, ready and willing to see beauty, feel love and help others. You might be surprised to find that you can’t help out feeding the homeless in a soup kitchen this year; because they already have too many volunteers! That’s right, thousands of us have already figured out that selflessly giving our time and energy to those in need serves our own needs tenfold. (self centered, altruistic, generous bastards!).

Here’s the short form: Be aware. Don’t attach. Try something new. Be kind with where it came from. Get together and help out.

When it comes to this season, Pavlo Stog does the best he can to dwell in what I see as the grand scheme of things; I embrace the symbolism of winter solstice. In doing your Holy Homework, you’ll see that most religions/belief systems from Horus to Jesus are holistically recognizing a rebirth in darkness. A time of rest for living things, gathering together for comfort, taking inventory and rejoicing in the light of the new Sun.

hermitMy sobriety date in numerology is 9. The Hermit. Initially not too crazy about that symbol as a sun worshipper, but upon closer understanding; the one holding the lantern in the night. Yeah. I like that.

In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.

Feliz Solstício de Inverno!