Are you ‘Dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones you used to know’? I’m not: the ones that I used to know were dire, I can best describe them as ‘gothic’. Family tensions, overindulgence, selfishness, resentment and bad temper were the norm. The draughty old house felt unwelcoming.
My stepfather would retire with a migraine. he hated Christmas as much as I did. His brooding but silent presence in an upstairs bedroom lent the proceedings the feel of a Victorian novel. Dracula was more likely to appear in the night than Santa Claus.
As a young man, a Christmas visit to my parental family was like entering earth’s atmosphere from Mars; it brought a sensation of undefinable terror, increasing friction in the air and a faint scent of body fluids. Landing on home turf off the train from London (the buffet car of course), I would be very much on the defensive, and this would remain my default mode throughout the festive period. But happily, there would always be enough to drink: I would bring my own supply.
Christmas Eve would be less about expecting the birth of the Messiah as about preventing an all out fight between me and my siblings. Christmas day itself would be devoted to false bonhomie and selfish pursuits. That was the only way we could avoid the pain of actually communicating with each other.
This gruesome little scenario was repeated in similar form, for many years. It did not change until I changed.
Today I don’t drink but I can still be selfish, judgemental, suspicious, inconsiderate, resentful and generally negative. At Christmas more than at any time, I need to turn this around and become generous, understanding, trusting, loving and generally positive. Believe me, it can still take a big effort.
Christmas is an emotional minefield and statistics show that this season of goodwill is also a season of divorce, breakup, breakdown, break the furniture and general mayhem. I cannot afford to buy into the negativity that lurks around the festive tree and nor I suspect, can most recovering addicts or alcoholics. Christmas is also a season of relapse.
Here is my list of twelve triggers – emotions and attitudes to watch at Christmas and some AA thoughts and slogans to help cope with them. Perhaps you could check yourself for warning signs and take action where needed. Reflect on these items and decide what choices you will make today.
1. Self-pity Stops real communication – try helping others.
2. Boredom Work the programme – be pro-active.
3. Pride For self-acceptance, we need humility.
4. Resentment How important is it ? Help yourself by forgiving.
5. Shame Let go, let God.
6. Disappointment Count your blessings.
7. Anxiety A day at a time. It will pass.
8. Selfishness Give to others of yourself.
9. Irresponsibility Is what you want to do what you need to do ?
10. Dishonesty Total honesty starts with little things.
11. Blaming others Don’t compare identify.
12. Impatience King Babies need to grow up.
Too often in the past I have unpacked my angst-filled Christmas stocking of emotions and attitudes, reacting badly, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, to each resentment or bad memory that emerges.
Changing old patterns of behaviour requires specific effort. I have to remind myself each day that I am an addict and I cannot handle emotions well. I have to do something extra each day to make sure that I don’t slip backwards and I have to ask myself each day: is what I want to do today going to keep me emotionally safe? Emotional security depends on vigilance. Doing nothing is not an option, especially at Christmas.
If you enjoyed what you’ve just read, Chris has just published an e-book of daily meditations on poetry and history on Amazon. You can get a FREE download between 18th December and the 20th, so head to this link.
Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | July 27, 2021