Enjoying the Holidays on your Own: #8 – Start with You

December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

What I got for Christmas...

What I got for Christmas…

I hate New Year’s Eve.

I hate all of the hype about “ringing out the old and bringing in the new.” Resolutions made because “a new year equals a new you.” Obligatory “fun” must be had because if you are alone on NYE then you will be that way for another year. Epic eye roll.

You know what changes?

The date on the calendar.

And your level of self-trust declines and your shame increases when you cannot keep the resolutions you vowed, posted, and publicly announced so loudly.

Renewal doesn’t just happen one day of the year. January is not the only window of opportunity you have to become “the person you’ve always wanted to be.” Who you kiss or don’t kiss at the stroke of midnight is not going to guarantee your relationship status.

In truth, New Year’s and all that comes with it is a mindset. And it’s a great one, in some ways. The sense of empowerment, the idea that change is possible, the willingness to self-discipline…all good things. There is nothing wrong with setting goals or wanting to improve yourself.

But the hype…the forced expectations…the false promises…not so good.

Why force change to happen just because you buy a new calendar? Why not work to have that mindset every day of every month? Why not make the shift where you matter every day of the year? Where you are one of your top priorities, instead of the bottom?

Every day is new – a new beginning, a new start.  Every day has infinite potential. Every day can be the start of you reaching your goals or being that person you want to be. Every day you are alive is another chance full of limitless choices, each an opportunity for change and for growth. Every day is worthy of gratitude and celebration.

So this New Year’s Eve, if you find alone, don’t waste the night whining and wishing. Don’t cry in your ice cream as you watch the ball drop and wish you had someone to love. You do…you have you. Start there. Start with you.

The One Day I Cannot Ignore…

December 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

I woke up wanting a cigarette.

Beautiful dreams had in the night can echo cruelly in the morning.  I woke to the sound of rain and the remembered whisper, “Like the rain, I will return.”

And I wait for the return, the resurrection, the shift, the change, the way back…always looking for the way back to where I was, where we were…who I was, who we were. My mind rages, “I’m still here. I’m right here. I’m still me.” And I wait, knowing I will wait for this lifetime.

This is the one day of the year I cannot ignore. The one day where joy and pain overlap mercilessly, and I am compelled to go back – opening the vaults of memory, just to see them for a second.

This day marks beginnings…and endings, reminding me of life and of death.

My mom circa 1972

My mom circa 1972

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 66. It’s been 22 years since she died. My mother had the Christmas Birthday Syndrome, where both were often celebrated at same time, leaving her to feel like her birthday wasn’t really important or celebrated. I know her last birthday was a good one. I made sure of it – which simply meant I let her pick out her own present and made sure she didn’t have to cook.

I like to think the last year or so of her life was her happiest. She had found someone who loved her, encouraged her to take risks, and cracked open the world for her to show her all that she had forgotten. She was building strong relationships with her children (me and my half-sister). She was in college and doing well. She had returned to her spiritual niche, after trying on a church that just didn’t fit. She had finally stepped into her own.

I am grateful to have shared that part of her life. I think of those years as a road map for my own life, as I struggle to claim what is mine in this life. I am grateful she was my mother. And while I miss her, I often think the greatest gift she gave me is my independence, for her death forced me to grow up and to find the courage to face life on my own.

My beloved, oh my sweet, All the gifts you have given me…

weddingToday also marks the anniversary of me and my beautiful girl. And if you tell me to get over it or say anything negative about her or our time together, I will quickly tell you to go fuck yourself. Think what you will but say nothing. There are no words to make you understand what she gave me, what we gave each other. You will only focus on the fall, the ending…but you forget the beginning, ignore the middle…and deny the beauty, the love, the time of creation.

Like the rain…

Every second, every frame…my silent testament to my love and to our art. My muse ever challenging me, ever inspiring. That energy is now displaced, not replaced – and only through my words can I still love her.

Make me remember.

I am grateful. I have to be or else the pain would swallow me. She won’t read this. She has long since made her choice, as I have. Today, I allow the regret to surface…I allow the love to surface. And I remember…I remember everything.

Make me forget.

Two Down…One to Go

December 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

Congratulations on making it through Christmas! I hope that you made the best of the holiday and enjoyed it.

For me, I stuck to my plan – worked on my book, rode my bike, and watched old movies. It was a nice balance between work and play, productivity and relaxation.

There were two moments when I crossed over into a place of sorrow. The first was Christmas Eve, when I was reading posts on various sites. So many people were posting about being alone and isolated – their pain, their loneliness was so familiar to me…and so overwhelming. (It was like watching the ASPCA commercial over and over and over.) I so wanted to help them, to hug them, to remind them that they were not alone and they were loved. Words are seldom enough in those moments, but words were all I had, all I could use. I felt helpless, so let my ghosts guide me to write. And I prayed.

The second moment was right as I was going to bed Christmas night. I have this moment every year. It’s a dull sadness stemming from my hope – always eternal – that I will be remembered. I hope for the Christmas miracle. A reminder – a text, an email, a call – something to acknowledge a love – a relationship – once shared with a friend or a lover. I wait with fallen expectation every year, like Charlie Brown at his mailbox, seeking redemption, forgiveness, compassion, love – ANYTHING, but it never comes.

It’s never easy to explain…and I always feel stupid…and it goes back to when I was little waiting for my mother to show up, even though my family told me she wouldn’t. And the feeling emerged even though I heard from so many people over this holiday – even though I know I am loved and I chose to be alone. I didn’t hear from the one person who would make everything better – even though that one person is undefinable, that one person could have been any from my ridiculous (and long) list of people from my past.

I wait for resurrection.

Or more simply put…I miss my mom.

Heading into the last of the holidays and the new year, I am…well, I’m not sure how I am. Today has enough worries of its own to fret about tomorrow.


My Christmas Carol

December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

she weeps 2

“You will be haunted,” resumed the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.”

Yes, haunted – not visited as modern versions will have you believe – by three spirits.

It is Christmas Eve after all…and it happens to all of us on this night. The haunting…the memories of holidays passed tangle in the moments of today and the hopes and fears of the future. For we are all Scrooge…all Marley…all Bob Cratchit…with a little of Tiny Tim trying to survive our over-complicated lives.

In my life, these spirits swirl simultaneously, devoid of linear time, each crossing the other, shadows cast upon the shadows.

“I wear the chain I forged in life….I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wear it.”

Marley’s words echo as the Ghost of Christmas Present nears. We all forge chains – every choice becomes a link – every day more are forged, more are linked. Our chains grow longer – but some links are made of iron and some, by the gift of grace, are weightless. I carry them all.

The Ghost of Christmas Present comes first…the unknown, ragged children, Want and Ignorance, walking behind, not hidden. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

And I think this Ghost is not just for me…he and the children should visit many this night, but will anyone understand his warning? Are we not drowning in ignorance? Is our society not defined by want?  But still…I have a choice to close my eyes and feign ignorance or open them and do something to alter it. I can ache with want. I can let desire be my suffering, my prison, or I can choose peace.

Not exactly the Christmas Present I was hoping for…

Spirits move around me…particles entangle… energy transfers – familiar, safe. I reach out, letting my fingertips trail through one, as I tap into original energy…the essence and the divine.

The Spirit pauses and draws near. I have no fear of the future, for we all return to the source. I am not Scrooge and I will not quake. I will not vow and promise and beg. Beauty from ashes before I return to the dust.

Yet there come a whisper and I hear, “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused.”

This is my warning. This is my promise. Between the present and the return, there will be more opportunities…that is the promise…and the warning – the challenge – is to not misuse them…this time. I lived without regret for so long. Until. Until I misused my gifts, my opportunities…and regret defined me. “I am mortal and liable to fall.” But not again…not like that.

I have worked to make my amends. My burden is lighter, but my regret lingers and draws the one spirit to me I fear more than any, more than death, more than demons, more than the darkest shadow within my soul.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”


Go away.

I am …”Your reclamation, then. Take heed.”

My past is the last thing that can restore me.

And the ghost surrounds me, holding me in its energy, embraced by light – it is the energy of home and of love and of loss. It is everything and nothing. Memories flood my mind – Christmases with my family, the taste of my mother’s cooking, being surrounded by a mountain of gifts – my first GI Joe, my first bike, my first car…and fast-forward through the years, through the lovers, through the laughter, through the losses, through the holidays alone.

The spirit only grows warmer…and I weep. “Leave me! Haunt me no longer!”

But I know this is impossible…“I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me.” This is no epiphany. This is no curse. It is simply the truth – the truth of time and space, of warp and woof, all woven together and only to be known when I stop and wait, listen and watch.

So I leave you this eve to your own ghosts and with one wish, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Enjoying the Holidays on your Own: #7 – Be your own Santa

December 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Because the holidays aren't the same without an angel...

Because the holidays aren’t the same without an angel…

The same strategies you used for Thanksgiving apply to Christmas:

  1. Change your thinking
  2. Tell YOUR truth, not someone else’s
  3. Have a plan
  4. Remember, you’ve been through worse.
  5. Stay sober
  6. Give yourself a reality check

Here is another MUST –

Strategy #7: Be your own Santa. Buy yourself a gift or two (or ten), wrap them up, and open them on Christmas.

I’m not going to debate the “true meaning of Christmas” and discuss the spiritual significance of the season. Nor am I going to launch into another rant about commercialism.  You know, as do I, in the American culture, Christmas is strongly associated with gift giving and receiving.

We buy presents for the people we love. We buy presents to show appreciation. We buy presents to make other people happy and to give them what they want or need. We buy presents to say what we cannot say with words.

On the surface, it might seem silly to go through the whole present ritual for yourself. It might seem like a waste of time or money. For me, at first, it reminded me of being alone in the world.  One Christmas, the only gift I received was from myself…and I felt pathetic, alienated, unloved, and unlovable.

So why am I encouraging you to do something that can trigger such negative emotions? It doesn’t have to be that way. And it won’t, if you buy your gifts with a positive intention. Don’t buy yourself a gift and attach “no one loves me” or “nobody cares” or some negative thought to it. Buy it because you value yourself. Buy it to acknowledge your journey. Buy it out of love and as a celebration of life.

We are told to nurture ourselves, to love ourselves, yet we are seldom given practical instructions for doing so. Gift giving can be an act of nurturing. It is an act of self-love. Do you love yourself (or want to one day)? Do you acknowledge and appreciate the work you have been doing to change your life? Will you allow yourself to be happy? Show yourself some love and appreciation Christmas morning. Open your present and accept the love and the kindness.

We often hear “Christmas is about kids.” Well, life beats up the little kid in us.  Addiction can almost destroy that part of us. But your little kid holds wonder and faith and resilience…and play…and love. Nurturing that part of you can help to restore those things – opening your heart and your mind to beauty, to laughter, and to creativity.

Even if you are not in a place where you can nurture your adult self, take care of your little kid. (Mine is named Leo.) Restore some of his (or her) faith and trust in you by acknowledging all that part has held (and continues to hold) for you – the love and the pain. If you do nothing else for yourself this holiday season, give your little kid – your little Leo – a gift to unwrap and permission to play.

Happy Holidays from Alex and Leo!

I let Leo choose the picture. His gift to you is Koala Pirate.

I let Leo choose the picture. His gift to you is Koala Pirate.


Enjoying the Holidays on your Own: #6 – Reality Check

December 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

christmas treeSo…

I’ve been struggling.

I was going to warn you to watch out for the slippery (and seemingly inevitable) patch of emotional ice that comes each holiday season, but I was really hoping to avoid it this year. I made it through Thanksgiving. I got through the first week of Christmas carols. I even made it through A Charlie Brown Christmas. I finished my Christmas shopping. I thought I was in the clear.


Honestly, I don’t know what happened. I’m still clean. Still sober. But I’m restless…and searching for something. Memories come up…linger…wrap around me…and then evaporate. I search in every face. I search in my own face, trace my scars.

Feeling: I am on a precipice…I could go either way.

That used to mean something different. It used to be the choice between sobriety and using. Now, though, it is a choice between joy and grief. Do I wring every blessed ounce of happiness out of this day and the next…? Or…do I succumb to the temptation of despair?

Dramatic, huh?  That’s how feelings are sometimes:  theatrical, melancholic, oppressive. They take up as much space and energy as you allow. Unchecked and they can consume you. (Forgive me. My inner poet is warring with my rationalist.)

The distance created by writing…by pushing my search onto the screen…searching through words (instead of crowds)…allows me a different perspective – one more real than the phantoms I invited to haunt me.

Reality check: It’s all in my head. Literally.

This is a pattern that I have had for 20 years. I do great until I don’t. My brain, my body expects depression – like clockwork – starting December 14th and lasting until February. I expect to struggle. I expect to grieve. I expect sadness. I expect death. I expect the worst.

Reality check: None of those expectations are real.

Furthermore, fuck this. It’s time to set new expectations. No more struggle. Despair isn’t welcome. Friendly, joyful ghosts only. And how about an omen of life and renewal, instead of another memento mori? So Universe, I know you are listening…I expect something awesome to happen to me in these next six weeks.

New expectations = new focus = new beliefs = new pathways (neural and otherwise).

Reality check: Old habits die hard.

Don’t be surprised if you slip-slide your way through a couple of days. You will find your footing. Observe your emotions as objectively as you can. Give yourself a reality check.

And if your life isn’t what you want, don’t crumple and complain –  and wallow and waste your time and energy. Fucking change.

Yeah, I said it…just fucking change.

How? Set expectations based on who you are now and who you want to be. Let go of your ghosts. Stop focusing on your scars. See the light in your eyes. Be grateful you are alive and have the chance and can make the choice to change. Expect good things to happen to you.

And one last reality check: You are loved.

Not Every Anniversary Needs to be Celebrated

December 5, 2013 § 1 Comment

rose for helen 810But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.  – T.S. Eliot

I started this blog originally because I was facing the anniversary of my relapse and I needed an outlet – I needed to write. I kept it going when I realized how many people had similar stories; I believed “If I could stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain” (Emily Dickinson)…or write in vain.

Several years ago, on December 5th, I made a conscious choice to use – I knew it would ruin my life, but I made the choice anyway. It was a choice made out of fear and one I immediately (and for years afterward) regretted.

This year, I find myself in a different place. Since that decision led me to the life I now have, it doesn’t quite feel right to carry that regret. Yet I can’t say I would do it again…that, given the chance, I would make the same decision. I would have accepted the other consequences.

So I’m left wondering what to do with this day – this anniversary? I can’t ignore it – or can I ? To what purpose does “honoring” this day serve? Better to celebrate my clean date – or any of the glorious days I had before that, right? Or wouldn’t it be even better to be thankful for today, for this moment?

So I mark this “anniversary” one last time – not with regret or condemnation – not with fear or sadness. I acknowledge it for what it was – a turning point. I acknowledge the pain I caused and received. I acknowledge the destruction. I acknowledge all of it…I remember everything. I acknowledge the fear…and the love.

Next year, I will not acknowledge the history of this day. I won’t forget it, but it gets no more from me – no more grief, no more regret, no more energy. I release my attachment to the story woven around that night.

Not every anniversary needs to be “celebrated.”



Enjoying the Holidays on Your Own: #5 – Stay Sober

December 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

snowmen april

Louisiana Snow People – 2005

Strategy #5 – Stay sober.

Whether you are in recovery or not, if you struggle with the holidays, stay sober. Drinking alone…well, it’s drinking alone. While the first couple of drinks might provide temporary cheer, the fourth or fifth one (or whatever your tolerance) can lead you down a path you have been working so diligently to avoid.  Drinking basically opens the door to depression and regretful behavior (like emailing your ex or posting your misery online or calling your former dealer).

But you already know this…and I’m not going to lecture (even if it’s what I do best).

However, for those of you in recovery, I am compelled to write more. I’m not going to debate your drug of choice (because alcohol has never been your problem). I’m not going to warn you about all you have to lose or try to scare you into preserving your sobriety. You, better than anyone else, know what could happen, what you could lose, and how hard it is to come back to a place of peace.

I will caution you to watch your thoughts and think things through. Your mind is tricky. It’s convinced you to do things you thought you would never do. It can rationalize anything. It can justify. It will bargain. It will beg.

Thoughts become actions. And you CAN control where you focus your thoughts and your energy.

I know how lonely the holidays can feel. I know that the desire to connect (or reconnect) can be overwhelming.

Combine a desire to connect with well-worn thought patterns and the next thing you know, you might be knocking on the door of an “old friend” you haven’t seen since you’ve gotten clean. And by old friend, I mean a person – this isn’t a euphemism for drugs or alcohol.

However, if this is someone you used/drank with and this person isn’t in recovery, stop and think – “Is this the best thing for me?” (Actually, stop and think through everything/everyone.)

I’m not going to give you the tired pitch about how the people you got high with aren’t really your friends; some very strong bonds can be forged during times of duress.  And I’m not going to pass judgment and say that person is “bad” (or “good”). It’s not about him or her. It’s about YOU.

Is this the best thing for YOU?

Be prepared. Your mind will have a hundred reasons why you should go visit. It will create a thousand stories to get you there. If the choice is wrong for you, your mind will speed up, racing through the reasons to convince you to continue.

Remember, though, if the choice is right for you, there is no story attached. No rationalization. No justification. Just a simple yes or no…and a sense of peace.

Don’t steal your own peace in a moment of loneliness. Don’t give it away. You can connect without risking your serenity.

One Holiday Down – Two Left to Go

December 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

Congratulations! Hopefully, you survived Thanksgiving with your sanity and sobriety intact. (We’ll talk more about sobriety in the next few days.)

While I genuinely enjoyed my holiday, I did learn a few things:

1.      One person does not need a whole turkey.

2.      I need to plan for more than just the holiday and the day after.

3.      Healthy alone time starts to feel like unhealthy isolation after 3 days.

4.     Even though I’ve had “more” in previous years, I have never been so grateful than I was this year.

Looking ahead to Christmas and New Year’s, I need to adjust a few things. I didn’t struggle with depression. I didn’t struggle with my sobriety…or anxiety…or nostalgia. I celebrated what I have. I celebrated what I lost. I said thanks for the people in my life, the ones who have left, and the ones who are coming into it.

Maybe a little too much...

Maybe a little too much…

My only real struggle showed up towards the end of day 3 in the form of self-imposed isolation.  It’s not that I get lonely – I don’t…and that’s what concerns me.  I had places I could have gone (and probably enjoyed) but I chose to stay home.  I seem to make that choice far too often, leaving me to wonder what opportunities I might be missing.

I’ve always been somewhat solitary. I need more time on my own than most people, but I used to balance it with social interaction…a gregarious recluse.

Then, I slipped and fell headlong into my addiction. After I got clean, I lived in a state of constant anxiety perpetuated by shame. I didn’t want to go anywhere for fear of seeing someone who knew me “before.” I was ashamed of my fall…ashamed I was alive…ashamed of everything.  I wanted to avoid the awkwardness of an encounter – or worse, the pain of rejection.

I learned how to be invisible. I learned to survey a space for “danger.” I learned how to avoid. I learned how to hide…and I felt safe.

Unfortunately, that part of me still surfaces regularly – not the shame – but the habit of isolation. And that’s exactly how I’m going to treat this, as a bad habit I want to break. It’s time to get back out into the world.

At this point, I’m simply going to be my own witness, acknowledge that I want to change this in my life, and set the intention to restore balance. No planning. No checklist. No steps. Just intention (and an intense curiosity to see how the world will meet me).

Where Am I?

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