I remember learning in the parent group while my son was in rehab the first time that the addict is forever chasing that first high. Nothing can compare with the initial use, the chemistry is forever altered, it requires ever more of the substance to achieve any pleasurable results. Yet the user knows how amazing it feels, remembers the euphoria. So the chase continues. I think holiday gatherings are much like this for me.
I love thanksgiving, I love cooking and decorating and filling my table with friends and family. I chase the high of gratitude filling the air like the sweet smell of marijuana at an outdoor concert. I just know if I provide the setting, put all the pieces in place, grace will overflow like wine from a shakily poured brown bottle in an alley. I expect card games after the meal, laughter rising up, children running amok, a party worthy of the noise control. I am chasing a high long gone. I cook for two days, plan much longer. I scour Pinterest for table doo-dads, I write on chalkboards. Like the heroin user setting up the needle, spoon, the rope to tie around my arm, my high begins with the process. The anticipation of what is to come generates energy, I barely sleep. Excitement builds, I know my high is coming. But just like the addict who is stuck remembering that one great time, I am forever disappointed. I know I am expecting too much, I want to recreate that one event or a compilation of wonderful thanksgivings without telling everyone their part in my play. Still, it is thanksgiving dammit. Where is the gratitude? Where is the grace? Why aren’t we playing cards? Why did no one write on the board or fill out their little cards at the table? I was left feeling like a drive through, albeit one with couches and a tv for everyone to pass out on after the meal. Coming right in time for the meal, leaving immediately after or taking a nap, not contributing to my high. I was left wanting.
It has taken me days to realize the pressure I put on everyone else to fill me with gratitude. I wanted everyone else to get me high, to load me up on this one day. Just as an addict is looking externally for fulfillment, I forgot that I am in charge of my own joy. I forgot that grace was still at our table, that I had indeed provided the setting for each person to dine but also to rest. The rush of their lives doesn’t allow for that, just stopping for a while was a gift, something I know they are grateful for, something they treasure about our closeness. Because the day didn’t go as I planned I lost sight of my own gratitude. I missed out on the real high of the day.
The leftovers are gone, the fine china stored again. My own nap has restored me. I have resisted putting up the Christmas decorations, something I usually do the weekend after the big turkey fest. Instead, I am reflecting on my own lack of thanks, my own need for others to fill me up. The pumpkins and gourds, the oranges and yellows have stayed put around the house until I achieve my own sobriety, until I can write on my own chalkboard. Reviewing the 12 steps is enlightening, reminding me that the hole I was trying to fill is God-sized.
Here are the 12 Steps as defined by Alcoholics Anonymous:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
I’m not sure which step I’m on, I know holidays are rough, I may slide back as Christmas looms and our household is rocky right now. I may try to force others into my mental images of great family gatherings in order to achieve my jolly, my merry. One day at a time, though. For now, it is enough that I know my high comes from the Most High, that there will never be a perfect gathering here on earth, certainly not around my dining room table. I think my sanity is being restored, I am grateful for that. To all who gathered here, I apologize for not finding your very presence to be enough. I am sorry for wanting more from you, adding strings you couldn’t see. That is my defect, please consider joining me for coffee and cookies and a chat and a nap if you need. I am thankful for all of you, I really am.