Monthly Archives: December 2013

Why are the holidays so hard?

By Jack Smith

Some say the holidays are hard because we expect too much. We hope for Norman Rockwell and end up with Clark Griswold.

We cook too much. We clean too much. We shop too much. We spend too much. We drink too much, eat too much and expect too much.

Those things are probably true. But my guess is what makes the holidays hard for some of us is we carry too much weight into the season of giving. And it’s exhausting.

0a5301f66fbf9b544fd851c1da927206We carry our burdens and resentments, our hurts and disappointments that have accumulated in our hearts and minds. We carry our failures and our bitterness, our  pain and our anxiety about what the future may hold.

With the end of the year approaching, it feels like dragging an anvil across a finish line we can’t really even see.

Only dragging our hurts to the New Year doesn’t make any of those problems go away. It can even make us feel worse when Auld Lang Syne has been sung, the confetti has fallen and the last drink of the year has been consumed. Because none of those traditions solve our problems.

Holidays are hard for those who’ve lost loved ones, too. Loss is not easy on a Tuesday in February, either, but when those who were a part of our holiday portraits are suddenly wiped off the canvas, those holiday traditions we cherish are never quite the same. They even hurt for a while.

Holidays are hard for those who’ve lost a job, gotten a divorce or been diagnosed with an illness. I suspect the holidays are hard for them because peace is elusive even though they know the Prince of Peace is on His way. We know that should make us feel better. When it doesn’t, it only makes us feel worse.

Holidays are hard for recovering alcoholics because once deer season ends, cocktail season begins. We fool ourselves into thinking a glass of wine or three always made it all easier, even though it really never did.

Holidays are hard for alcoholics because nearly everything about the holidays revolves around alcohol. Those early in sobriety even feel a sense of self pity, wondering why we can’t have a drink like everybody else.

Holidays are also hard for those  of us who are utterly incapable of being the recipients of kindness, gifts or grace without feeling guilt or the need to give back in equal measure that which we receive.

John Wesley, father of Methodism, had something to say about this. “Nothing is harder for capable people at Christmas than to simply come and receive.”

This year, I’m hoping to change where I am going. As a friend told me about a sermon he heard Sunday, isn’t that what the Magi did?

It’s one of the more profound parts of the Christmas story. Manger scenes remind us they made it to the babe, but we often forget they had to change directions when they left to go home. They went home a different way, but they were forever changed.

I’m hoping to go home a different way, to leave 2013 behind me as a changed man. That would be the greatest gift of all.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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Relapse really is part of recovery

By Jack Smith

My doctor told me two things the day I left The Menninger Clinic: I may never outgrow bipolar disorder, and relapse is often part of recovery.

My first six weeks or so at home, I felt renewed and refreshed, hopeful and content.

I awoke every day at 5 am, read my Bible, made a gratitude list and enjoyed the silent comfort morning brings. I experienced something that has eluded me for much of life. Serenity.

My naive hope was that my illness was behind me. Maybe I finally had found the right combination of meds and mojo, therapy and attitude.

Yet somehow the train recently came careening off the tracks, and I couldn’t stop it. I pulled the emergency brake, but it didn’t stop. I did all the things I was told to do.

I prayed. I exercised. I mentalized. I took deep breaths. I told myself the paralyzing anxiety that triggered obsessive and ridiculous thoughts would pass, that feelings are just that. They aren’t facts.

Yet the depression came back like a slow-moving, dark cloud, consuming my soul and distorting my thoughts. The stubborn cloud hasn’t moved.

Depression is a liar. It tells me my life is unraveling. It tells me the pain and suffering might never go away. It tells me I’m not worthy of the blessings I’ve been given. Worst of all, it makes me forget how blessed I really am. This disease is cruel and cunning, relentless and unforgiving, exhausting and maddening.

It tells me it’s not even worth the fight. It tells me to fear my emotions, all my emotions, because I might launch into mania or slide down the slippery slope of misery.

Today, I used all the strength I could muster to try and climb out of this dark and dreadful abyss. My fear is slipping into the pit of agony again as I scratch and claw my way out.

As difficult and discouraging as these days have been, I have not given up hope.  I can’t give up hope because it’s all I have.

I do not believe God has forsaken me or left me alone in the bitter cold and darkness of winter. I believe he has a plan for me, a reason for my suffering. I just don’t yet know what it is.

I have asked God to take this burden away from me, but I can accept it if He doesn’t. At least then the suffering will not have been in vain.

 

 

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