Recovery guides us away from excusing, rationalizing, and disguising our sensitivities, proclivities and failures. Before this we struggle to see our mistakes as progress or learning tools. We think them embarrassing and even unacceptable. That acquired cloak of shame originally tossed over our shoulders by shame-based models, becomes a staple of our attire. But, with loving determination, it can be removed, again and again, until we wake one day and simply forget to put it on. We suddenly find self–deprecation, self-conscious fear, and self- centeredness diffused by the cultivated reflexes of surrender, acceptance and humor.
Lately, fewer of my “mistakes” trigger self-loathing or bolster my defenses. Because the price, (thank goodness) is too high. Like most defense budgets, it cripples my ability to send energy and resources where they would most benefit my progress. A little honesty, a dash of grieving and a strong dose of humor taught me the bottom line for healing - never take my ‘self’ too seriously.
For many of us, nothing raises defenses more than the holidays. Enjoyed by about one in eight Americans that I know, the rest of us dread it to greater and lesser degrees depending on cost, busy-ness, expectations and perfectionism. Dependency on tradition is a rough road peppered with ancestral and commercial pot holes. There are lots of potentially disappointed family members, friends, employees, colleagues, delivery folks and sanitation crews who without the proper tokens of our affection and appreciation will certainly repay our failure with life-long resentments. There will be no second chances, no hope of redemption. Even your buddy Jesus can’t help after you fall short of your expectations programmed by relentless holiday ads, movies and music.
Each year I find myself asking, what if I just didn’t do anything about Christmas? What if I went all Grinch on its ass? No tree, no presents, no roast beast, no panic? Would I still be allowed to sing the old songs and enjoy my families company? That is the message of the story, after all. Why is it we use Grinch as a symbol for a ruiner of the holiday and not it’s redeemer as he turns out to be. How do we repeatedly miss the point? Shame is a blinding, deafening task-master who will not be ignored. That’s why.
To quiet shame takes steps, recovery, transformation. This is the miracle of each and every day. We can put energy, commitment and effort into changing – some days we can manage just one tiny change, other days a bigger one. The next day we may reclaim habitual actions and feel no progress. But, persistence inevitably alters the landscape of our internal wandering. We coax the frightened, unworthy child, dancing as fast as she can to slow to a pace that feels right, feels safe, feels loving no matter what she does or doesn’t do on the holiday… or any day.
Just for today, what is one small action you can take (or refrain from taking) that consciously moves you in the direction you would like to go?