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I have recently discovered that I am experiencing a paradoxical reaction to medication I’ve been taking for nearly a year. It is an antidepressant, but was prescribed to help my stomach pain and migraines. The most effective dose for me, which is higher than for others, also happens to make me incredibly sad and have a terribly short fuse. When I reduce the medicine even incrementally, I feel much better emotionally, but my other symptoms increase. That’s most certainly a paradoxical reaction because an anti-depressant is supposed to enhance your mood, not darken it!
So I am left with two choices, neither of which is completely satisfying; either of which will cause me to experience pain. My husband, too often the brunt of that short fuse, has a clear favorite. It’s my preference as well. But in making that decision, I am going to have to deal with the result of my choice.
I think this relates to how many people experience the holiday season. I’m recording this on Christmas Day, which, this year, is also the first day of Hanukkah. From Thanksgiving to January 1st, it’s supposed to be a jolly, happy, joyous time of year. TV ads and Hallmark-type shows pound that message into our heads.
But for many of us, for a wide variety of reasons, this is a season where we feel sad, demoralized, lonely, angry, and/or despondent.
Some have experienced the loss of a loved one during the year. Others may feel an increased yearning for a partner with whom to share the holidays. And still others may have grown up in dysfunctional homes and have negative memories that come flooding in during the season.
And for others, all is absolutely fine on the surface, but there is a just a palpable sadness around the holidays that we just can’t shake.
For compulsive spenders, the holidays may have given them a high, but they may be left feeling a letdown if they have gone to town buying lots and lots of gifts, because it’s now over.
So what are we to do? One thing we must not do is to beat ourselves up for whatever feelings we have or tell ourselves that there is no reason to feel this way. We must recognize and acknowledge our pain.
They say pain is what I walk through, misery is what I sit in.
While it makes me want to scream when people say it’s time to get over it, time to move on, the truth is that sitting in the pain and ruminating over it is never going to make things better. We can’t think our way out of our suffering.
But here are some suggestions of what we might want to do next to help ourselves move forward.
- Make a gratitude list of at least ten items. There is no question that reminding ourselves of what is good in our lives will help us move out of a negative mindset. Everyone can find something for which to be grateful. In the December 25th reading from the Getting Out from Going Under Daily Reader for Compulsive Debtors and Spenders, I write about the small acts of kindness we experience each and every day that we take for granted.
- Make someone else feel good. Call an elderly relative who would just love to hear your voice. Or let someone go ahead of you in the grocery line. Or hold the door open for somebody you don’t know. It doesn’t have to be a large gesture. Any small act of kindness you engage in will make you feel better and make somebody else feel good.
- Read the St. Francis prayer out loud and meditate on that for five minutes. You don’t have to be a Christian to find this prayer a soothing balm for your soul. In this version of the prayer, I made two slight adjustments that make this prayer universal no matter what your religion or even if you are an atheist.
I suggest this prayer because it so precisely describes ways in which we are focused on self, which can bring us so much misery, and suggests how to turn our self-centeredness around to be of service to others, which can bring us more peace and joy. This is certainly not easy to do (at least not for me), but I love the specific actions I can take to change my perspective and focus.
(Note: I put alternatives to the word God in [brackets] and put “[to self]” in brackets in the last line, as I have seen done in some 12-Step literature. But you can even remove the last line entirely and find much solace in the rest of the prayer!)
[God/Higher Power/Mother Nature/Or any word of your choosing], make me an instrument of thy peace!
That where there is hatred, I may bring love.
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.
That where there is error, I may bring truth.
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.
That where there is despair, I may bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
[God/Higher Power/Mother Nature/Or any word of your choosing], grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.
To understand, than to be understood.
To love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying [to self] that one awakens to Eternal Life.
Prepare for Next Year
Now, begin the process of preparing for next year. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s the way I’m doing it.
Acknowledge Your Accomplishments from last Year
First, make a list of what you accomplished over the past year.
This idea came to me after I was having a very difficult time thinking that I had made no life progress this year. I wrote about the past year, pouring out my pain and feelings of failure, but in the process, also realized that I had, indeed, accomplished quite a bit.
When I looked at what I had achieved, I deliberately made sure not to focus on the negatives around them, which I could easily have done! For instance, I could focus on the fact that hardly anyone attends the meditation group I started as part of a bigger group. But the accomplishment is that, because of my efforts, there is now a small, but loyal group, despite the fact that no one was previously able to get a local group going at all!
So, here are a few of my 2016 accomplishments.
- Began, and stuck with, the I Can’t Stop Spending podcast. That was really, really, really hard for me to do! (You can listen to an incredibly inspiring podcast and Vlog by my mentor, Cliff Ravenscraft, who kept me going more than once when I wanted to quit! He talks about my journey and reaching out to him for help. His advice is fantastic for anyone beginning any type of endeavor.)
- Was led to find willingness to commit to a daily meditation practice.
- Lost three sponsors in multiple programs and continued to stay in recovery one day at a time.
Next, set goals for next year.
I realized that I experience my years unconsciously because I live one day at a time. But there is something a little bit uplifting about looking at the big picture of a year and setting goals in a way that I can review them at the end of the next year. There’s something that feels just a little bit magical about that process.
Now, that isn’t the same as New Year’s Resolutions, which are generally items I would deal with one day at a time, like not debting or staying abstinent with my food or staying sober. For me, these annual goals have to be achievable over time and not just one more thing to beat myself up about if I don’t reach them.
So, for instance, I wouldn’t say, “write two hours a day every day” or “write a post-apocalyptic novel.” Though I truly desire both of those things, as goals for a recovering addict like me, they’re too extreme, specific, and directive based on where I am today (which is absolutely nowhere with each – despite my desire to achieve these two goals).
It would be too easy for me to fail at both, and it’s not turning my will and life over to my Higher Power (HP) because maybe He or She has a better plan. So, a more open-ended goal, such as “express my creativity through writing” would better serve me and allow me to get out of the way to see how my HP will guide me. But, as you’ll see in a moment, I’ve broadened the goal even further to give my HP even more space to do what is in my best and highest interest.
Using a “God Box”
Many years ago, I won a “God box” at a 12-step retreat. People use such a box to put in wishes, pain points, prayers, etc. You don’t have to call it a “God box.” That’s just the symbolic representation of a power greater than me. The box sits on my shelf, but is rarely used. However, I think it’s a wonderful idea to put my goals for the year into that box, which I consider kind of sacred, so that next December, I will have an easy way to remind myself of what I wanted at the beginning of the year and then, to think about what I achieved.
I’ve put a picture of my “God box” at the start of this post. You can create your own sacred box out of any material you’d like. You can call it your “Sacred box” or “Higher Power box” or “HP box” or “Healing Energy box” or “Fred’s box” or anything you’d like! And then, put each of your goals on a separate piece of paper and leave it in the box until next December.
I am going to create a small ceremony when I place the goals into the box. Maybe light a candle and say the Serenity prayer before doing so. Nothing big, just some way to imbue this process with intention.
Goals for Compulsive Spenders
For compulsive spenders in the throes of their addiction, you might put in the box a broad goal of “being in recovery with spending.” Something more specific like “don’t debt” or “live within my means” or “live by a spending plan” may be too triggering based on where you are with your addiction today, and could cause you to use this process as an excuse to compulsively spend (like binging before starting a diet on Monday). This is intended as a gentle process. So the broader goal of “being in recovery with spending” would allow you to take the first step of attending a 12-step meeting, for instance, which would lead to the steps necessary to accomplish the more specific goals.
Here are some of my 2017 goals:
- I want 2017 to be a year of meaningful creativity for me.
- To engage in creative activities on a regular basis about which I am passionate.
- To practice the harmonium.
- To increase my spiritual connection with my Higher Power.
- To engage in steady, creative, and meaningful paid work that doesn’t adversely impact my disability.
- To continue staying abstinent, solvent, and sober.
- To continue the work of healing my relationships and my emotions
So, now, use this week between Christmas and New Year’s as a time of renewal. Be gentle with yourself and allow the positive to come through. Yes, we grow through our pain and we live one day at a time, but we can still offer up our hopes, dreams, and energy to let the universe know that we have the serious intention of accomplishing that which will make our hearts sing and bring us more healing. Engaging in this process will surely set in motion a chain of events that will encourage you to become willing to take the necessary actions toward achieving your goals with the help of your Higher Power.
What are Your Accomplishments and Goals?
I’d love to know some of your accomplishments from last year and goals for next year. Please write them in the Comments section below this post.