“Made a list of all persons we had harmed,
and became willing to make amends to them all”
Today is Christmas Eve. For many of us, that means getting together with family we don’t often mingle with. Sometimes the mix creates a Molotov cocktail, with one incendiary whose mission is to pit family members against one another. (Wikipedia says these particular cocktails are “primarily intended to set targets ablaze rather than instantly destroy them.”) Perhaps you can even name that person in your family who moves from conversation to conversation setting everyone off. Perhaps you are or have been that person.
My Honey often repeats the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” When wounded families come together for the holidays, they don’t leave their hurts at home. Often the pain of mingling with abusive or intrusive family members is exacerbated by secret sins that have never been made right. With the just-right mix of people, ghosts of Christmas’ past, and often, booze, many families have a less than “holly jolly Christmas.”
If your family holidays are not Norman Rockwell worthy, and the above paragraphs ring true in any way, you are far from alone. Many people in recovery survive facing their families at holiday time. They even manage to look at these get-togethers as litmus tests of their own recovery. There’s nothing like “Uncle Joe’s” inappropriate comments that can bring the truth of where we are in our own recovery racing to the surface.
Do we react or respond? Do we get sucked into an argument, or walk away? Can we remember who we are now, not allowing ourselves to be placed into the ill-fitting boxes from yesteryear?
Or are the tables turned? Am I the one forgetting to allow another to grow out of their family straitjacket? Do I hold someone hostage with my jokes or innuendos? Are there amends I haven’t yet made or been made aware of?
One popular Santa song says:
“He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice”
Step Eight speaks of a different list, one that requires some serious introspection. In A Hunger For Healing, we see that, “Step Eight is a social housecleaning, just as Step Four was our personal housecleaning. In Step Eight we’re setting out to clean up all the bruised relationships and the pockets of guilt, pain, fear, resentment, and sadness that are stored inside, stuck to our shameful past deeds. For this undealt-with material blocks us from loving other people, ourselves, and God in the present.
It’s as if God were saying, “Okay, now you want me to take all of your character defects, fine. Then you can be free and serene and the person I want you to be. But first you must see that almost all your troubles involve other people. You’ve tried to control them one way or the other or fix them; you have guilty or resentful feelings about them; or you have been so preoccupied with yourself and your feelings, dreams, and plans that you have ignored them emotionally and caused them to experience some of their worst fears of being deserted. Now I want you to face what you have done and own your part in hurting each person in your life so you can move into the future I have for you unencumbered by the past and beginning to understand how not to keep repeating the mistakes of that past.”
– A Hunger for Healing, p. 135-136
The Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 8 reminds us that “The Eighth Step starts the procedure of forgiving others and possibly being forgiven by them, forgiving ourselves, and learning how to live in the world.”
As we celebrate the holidays with our families, we can remember that, although they may be far from perfect, so are we. Only with the true Spirit of Christmas in our hearts, can God restore the brokenness of our pasts and use our story to bring hope to loved ones who are still stuck in unhealthy places.
So, here’s the Christmas challenge for all of us, as we interact with others over the holidays: Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us aware of ourselves, and any amends we need to make. And then, let’s make our lists, check them twice, and pray for Spirit-led opportunities to follow through with Step 9.
Happy, emotionally-healthy holidays to all! And to all a good night!