It’s a Wonderful Life, Depending…

On what you define as a wonderful life.

I recently watched this movie. I’d never watched these classics, believing them to depict the superficial perfected life that the 40s and 50s boasted. Pleasantville-like, these showcases of the American Dream never really interested me.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t. The main actor’s life goes to shit. When he wants to kill himself, and almost does, an adorable angel named Clarence changes his fate. Finding what the world would be like without George Bailey, he soon finds his life wasn’t so bad afterall.

All addicts and alcoholics partake in this same phenomenon. While on their downhill landslide, or avalanche, they drown in the sea of self sabatoge. Loathing their very existence, the desperately look for ways to escape through the bottle, needle, or pill.

All they come to find is they’ve become the very ugliness they avoided for so long.

Finding the other side of the leaf is essential when one enters into and stays in recovery.

The 12-Steps show you how.

For normal people, holidays are not always cheery and full of laughter. For some, they can be deadly. Memories, loss, trauma, and the remainder of despairing times can be devastating. What do people who struggle with addiction, trauma, or just generally shitty families, or attitudes, do to cope?

Too many times, societal pressures force people into the storybook beliefs that we need to be perfect, surrounded by possessions, with zero problems. We should be happy, we should smile (even when we feel terrible), must have a boyfriend/girlfriend, have kids with no problems, have a job that pays hundreds of thousands, or has a car better than the neighbors. The rat trap is still alive and kicking today, in the hearts of many, with no end in sight, despite the changes that we are slowly making.

Interestingly enough, Christmas is one of the deadliest days of the year. Jen Christensen wrote in the 2013 article on CNN, “Why do more people die on Christmas, New Year’s,” that adults have the greatest chances of dying from natural causes on these days and the day after Christmas. Natural causes are least likely to be survived, for reasons unknown. Circulatory problems, respiratory diseases, endocrine/nutritional/metabolic problems, digestive diseases, and cancer are all culprits. It’s not suicide, however. The Center for Disease Control actually debunks this myth, reporting it is at its lowest during these times.

Me: I blame the toxic cultural traditions internalized by us for decades.

I still identify more with Bad Santa than the traditional Christmas movies like Miracle on 34th Street, I have had to shift my perspective over this lifetime to a healthier version. Not because it was necessarily bad, but because it didn’t capture the true nature of these times. My focus was off.

Living with a bad past makes it hard to separate and not let affect the future. By nature, trauma impresses bad feeling states upon those afflicted that push them instantly back into the past when something triggers that.

Trauma has no time, and events that occurred 30 years ago feel like they happened yesterday.

Feeling-memories are what haunt those with PTSD and any survivor that deals with depression, anxiety, or other ails from deeply painful events.

For those in addiction, these times can be the worst. There are high levels of relapse, with the admission rates in rehabs jumping from 25% to over 60% after Thanksgiving, according to the Center for Network Therapy. Holiday financial stress, familial strain, and holiday blues lead people back to using or drinking given these triggered negative feeling states over the holidays. Especially if you listen to country music, since every other song is about booze (still).

If you get to a place and stay in that place, your chances for survival drop. As an alcoholic in recovery, I am well aware that resentment is the deadliest disease of them all. If I spent my time focusing on all the ways that the world has done me wrong, and live my life as the victim, I will enable the past and those abusive people from it to influence today. And, that is just something that I refuse to allow to happen. Those people have ceased to exist, and they will forever stay in the past of my mind. As a wonderful reminder of who or where never to go back to, I use these memories only to propel me forward on the path of health and recovery. They bring me to focus on the present.

I also rely on the fellowship of the 12-Steppers. They are those who have helped me to live with over a decade of recovery’s worth of Christmas and New Year’s Days. They know how I think, what I feel, and where my mind goes when left to it’s own devices. And I, theirs. Because, we all have that great beast of burden in common.

It’s useless to fight off the your natural characteristics. We are a primal species at heart living in a sea of denial with our logical thoughts repressing all things instinctual. The caveat- we cannot think our way out of our primal states.

Denial is the fastest way to the bottle (or needle). Repressing your emotions does nothing but help people find maladaptive ways to cope, like drink. Acceptance and right action are the power tools that people who get into recovery and stay in recovery use. I figured out that your thinking can be changed, given constant positive structure and influence.

a shirtless man with wolf makeup snarling
Photo by Ricardo Ortiz

We all have these things about ourselves that are neither good nor bad. These are just parts of ourselves that help us in some situations and detract in others. When you repress, block, and dismiss those parts of you, you cut off a central component of your personality. Welcome them, love them, and recognize why they are there. They protected you at one point, until they became the offenders. They don’t have to keep you safe anymore-their job is over. However, they are still you, in certain forms.

So if I go to the dark ages over the holidays, I force myself back into the present. I talk about what’s on my mind. I know that if I go to and remain focused on all that happened at a time I allowed toxic people into my world, I will go right back to that victim place and remain in the Karpman Triangle as long as I let myself. Self-loathing has no place in healing. I have the power to steer my life in the direction I choose. I had a part in all those relationships also, and I chose how to move my future forward. I had and have the power to build boundaries and maintain health and happiness in my life.

Find your bright spot. Focus your sights on those parts of your life which are working. Do you have health? Can you still walk? Are there people who support you? Having a roof, food, and a way to support my family and me are the subtle big things frequently taken for granted. There was a time I thanked the heavens again for being able to toilet independently. However bad it may get, there are always parts of life to be grateful for.

My favorite saying: you can’t be hateful if you’re grateful.


  1. Christensen, J. 2013. Why do die at Christmas, New Year’s? CNN. Referenced on 12/25/22 from:
  2. Center for Disease Control. Holiday Suicides, Fact of Myth? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Referenced on 12/25/22 from:
  3. Center for Network Therapy. Drug and Alcohol Relapse Rates Spike 150% during the Holidays.” Referenced on 12/25/22 from:
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