Next to my place is a market filled with overpriced things like almond milk. And hummus. And Wine. It’s the kind of place you go in a hurry when you run out at the last moment. I shop here almost exclusively.

At the checkout, just after getting home from a particularly tricky family holiday gathering, I discover a display with a new wine for this holiday season, named “Family Time Is Hard”. I was immediately hit with familiar mix of jealousy and rage. How do those of us trying to remain awake and unaltered and sober manage amidst the inevitably challenging moments of family holiday gatherings? If we don’t drink, don’t use sugar to numb ourselves and don’t medicate somehow, what options do we have to help us get through?

And if we do find a way to remain sober, however we define it, what about all our other practices? Like my commitment to non-judgment and speaking without gossiping and trying to express sincere gratitude in every exchange I have? What about finding the good in each person I’m with? Or my commitments to right speech?

And, what about my pledge to not hide?

What about the profound loneliness that smacks you down when people who know you don’t really know you? Or the humbling truth of recognizing the same in reverse?

Truth is, I did spend a portion of my holiday gathering hiding. That was the mechanism I used to not have to be brave in the midst of a few landmines. Hiding was my version of “Family Time Is Hard” wine.
But that’s not all that happened.
I also had a great time.
I Remained unaltered.
I kept my sobriety practices in most of the ways I define them.
I exchanged love, felt it and gave it, and I laughed way more than I hid.

I’m proud of these small moments.

So… what’s an awake/sober person’s tool for survival? What’s our version of ‘Family Time Is Hard’ wine? We all know when the planes going down we’re supposed to put our own oxygen mask on first, right?

What’s my version of an oxygen mask?
What’s yours?

Here’s what I did;img_3978

1) I planned my food before I went. I knew it would be triggering so I promised my friend I’d text everything I ate before I ate it, forcing my mindfulness to rise.

2) Another friend told me she forces herself to walk around the buffet table at a party twice each time before she takes any food, so I did that too.

3) I took a long walk in the morning, without headphones or distraction and I thought about the people I’d be with and what I loved about them.

4) I consciously thought about how I wanted to feel. “I want to feel easy. I want to feel joyful. I want to feel loved.” and then I thought about ways I could achieve those feelings, even something tiny like making sure what I was wearing didn’t make me feel uncomfortable in any way. I thought about how my family might want to feel and I considered how I could contribute. Being in service always helps.

5) I decided in advance how I wanted to behave so that my feelings at the moment didn’t filibuster my goal.

6) I hid in the bathroom a couple of times taking the time to re-center and commit to my practice.

Later, I thought about the Ratana Sutta I love that Buddhist Monks often chant. The chant, you might think of it as a prayer, contains simple instructions and noble reminders:

Instructions:
Pay attention.
Show kindness.family-time-cis-hard
Live in community.
Be extreme in your devotion to what matters.

Reminders:
Wisdom and practice are the ingredients of well-being.
The middle of things is where truth resides.
By the truth, all will be well.
Concentration and focused intention has no equal.
The past is extinct.
Abundant fruit is bestowed to the conscious, kind and committed.

The sutra has 17 verses, each completed by this phrase “by this truth may there be happiness”. I’ve discovered this as pure truth.  Knowing, practicing and relying upon all of this is my oxygen mask, during the holidays.. and every single day.

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