Am I the only one who feels profoundly ambivalent about celebrations? Not just the commonly stressful major holidays, but more personal celebrations: Birthdays. Recovery milestones. Achievements. Anniversaries. Any time we say here’s this thing about my own life that I am going to acknowledge as good. What brings out the ambivalence in me?
Theory # 1: I am afraid that I’ll screw up before I get to the milestone. For example, I am going to a large recovery gathering this weekend. Hundreds of people will be celebrating milestones in their recovery, covering from days to decades. Getting ready to go made me realize that I am having a bit of pre-milestone squirreliness, myself. This is an acknowledged phenomenon in recovery groups: that people get restless, anxious and even self-sabotaging as a big date approaches. Well, every May 3 I add another year to my total, so I’m right in the squirrel zone. It’s just good to have some awareness around it.
Theory # 2: I’ve been taught that good things don’t last, and that being content will hasten the inevitable ill fortune. Many of us internalized the same message in childhood and had it reinforced in adulthood by our families, peers, fearmongering media, etc. Celebrating feels like tempting fate, as if we’re in a Greek tragedy and the gods might see our pride as offensive and smite us.
Theory #3: Celebrating any achievement makes me sad because I think I should have achieved the thing earlier, or differently. How wonderful my life could be now if I’d gotten into recovery 10 years ago! Happy birthday to me–but I’m not where I should be at this age. Damn, what if I had never given up writing 25 years ago! (Gazpacho Soup, anyone?)
Theory #4: Just plain bad associations. Someone dear to me died on my tenth birthday. Celebrating present recovery milestones reminds me of past celebrations that were followed by failures. Self-congratulatory shopping for clothes after weight loss tended to end with said clothes going to charity.
So how do I allow myself to get past my ambivalence and honor things that want to be acknowledged? Do I pin disclaimer notes to myself as I sit at dinner with friends? Do I sacrifice a goat or two at the altars of If-Only and Don’t-Count-Your-Chickens before I head to a party? Do I get creative with a hat and some fishing gear to rig myself a portable Damoclean sword?
This convention is a good example. I have a shitload of grace to celebrate and share and give thanks for–but a part of me feels I should have more at the “vintage” I am. That my life should be more organized, my finances in better shape, and my career, well…existent. Mental disclaimer notes, all over my cool T-shirt.
How does that serve anyone? Do I really think that I am only allowed to celebrate something if I know it’s perfect and permanent? Of course I, as a whole, don’t. But this is a case of me rooting out a hidden “core belief,” as the cognitive-behavioral folks would say, and talking back to it.
For what it’s worth, I am stating an intention to celebrate at the gathering. I will dance at least once, bad shoulder or not. On Saturday morning I’m doing my first 5K with my fellow addicts–on what planet is that not something to celebrate for a person who could barely walk up a flight of stairs? And when, at the largest meeting, I join hands with over a thousand of my peers, I will try to send myself the same love and support I am sending each of them.