Keep Calm and Shamrock On

Those of you who have been following Not Otherwise Specified since the beginning will remember how angry and triggered I used to feel around St. Patrick’s Day. If you are just tuning in, check out my post In Like A Lion. While I don’t disagree with the general premise of that post – and the glorification of excessive alcohol consumption is something that still has the potential to push me over the edge – I am happy to report that I no longer seethe with resentment with the arrival of March. In fact, I have done so much healing around St. Patrick’s Day that it is celebrated in our household. Yup. So if St. Patrick’s Day makes you want to drive your face through a wall…there is hope for you, too.

I think the most obvious thing that made me hate St. Patrick’s Day is that I felt left out. I’d be willing to bet actual Irish people think our American traditions are a little ridiculous. (Can any of my readers vouch for this theory?) However, ridiculous or not, it’s hard to be surrounded by a cultural norm and not participate. I was at the craft store buying baskets the other day and I saw a sparkly, green and white, shamrock adorned tutu. My teeny, tiny inner child stomped her foot and pouted. She wanted to wear that tutu. But let’s be real… where the hell am I going to wear a shamrock tutu? Today I am able to help my envious inner child play scenarios out. I’d be willing to bet that a handful of twenty-somethings will snatch up those tutus for their party, parade, or pub crawl. They might get super wasted, projectile vomit green beer, and laugh about it with their friends the next day. And for some people, that’s perfectly fine. It is not, on the other hand, fine for me. I did not have the luxury of engaging in that behavior for the majority of my twenties. The “fun” ship had sailed. I was already a passenger on the warship “Self-Destruct”. But I have to honor and treat with compassion the part of myself that is grieving because she missed out on the wild shamrock- tutu- experience.

The other thing that drives me bananas about St. Patrick’s day is the glorification of alcohol consumption. Why would this offend someone who once liked the effects of alcohol? I think the simplest answer is that I am tired of watching people die. I care about the other men and women who are afflicted with this disease… and it is incredibly sad to watch my fellows suffer and fade away. Many people have also lost family members or watched alcohol and drugs destroy their homes. If your loved one was murdered, would you love and exalt the murder weapon? This is the confusing dichotomy that exists within our society.

People hate cancer. They hate gun violence. But they glorify alcohol. It is challenging to keep yourself alive when the substances killing you are widely revered and celebrated.

What about personal responsibility, Autumn? Do you hate cars because people die in car accidents? Well, cars don’t systematically and progressively change brain functioning and cause disease. Drugs and alcohol do. It’s a plain and simple fact, made irrefutable by science.

My God, how I have struggled with this issue. I judged and loathed people who promoted alcohol or drug use. Repulsed by my own unkindness, I tried pounding into my thick skull that it’s none of my business…I can’t change other people. But it wasn’t sinking in.

In order to heal, I had to do two things:

  1. Make sure that I was putting my sobriety before everything else.
  2. Create new traditions.

Before we got married, my wife and I were committed to dealing with all potential obstacles to our future success. We wanted to be one hundred percent sure we were making a decision that was healthy for both of us. This meant that I had to take an honest inventory of my needs…and so did she. In the beginning, I thought I could handle a lot of things that I ultimately couldn’t. I love J.L. more than anything… but I can’t be a good wife unless my sobriety is my number one priority. If I drink again – or tolerate situations which trigger emotional dry drunks – I am no good to anyone. I had to be willing to say: “This is what I need. And I understand if you can’t meet those needs. I don’t want to change or control you. But if my needs aren’t being met, this isn’t going to work”. It was so hard to be true to myself and run the risk of losing the love of my life. And it took a lot of ugliness on my part to get to that honest place. Luckily, J.L. not only forgave my ugliness, but she also felt she could meet my needs. I am so blessed to have found a spouse who is interested in how we can grow together. She is the kindest, most beautiful human being I have ever known and ever expect to know. There is no bigger heart to be found in all the world.

What in tarnation does all this mushy stuff have to do with St. Patrick’s Day and becoming a less angry person? Well, the key is being willing to cultivate a home and a relationship that is SAFE for your sobriety. When safety has been established in your interior world, the exterior world tends to affect you less.

J.L. is my Irish rose. I would be surprised if there is any other heritage in her ancestry. Needless to say, she likes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. From the foundation of safety we established together, I have become increasingly more open to not just recognizing the day, but also enjoying it. I have been adding little bits and bobs to our decoration collection over the past few years. J.L. has also started making a luscious boiled dinner as an annual tradition. I’m practically drooling just thinking about it.

With March fast approaching, I have taken to scouting Pinterest for ideas. I like to send J.L. to work with baked goods or put together cute little treats. I hope that time will allow for that over the next few weeks, but at the very least I plan to wear a green t-shirt and maybe invest in some green and gold nail polish to get all gussied up.

If you’re newly (or old-ly) sober and struggling with how to celebrate such an alcohol-centric holiday, you certainly don’t have to play it as low-key as we do. We just happen to be homebodies. You could invite your sober buds over, serve all green food, wear a shamrock tutu or bowtie, have a bonfire, fill your pool with green glowsticks, watch themed movies, play Cards Against Humanity, giggle until you pee, eat candy with rainbow colors and gold wrappers, and then wake up the next day with a clear head and a sugar bellyache.

That even sounds fun to me…the self-declared Queen of All Introverts. (We’re here, we’re uncomfortable, and we want to go home!)

You could have a serious dinner party, too. Not everyone likes skittles and giggling. (But who ARE you?)

I think the lesson I’ve really learned from St. Patrick’s Day is “to thine own self be true”. I had to learn to put my sobriety above all else and to celebrate in a way that felt comfortable for me. Living a joyful life isn’t about following society’s rulebook; it’s about writing your own. I’m glad I decided to include a little leprechaun mischief and magic in mine.

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