Christmas in Rehab

In Mental Health on December 24, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Dear Yenta,

This Christmas I am not going home. I am in rehab and not talking to my parents and am feeling pretty terrible about the idea of spending the holidays like this. Presents are a regular part of my Christmas routine and I am pretty sure I won’t be receiving any this year. At all. Cheer me up?

-Doing My Time

Dear DMT,

First off, congratulations. While rehab seems like a death trap or punishment, in some ways it is a beautiful sign that you are choosing life. One thing that is hard with quitting addictions is the sense that everything in life is new. You are re-learning, as you know, how to live in the world, through and through, without your old ways.

I have a friend who used to be a badass on a motorcycle. He was diagnosed with MS about ten years ago and his wild promiscuous daredevil self suddenly seemed like it had died. Paralyzed and ill for a long time he was deeply depressed because all he could do was compare his two lives, missing what felt like “real living” and freedom. Once he let this anger go and stopped comparing worlds, his new life, suffering and all, yielded different types of rewards. He was actually happy, despite the treacheries of his condition.

I only mention this because this Christmas you might have to forget your old life, all the routines you recall, and reinvent the holidays. I am sure you are familiar with the concept “Give it away to keep it,” or “Pay it forward.” This is the fundamental basic idea that by giving, you will receive. Buddhists, after every meal, every act of service, every sitting meditation dedicate the merit they accumulated then and there to the reduction of suffering in the world. The idea is that goodness doesn’t need to be held, but passed on, and in passing it returns to the giver.

So this Christmas, give. Forget money and forget gifts. Get a pen, get a napkin, see if you can make the other people in rehab feel less homesick. Make little awards, recognize people’s talents, give them gold stars. I used to do this while waitressing, hand a customer a star of the day for best outfit, or most beautiful pregnant woman. You would be shocked by how far mini compliments can go. Their smiles will be your Christmas gifts.

Bust your heart open and make a collage for your neighbor, a love note for the depressive down the hall, heck, write yourself one. Give and give and give some more, in ways you never tried to give and watch this Christmas be better than any you have ever had. And from your Jewish Yenta, I wish you a phenomenal holiday and a year unlike any you remember, full of peace, tranquility, and sobriety.

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