In spirit, it’s a comforting word. Something familiar. Something we know, perhaps by route, perhaps by something deeper, by fondness or even love.
It’s a word that comes up a lot this time of year. Little traditions are all around us. Parties with family and friends, gift giving, decorating the home, making special meals and treats, going on seasonal outings. They’re all things, little and big, that we’ve come to depend on, to know, and to, in many cases, cherish and love.
I was thinking about this concept as I’m now less than a week away from flying home to New York City for my family’s Christmas celebration. Thinking about how, for a long, long time, alcohol has been my biggest tradition, around anything, but especially the holidays. And, how this year, while it’s been really hard, I think I’m doing a pretty fucking rad job of trying to make new, sober memories. And, hopefully, when next Christmas comes around, I’ll be able to repeat some of these healthy holiday behaviors and start to establish some sober traditions of my own. Start a new record.
Tonight was a night of several traditions, good and bad. And, for me, it was a barometer for just how far I’ve come, and how far I need to go. It was proof that some traditions die hard, but, so long as I pursue progress, not perfection, I can get there.
Back in New York, it was a family tradition for my folks and I to go to Carnegie Hall and see Handel’s MESSIAH, every year. And, in the three years I’ve been in Oregon, I’ve made it back a few times to carry on the tradition. But, this year, I knew I wasn’t going to. A few months back, as I planned for my sober holiday, I thought it might be nice to start the same tradition, here in Portland. So, I bought two tickets for Lars and I to go. And, ever since, I’d been looking forward to the big event.
So, the night came. I had my nice dress hanging on my door, high heels all ready to step into. Made myself look pretty. And felt, well, fucking festive. My anticipation growing, and the hour drawing closer, my stress began to rise. I wanted to be on time. No, early. And, the later it got, I started to get agitated that I hadn’t heard from Lars. Finally, we touched base, and I planned to pick him up at a time that I considered “cutting it close.” But, he assured me it would leave us plenty of time.
When I got to his place, he was ready, but certainly wasn’t moving with the sense of urgency I was feeling. And, we rolled out. As the minutes ticked by, the traffic slowed, and my blood pressure rose. Lars reassured me that were were doing fine, but, my felted black heels pressed the petal to the metal. And, I started driving in my fast, erratic, NYC style, which in turn put Lars in stress mode. After looking for parking, unsuccessfully, we finally pulled into a lot not too far from the venue. We both emerged from the car in stressed out, bad moods. I was in such a hurry to pay for the parking voucher that I inadvertently paid twice. And, in the spirit of Christmas cheer gave the ticket away to another holiday park-er.
In my heels, I powered down 11th Avenue in downtown Portland, Lars, walking behind me. His annoyance with my impatience evident. I was annoyed with him. In my mind, at that moment, he had made us late. This new tradition, ruined! Or so I thought.
As it turns out, we made it to the concert with ample time to spare. My stress and agitation for naught. I’d also put Lars into a tizzy. And, it took about the first quarter of the concert for the two of us to lean into each other and enjoy that fact that we were there, we’d made it, and it was beautiful. Surrounded by music and the spirit of the holidays. An old tradition, made new for me, and altogether new for Lars.
I’d almost let my tradition of impatience and stress destroy everything. And, in the moment it was all real and happening, I knew it. I knew it was my ingrained alcoholic behavior and personality. I knew that, even when my mind wanted to place the blame on Lars, that it was all an illusion. It was me. My stress. My head. Just getting in the way of itself.
So, all’s well that ends well. Progress not perfection. Sometimes seeing and recognizing your flaws takes being in them. And, then, getting outside of them, to make new, healthy traditions.
Once I entered that head space, I ended up having a great night, and I know Lars did too. It made the season feel bright. And, a new tradition was born.