Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gifts I've Received

This time of year, my alcoholics get a break as my obsession turns to gifts. How could it not? Christmas marks perfect storm for my disease: my perfectionism, my expectations.

Trying to buy the perfect gift for people you know imperfectly is always a challenge. Meanwhile, gifts I've received from other people make an interesting mirror, because they reflect the way other people see, which is usually a little at odds with how I see myself.

A couple my husband and I know have given me a bottle of Kahlua for Christmas every year for many years now. I have grown quite a collection.

Last year, they gave us a bottle of wine. At least I think it's wine. It's in an earthenware bottle with Cyrillic writing. I have no idea what it says. I don't read Cyrillic, and no explanation came with the gift. I'm a little afraid to open it. But the bottle looks great.

I can see the logic behind those gifts. Once, for a few months, I liked a drink made with Kahlua. I still enjoy a good glass of wine. But what to make of the travel-size hand sanitizer I got from a co-worker?

I admit I've given my share of clunkers. As a very young woman, completely flummoxed about what to give my in-laws, I bought a clock that ran on potatoes from a public television catalog. I thought they'd think it was funny. They just looked puzzled. I found it later stuffed into a corner of a high shelf in their laundry room.

My own mother kept every gift I ever gave her. Even the dorky ceramic figurine of a cross-eyed tiger looking at a butterfly that had landed on his nose. I bought it at Pic N' Save when I was 9. I'm not even sure Pic N' Save still exists, except in this artifact. That she kept it is how I know she loved me. That she did the best she could despite her alcoholism.

Toward the end of my mother's life, we both tried to manage expectations at Christmas by telling each other exactly what we wanted and then getting that thing. Hers was usually a book. Mine was usually something practical for the house. A set of towels, some dishes. That approach was mostly successful at warding off disappointments, but it also took away the element of surprise. Getting something practical you've asked for doesn't feel much like a gift.

I tried to do the same with God. For years, I told him what I wanted and was disappointed when he didn't deliver. I had been very specific.

These days, I don't give God a list, but wait for him to surprise me.

I heard once that envy is a lack of faith. It devalues God's gifts. It implies that what He has given you is somehow not enough. It's ungracious.

Through the grace of God and the tools in Al-Anon, I've learned that while God may not always have given me what I thought I wanted, he gave me exactly what I needed, when I needed it. That His surprises are always better than my plans, if I remain open to them.

p.s. After I wrote this post, I opened my ODAT for my daily meditation. The topic? Perfectionism. Which "can be a neurotic symptom... that hampers us in coming to terms with life as it is." As I write this, I a beautiful sunrise is spreading bands of gray and orange outside my window. What a surprise! Another perfect gift.

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