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Doug Bolton, the founder of Signs of Hope, is writing a new book, “Signs of Hope for the Military: In and Out of the Trenches of Life.” It will be reaching out the many military and veterans who may be battling anxiety, fear, depression, addictions, rejections, PTSD, and the many other usual suspects. There are 22 military connected suicides every day. That is almost one every hour. Doug wants to help stop those statistics. Be looking for more details about the new book. Doug Is also seeking military who would be willing to do an interview. It will be part of the book. Sharing by actual soldiers will help many others. Look for updates here.
Something exciting happening soon.
This post for this Christmas season is powerful. Linda Clare has been through the gauntlet of despair the last few years. Her determination to not be overcome is amazing. Read her story about an addicted family and their struggles.
That Christmas was going to be the year: The year my fractured family had a happy Christmas, full of laughter, giving and hope. The year we stopped lobbing snarky remarks at each other and started hugging instead. The year I hoped to celebrate Christmas rather than plan another intervention.
That year, my family, like many families, gathered around a seven-foot artificial tree shimmering with lights and ornaments. The fake fir looked noble sitting next to a sickly, withered African violet on the window sill. We were at Mom’s place, set to do the whole Christmas Dinner thing. My mother was trying out a “new” Christmas menu taken from some gourmet magazine. You could say that’s when the trouble started.
Everyone crowded into Mom’s apartment, marveling at her tastefully appointed formal table set with silver and charger plates. One of the grandkids asked, “What’s that terrible smell?” Mom answered, “Brussels sprouts with shallots and salt pork!” The rest of us grumbled that we’d prefer instant mashed potatoes, jellied cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. Mom took this personally and poured herself another glass of wine.
Yet while we all wore holiday outfits, displayed wide smiles and politely raved over Mom’s “interesting” cooking, inside every one of us simmering resentments, personal grudges and high anxiety brewed. My adult sons and nephews busied themselves with making sure the beer and wines were never lonely, while I cast nervous glances to gauge just how blitzed they were becoming. One family member, who always tries to convert my hedonist boys, was preaching his yearly sermon from his spot at Mom’s grand piano, not realizing his own son was already six fingers into her liquor stash. I looked from face to face, reading the expressions: if I was even half-right, everybody in Mom’s living room appeared to be contemplating a jump off a bridge. With the brussel sprouts.
Whatever hope I had for a Norman Rockwell Christmas wilted like the African violet in the window. And I know my family isn’t alone.
December, perhaps more than any month, is where hope flickers and threatens to die. Even if you’re not particularly religious, the month of giving is known for overindulging, stress and expectations. While everybody seems to slouch toward excess, for those with addiction problems, temptation lies in wait everywhere. For those with mental illness, the demands of December’s holiday cheer can mean a cruel and isolated season. And for those of us who love addicts and/or the mentally ill, December marks the season of holding one’s breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. That night, I was sure that shoe would crash down in the form of embarrassing and loud behavior from any number of inebriated fools and judgmental teetotalers. In other words, my relatives and me.
Measuring Advent in terms of catastrophes had become a habit for me. I’d become a kind of grinchy let’s-just-get-through-this kind of person, and I thought I had a good reason. I’d spent my tenth Christmas two states away from my family in a Shriner’s hospital ward, recovering from orthopedic surgery. Back then inpatients were only allowed two books and stationery from home. We couldn’t even wear our own clothes. Most of us stayed for at least three months—since October, I’d had two major surgeries on my paralyzed left arm and hand. At times, all of us felt more like inmates than inpatients.
Christmas Day, the hospital staff tried to make our day festive, feeding us a turkey dinner, bringing in a fake Santa and holding a street parade that we on the third-floor couldn’t really see. Most of the other girls on my ward were encased in plaster from their chins to their toes, and I was the only patient who could walk unassisted. That Christmas, I remember that nobody cared much about the parade, the dinner or even the phony Santa Claus. What we really wanted—no, needed—were our families.
But our moms and dads hadn’t even been allowed to send us gifts—to help keep patients from low-income homes from feeling bad. Instead, each patient, sitting on her hospital bed, got a visit from that fake Santa and two small wrapped gifts marked, “For a Girl.” I opened mine and stared at a cartoonish, stuffed Rudolph and a cheap plastic doll. I scolded myself. Be grateful, don’t cry. I felt under my pillow for my little white Bible—one of my two books (the other was a Nancy Drew) from home.
At that moment, more than anything, I wanted someone to hold my hand and tell me I was loveable, if not loved. That even though I wasn’t home for Christmas, they hoped I’d be released soon. The ward nurses scurried from patient to patient, handing out bed pans, taking temperatures and admonishing girls to stay on their beds. I kept my feelings to myself.
I kept smiling, but my prayer for a Christmas Miracle, in the form of being somehow transported home to Yuma, Arizona, faded away like the Santa’s ho-ho-hos. I buried a boatload of hope that day, not understanding how God had overlooked such a heartfelt request.
Three weeks later, I finally made it home, where my family had kept the Christmas tree up until I arrived. That tree was brown and dead now, but it resurrected my hope for better days ahead. I don’t remember what gifts I received, only that I was so happy—happy to have Christmas with my loved ones, happy to be home. Even then I wondered whether I would have known such happiness if I hadn’t lived through the Fake Santa Christmas first.
And that fateful Christmas at Mom’s, it occurred to me that we continually walk this path of death and resurrection.
The death of hope when a child’s wish isn’t fulfilled or when a codependent mother secretly tracks her sons’ drinking shadows the thorny path from the Cross to Easter’s resurrection. Death is necessary to create new life. It’s a circle of Good Friday to Sunday, played out on a small scale, again and again.
While I don’t wish suffering or calamity on anyone, it does seem as if our best times come in contrast to our worst times. We savor warmth if we’ve been cold, food if we’ve been hungry. We appreciate shelter if we’ve been homeless and kindness if we’ve seen discrimination or indifference. I doubt I could ever entertain unconditional love if I hadn’t also experienced the pain of rejection. Even so, I struggle to understand the addiction and mental illness in my family and my own role in it. But hope allows me to keep on learning.
Hope is about failing and daring to hope again. It’s about hurting someone’s feelings with a careless remark but sincerely atoning for it and vowing to do better. It’s about extending love to all those who are different, disabled or even those whom we wish would get their doggone acts together. Hope rises from the ashes of our mistakes and helps us keep lurching forward, even if we’re bound for another valley of trial.
Christmas time is tough for so many. For those who suffer from loneliness, addiction, mental illness or just a crazy family like mine, December can be the cruelest month. Yet I’ve found that the best cure for times when hope withers and threatens to croak is to look outside myself. The One Who is Hope guides me to those who need a little cheer. Hope is born again in me as I embrace others just as they are. Even when you’re broken and hurting and secretly wish those with the glowing annual Christmas letters would stuff it, just keep walking toward the Star, and hope floods in.
That year at Mom’s, I watched as one of my sons withdrew more with each bottle of stout beer he drank. I went to him, huddled in the corner, booze on his breath, desperation in his eyes. There was nothing I could do or not do to convince him to lay aside alcohol. Just as nobody could talk Mom out of her horrid gourmet menu, I was helpless to fix my son’s substance abuse problem. So I did the only thing I could: I took his hand and said, “I love you to the moon and back—and by the way, we could go out for a little fresh air if you need some.”
“Mom.” He smiled. “I love you too.”