Merry Christmas... At Last

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 23, 2015 9:30:00 AM / by John MacDougall


This year, 2015, is the first year that I haven’t felt some generalized distress at Christmas time. It began when I was a child in a violent, alcoholic home. I almost always got hurt on the days leading up to Christmas. It would begin with the tree. Our family of five would go out to a Christmas tree lot, and my drunken parents would argue up and down the rows of trees, until late in the evening when my mom would finally grab a tree she didn’t like and drag it home. Then, around midnight, the three children would have to begin decorating it under her supervision. When we didn’t get the decorations right, she’d fly into a rage and destroy the tree and hurt us. A few nights later the process would begin again. Sometimes we bought three trees before one stayed up. The open question was whether my injuries could be dealt with in a doctor’s office or if I’d have to go to the hospital.

As a young adult, I reversed the story. I trained as an emergency medical technician, and was on volunteer ambulances and rescue squads in New Jersey and New Hampshire. I always took a lot of shifts around Christmas, and responded to other peoples’ crises, which was a way of patching up some of my old wounds.

I wanted something better for my two girls, so even though I hated Christmas, I did my best to provide them with charming Christmas experiences. I was determined to give better than I got. I did not want my past to be their present. Most of their good experiences were really provided by my wife, their mom, but I was careful not to ruin anything. We succeeded so well that when they both got married, they wouldn’t agree to get married until their prospective husbands agreed that Christmases would always be exactly like they were when they were growing up. 

Many people in recovery have difficulty around the Christmas holiday because they feel compelled to do something they don’t want to do. For them, and for myself, I have devised a plan that I call “Zero Based Holiday Planning.”

Zero Based Holiday Planning is similar to zero based budgeting. In normal budgeting, you take last year’s budget, and make some adjustments to get this year’s budget. In zero based budgeting, you take a blank page, with nothing (“zero”) on it. Then every item you add to the budget has to be carefully considered and justified in order to be added to the budget.  In Zero Based Holiday Planning, you start with a blank page for the Christmas holidays, a blank calendar with nothing at all on it.

Then everything that is added to it has to be justified. An event is justified if it is loving, useful, kind, fun, or of genuine service to someone. An event is justified if it has religious significance or if it lifts one’s spirit. In Zero Based Holiday planning things don’t get on the calendar just because “we’ve always done it that way before.”

I leave off my plan anything that I am likely to resent, anything that costs too much, and anything that I am going to have to lie about, because A.A. is an honest program. My Christmas weeks have been loving and peaceful for many years now, and the tension that I have carried in my body and soul for years is finally gone.

“Are these extravagant promises?” the Big Book asks, “We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”


Being Sober and Becoming Happy

Wisdom for Life: 12 Steps for Everyone

A series of nine lectures beginning January 12th, 2015 at 6:30 PM make the

12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous accessible to all people. No addictive behaviors required to attend!

Being Sober and Becoming Happy  Click Here for More Information!



Download Our Free Brochure To

Learn More About Our Evening Program! 

Free Evening Program Brochure!


Topics: family recovery, alcoholism, Recovery, alcohol abuse, Chemical Dependency

John MacDougall

Written by John MacDougall

John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat.
His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available from

Subscribe to Email Updates

New call-to-action

Recent Posts