Perspective: It Really is a Wonderful Life

by Frank K. (Punanai 2001)

We live in a society where Christmas is about having a good time. For many that means drinking. Canadians will spend about $19 billion on booze this year and the biggest month for sales is December. Holiday celebrations, getting together with loved ones, egg nog…

Triggers, anyone?

On the flipside, the holidays can be a dark time. It can be a time of loneliness, remembering those who are no longer with you or, in my case, those that you have lost around the holidays.

On November 28, 2007, I lost my stepfather – and I was closer to him than my real father. Just a couple weeks later, on December 16, 2007, my mother died.

Triggers, anyone?

Frank Capra’s holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” explores the lonelier, darker side of the holidays. On Christmas, a despairing George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) encounters Angel Second Class, Clarence Odbody, and unexpectedly learns how meaningful his life has been.

And I get that. I’m not mushy and touchy-feely or even a big believer in God, but maybe when you hear a bell ring an angel really has earned their wings. Here’s one such story:

There’s this guy, five years sober. (Renascent alumni, incidentally …) It’s just a couple days before Christmas. He’s angry, heartbroken, grieving. He’s lost both parents within the last four weeks.

He’s wandering through Parkdale, where his father grew up. It’s a familiar end of town. The walk is comforting; being in this place takes away the grief a little. He hasn’t been to a meeting in 10 days. With the funerals and the relatives, the animosity and the resentments, it has been a blur.

Besides, he’s five years sober. He’s worked a good program. What does he get out of the meetings these days anyway? He wanders past an old haunt. There are new faces, but it’s the same gleaming oak bar, maybe even the same comfy stools. Just one – after five years of sobriety and the month he’s had, surely just one drink … it’s the holidays, after all.  One mug of cheer to lift the spirits …

As the bartender puts down the pint glass, the guy notices the necklace she has on. It’s gold, gleaming slightly. It’s familiar too, but it doesn’t belong in this place. Their eyes meet, just for a second, and it’s as if she says, “Are you sure that will make things better?”

He looks again at the medallion around her neck. He has a few just like that.

Call it fate or karma – or even an angel getting their wings. Something inside him changed. He makes a call, walks out into the crisp December night, jumps on a streetcar and travels across town. He has a friend to see. The glass sits untouched on the bar.

Don’t bottle it all up during the holidays. I know it can be a hard time of year. Get out to a meeting, give something back, and make new choices and new traditions.

If it’s the third day of Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve or even Christmas day, whatever is hardest for you, just take it one day at a time.  It really is just another day. Whatever you do, don’t take a holiday from working your program. You’ll discover, just as George Bailey did, that this is a better world because you are in it.

Happy holidays,

Frank K.

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email