Personally, I just pass around a reference to the complex data structure. And to keep it all dead simple, I declare the complex data structure as a reference to start with. That way there are no extra copies being made passing around the data structure is exactly the same as using it, and I don't fall out of practice with dereferencing.
It is indeed a bit of a climb, but once you get around to figuring out references, everything becomes easier :)
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