Recovery During the Holidays Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful
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Finding peace in recovery during the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful
As a longtime therapist, I know the holidays present situational and emotional challenges for a vast number of people. There are those who are alone and don’t wish to be, and those who are expected to be around people but would rather be alone. There are those who worry about affording the holidays, and those who worry about getting along with one or more relatives during holiday gatherings. There are those grieving over loved ones who have died or people who, for any number of reasons, are no longer a part of their life. All this happens against a backdrop of celebration, which can make people feel bad about feeling bad.
I’ve learned some of my most important holiday lessons and found my most admirable holiday people among those I know who are in long-term recovery from addiction. Yes, it is true the season can trigger cravings and that certain situations are hard to navigate substance-free. But most people I know in long-term recovery have found ways to be at peace with the holiday season, at minimum, and many now find the holiday season a source of great joy. What’s their secret? Here are some of the things they have taught me:
1. You don’t have to be alone for the holidays if you don’t want to. Some people host gatherings at their home, some become involved in volunteer efforts to bring cheer and companionship to less fortunate people (such as people in homeless shelters or patients in hospitals). Those who are involved in Alcoholics Anonymous sometimes choose to participate in Alcathons, which provide companionship through a series of back-to-back meetings, food, and festivity for those who are struggling to stay clean and sober during the holidays or who decide to spend holidays with their recovery family.
2. Whatever your circumstances, there are things for which you can feel grateful. People in long-term recovery are especially adept at this mindset, having typically suffered enormously during active addiction. They say they are grateful for being alive, for being out of jail or hospitals, for having a chance at a better life.
3. You don’t have to make difficult holiday decisions by yourself. Should you go to that family gathering where your cousins usually get drunk? Should you attend the company holiday party? And, if so, how do you handle being offered drinks? If you feel like being alone for some or all of the holiday, is that OK? What do you tell the kids when you just can’t afford the kind of festivities they are used to?
The people I admire in recovery take these questions to other people in recovery, who have often grappled with similar questions, and learn from how they addressed them. They don’t see consulting with others as a weakness but as a strength, a way of using recovery strategy. And they almost invariably feel better after talking things over.
4. You can create new traditions for yourself and your family if you want. Some people feel an incredible pull to do the holidays “the way they’ve always been done.” But sometimes circumstances change, and there may even be painful memories embedded in some of those long-standing rituals. So it is absolutely acceptable—and often meaningful and fun—to figure out what the season means to you and create one or more new rituals to reflect that.
One recovering person I know has a new tradition in which her postdivorce family creates Christmas cards for each family member to be opened together on Christmas Eve. Another now spends part of the Jewish holidays talking to her son about family history, which helps her feel connected to her deceased parents.
And don’t forget private rituals. One recovering person I know does the following on Christmas Eve: After putting her two young children to bed, she sits alone in her living room, lights a candle, and spends a moment of silence thinking about the many people who are still in the grips of addiction or who have died as a result of it. She says this helps her honor and celebrate her recovery.
5. Keep it simple. This phrase helps many recovering people remember to focus on the most important things, which can go a long way in preventing you from feeling overwhelmed. This year, I hope you identify things that are stressful or unpleasant about the holidays, and downsize or eliminate as many as you can. Do you really want and need to bake all those varieties of holiday cookies when you’re working and raising a family? Do you hate the effort of writing numerous holiday cards? If you’re hosting a major holiday, can others help or contribute so your holiday is not mostly spent cooking and cleaning? As Solo Moms, we tend to be spread thin. But if we see the holidays as one massive to-do list, we miss the joy and celebration.
May your own holiday season be joyous, memorable, and meaningful!
Susan Lemere, ESME’s Addiction Resource Guide, is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
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