By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.
The holiday season is upon is, and it is one which typically brings social gatherings, time with family and friends and a varying degree of hustle and bustle. While all of the above can be enjoyable to a degree, many of us find ourselves dealing with family drama and dysfunction, financial stress and temptations and opportunities to use or drink.
The latter list is less festive and often causes a sense of dread prior to the holiday season. For those who are new to recovery, this time of year can be especially challenging. But, like the Grinch that stole Christmas, the potential for relapse threatens to steal the true spirit of the holidays and potentially more.
Remember, relapse begins with though, not action. And, as most of us know, much of that mentality is based around victimization and irrational thinking. With regard to both, the holiday season has a tendency to surface and sensationalize.
For that reason, it is important to know how to prevent relapse thinking and behavior during the holidays. Tips on how to maintain sanity and serenity and continue a journey of successful recovery, regardless, are vital.
As such, we’ve offered five important tips on how to prevent the relapse Grinch from stealing your holiday spirit, below:
Stay connected. Many people travel during the holidays, take time off work, spend days with family, leave the university for weeks at a time and become otherwise unavailable. As such, those who struggle during the holidays often feel alone.
Additionally, much of the holiday festivities involve social gatherings and parties stocked with alcohol. For those in early recovery, this can be especially challenging. Relapse thinking often kicks in and tells us that “one drink to celebrate the holidays with family and friends won’t hurt.” Of course, we could never be more wrong.
As such, it’s important to stay connected to a recovery community, as well as your sponsor and/or counselor during the holiday season. Creating events like Friendsgiving—a gathering for friends during the traditional November holiday of Thanksgiving—and other holiday-inspired, friend-oriented festivities not only helps you stay connected to sober friends. It keeps the spirit of togetherness alive for those without or unable to be with family.
See the magic. Children truly seem to enjoy the holiday season more than anyone. Most would agree the reasoning is not necessarily completely to do with presents and time away from school. Children simply seem to see the magic.
It’s a gift many of us seem to lose as we move along life’s journey. Issues with family, grief and loss, our time spent in active addiction often steals the magic away. But, only if we allow it.
The magic is never gone from our lives. It’s always there, and the holiday season is the best time to attempt to reclaim it. Looking to children for the “how to” is likely the best way.
Of course, there’s no need to ask a child. Just observing children in the line to sit on Santa’s lap (or better yet, standing in line with them), watching classic children’s holiday movies, attending a holiday storybook reading, etc. offers the opportunity to see and feel the magic of the holidays and life, itself.
Heal the past. The holiday season has an uncanny way of surfacing unresolved issues, especially those involving family. As such, there’s no better time than the holidays to start working on those issues. Whether with a counselor or via a self-help book, attempting to heal the past rather than run from it prevents the overwhelming desire to find unhealthy ways to escape the surfacing emotions and memories.
Be objective. Though issues that occur with family members (or those that occur due to a lack of) feel and often are very personal, it is best to try to be objective during the holidays to avoid relapse thinking and behavior.
Being objective requires stepping back and simply observing the dynamic within the family or that which is surfacing due to a lack of family, rather than engaging or giving in to self-sabotage. It is an exercise in mindfulness, and it prevents over-personalization and irrational responses by allowing you an opportunity to simply be an observer, rather than an active participant in the dysfunction.
Get help. The holiday season can be extremely difficult for many, especially those who have no family or are unable to be with them. Though the aforementioned steps offer ways to get through the holidays, regardless, often the pain is rather overwhelming. And, when that is the case, these steps alone are not enough.
Do not hesitate to reach out to a counselor, life or recovery coach or even a crisis hotline (which are always available, regardless of the day of the year), if you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion or a sense of loneliness.
No matter what steps you decide to take to keep the relapse Grinch from stealing your holiday spirit, remember there is a lot to celebrate this holiday season. You’re alive, you have a recovery community (even here, on this site) that cares about you and, because you are sober, you have you. As such, you’re not alone, and the potential for a bright future ahead is yours to fulfill.
For some of us, that new reality is quite the holiday miracle.