The holiday season can be hell. It can also be an opportunity for joy, connection, and wonder. For people in recovery, the holidays often come with some extra challenges—stress, expectations, family, commitments, and booze everywhere. It can be tough to weather this whirlwind with any grace. Here we offer some thoughts on how to make this December a good one:
1. Recovery first. It can be easy during the mayhem of the holiday season to let recovery activities take a backseat. Maybe you’re busy planning a gathering. Maybe your kids are home from school, or you are traveling out of town. Try putting recovery activities on the top of your list each day, so they don’t get brushed aside in the chaos of the day. Making your recovery a priority will not only keep you sober, but will also keep you sane and help things flow more smoothly. On top of all that, when we prioritize our spiritual wellness, we can actually enjoy what’s going on.
2. Participate. Many recovering alcoholics and addicts have spent years on the sidelines of life. Sometimes we didn’t show up for holidays at all, and if we did, we did not bring our best selves. I remember so vividly the hot shame of showing up on Christmas hung over, in dirty clothes, with absolutely nothing to contribute. In recovery we are taught how to show up differently—even if our families are difficult, even we have no family at all. It’s normal, especially if you are new, to be nervous about seasonal events. The best-kept secret of holiday sanity is to turn your focus toward how you can contribute. So instead of scoffing at the spectacle and dwelling on my feelings of separateness, I got dressed, brought cards, and tried to make conversation. I learned that if a meltdown seemed imminent, I could wash dishes or offer to take out the trash. When I shifted my focus to what I could bring, I left feeling more connected and with a renewed sense of self-worth. Say yes, show up, and bring something – you might just have a pleasant holiday.
2. Stay Grateful. Research has demonstrated that gratitude has a multitude of benefits; from helping us sleep better, to increasing life satisfaction, reducing anxiety and even helping us connect with others. During the holidays, which for many of us are loaded with expectations and stress, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Shifting our attention to gratitude can give us the mental reset we need to shift our perspectives. And that perspective shift often allows us to enjoy the moment. It helps us to appreciate what we have instead of focusing on what is missing or imperfect.
3. Give back Try shifting your focus this year from “stuff” to what you can give. Most non-profit organizations need end of year help or donations. Many elderly people find this time of year particularly lonely. Many 12-step meetings are filled with people who are suffering. If you don’t have people to be with during the holidays, go and find some. Volunteer, reach out and think of how others are doing.
4. Spend appropriately. It is not necessary to mortgage your sanity to show your love. Racking up credit card debt will probably not help you feel calmer or more connected to others this holiday season. Try spending thoughtfully and showing your warm feelings for people with your behavior instead. Most people are very grateful for homemade gifts, or cards with a meaningful message written inside. If words aren’t your thing, an act of service (like helping someone shovel snow) can be an excellent way to show people you care about them.
5. Don’t overcommit. The most surefire way to lose your mind this holiday season is to say yes to more than you can reasonably do. So many of us have a built-in readiness to say yes the minute someone invites us anywhere. Often when we say yes to something without pausing first, we end up overburdened and resentful. Every gap in the calendar needn’t be filled, and setting aside time for rest and downtime is vital for health and wellness. When someone asks you to do something practice saying “Let me check and get right back to you.” This gives us a moment of headspace to really consider how busy we want to be. When we make time for rest and play, we show up more wholeheartedly to every area of our lives. Busyness is an alluring temptation that can often leave us depleted and unsatisfied.
The best part of recovery is getting to re-write our stories. If the holidays have historically been hard for you, take the opportunity this year affords to try to do some things differently. If you love this season, more power to you -go forth and spread some of that joy!
Good luck out there and have fun!