Finding Peace in the Holidays
The holidays…..oh yes, the holidays. When we think of the holiday season, we often think of the Norman Rockwell pictures of Santa Clause, Coca Cola, Christmas carolers, snow outside and of course snowmen. I could write a novel on the “real” meaning of each holiday. Of course, this is interesting material for some exciting debate! But, I won’t, we can save that for another day. Let’s talk a minute about how it typically goes.
We begin with Thanksgiving when we get together with friends and loved ones and eat a bountiful meal or two or three. You know, we have to make the rounds because we don’t want anyone to get their feelings hurt because we weren’t at their Thanksgiving celebration. Traditionally, there is plenty of turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, and of course, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, not to mention Aunt Sue’s green bean casserole and Grandma’s pecan pie, complete with whip cream or vanilla ice cream on top. A day of eating too much followed by some alka seltzer and a football game or two and then whalla! IT IS NOW THE CHRISTMAS SEASON!!!! Toss out the turkey bones and deck them halls!
The Christmas Season kicks off with Black Friday shopping day! Black Friday- the day the stores all make a large profit because the Christmas Shopping frenzy has now begun! People wait in line for hours for the stores to open so we can get the best deals on everything from shoes, purses and toys to electronics and even automobiles, so that we can meet everyone’s expectations on our Christmas list. We know very well that this is a relaxing and pleasant shopping experience! Stress.
There are cookies to bake, trees to decorate, presents to buy and parties to attend complete with plenty of booze. You can’t very well not attend, because, “how will it look?” “It’s my job.” And the truth is, no one really wants to be left out. More stress.
Don’t get me wrong, the holidays can be an exciting and joyful time as we get together with friends and family and bring the cycle of the year to a close and prepare for the coming year. But this time of year can also be painful and lonely for many people. Rates of relapse for those in recovery increase as people try and maneuver the stress of the season. Depression and suicides sky-rocket as people try to escape the pressure of expectations. In this time of financial stress, young families go into financial debt in order to keep up with the demands of making sure the kids have a nice Christmas, then spend most of the next year paying for it. More stress.
You know, the holidays are somewhat like alcoholism. We tend to get caught up in the fun and pleasant parts of it and deny the negative aspects until we are smack in the middle of it. The holidays imply rituals, get- togethers and fun. So did our drinking or drug use. That is what our mind goes back to.
I am certainly not trying to throw a wet blanket on the holiday season, but I am saying it is a very stressful time of year and it is imperative that the recovering person, and their loved ones need to be mindful of this and have the coping skills to deal with the stress of it.
One fact is true, the holidays will continue to come and go, year after year. So, how can we manage it and maintain our sobriety and emotional and physical health?
Here are some ideas
Slow down and pace yourself. It is okay to indulge in holiday sweet and treats, but do it in small amounts, and get plenty of rest. Understand that alcohol is not an option, because even a small amount can start a downward spiral in your life. Keep your focus on what you do want and not what you don’t want. Your thoughts create your reality.
Open your vision and see the bigger perspective. Start with a gratitude list. Nothing is more instrumental in personal growth and spiritual development than introspection and gratitude. This is really what the winter season is all about. Look at nature for your cues. As nature rests and prepares for the advent of spring it becomes quiet. Remember that there are many who will go to sleep hungry tonight, or who are alone in this world. Your tummy is full, and you are here among friends. Be grateful.
Be a leader and not a follower. It takes courage to look at your life and make the necessary changes. People who are active in addictions are reactors in their lives, not actors. There is nothing that takes more courage than to say “Hello, my name is ________ and I am an alcoholic.” Don’t look down on yourself for making this paradigm shift in your life. In fact, be proud of the work you have done so far. Keep in mind that when you have the courage to make healthy decisions in your life, you are modeling that for others.
Be creative. When you are at an event, you don’t have to announce your addiction. But, it does help to have something in your hand. Choose soda, or tonic and lime, something you enjoy that doesn’t contain alcohol. It is about ritual here, and ritual is very powerful. Most newly recovering people are really concerned that others notice they aren’t drinking. Typically no one really cares. If someone questions you- simply say- I’m choosing not to drink, I’m driving or, Thanks for asking, but I’m good. Have a plan. If it get’s uncomfortable for you, simply leave. Your obligation is to take care of yourself first. Everything else will work out if you do. Create new rituals and ways of celebrating.
Live your program each and every day. Those who have worked the twelve steps know that going through them can enhance the life of anyone who does, alcoholic or not. They are about emotional and spiritual health from the inside out. The holiday season is not the time to miss your support group meetings. With all the stress, this is when you need support the most. Whether your “program” is a twelve step model or not, we all have a set of values and principles which govern our lives. If they are not taught within our family of origin, they are taught by society. When we live our values, our lives have balance and personal power. Sometimes along the way when our lives get out of balance, we need to go back and re-evaluate our values and principles.
Be kind. It is easy to feel resentful when others are drinking and seem to be having a great time. Take a breath and let it go. We all have our issues- so change your perspective. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. He wasn’t implying that we stand there and let someone beat us up. When Jesus taught us the principle of turning the other cheek, what he was telling us is change your point of view. You know, sometimes a kind and gentle word or thoughtful gesture has more impact on another person’s life than an expensive gift or trinket.
Be patient. When we are early in recovery our focus is on our program. We feel better and stronger, and our focus is on the personal strength we are beginning to feel. Your loved ones may question where you are going and what you are doing. They may look at you in a questioning way. This feels irritating when you are trying hard and feeling good. You may feel angry, but remember, you are only responsible for your part. When other people question you, they are concerned for you and for themselves. Sometimes we don’t remember what we did during a blackout or while we were drunk or high. We lose sight of how our addiction affected others. What we see from the inside is not what others see from the outside. Be patient, time will take care of a lot of this anxiety. If necessary, seek counsel to help your family through this time.
It’s okay to say “no thank you”. Co-dependency- which is meeting the other person’s needs to the exclusion of your own- is common for alcoholics and addicts- and their families. Sometimes saying “no” is frightening because we fear abandonment or rejection. Learning to say no when we need to shows maturity and responsibility. It is about developing and living with appropriate boundaries. Boundaries say- “this is what I will do, and this is what I won’t do- this is where I will go and this is where I won’t go- this is what I will accept and this is what I will not.” Boundaries are about self care- not other control. Remember, no one or nothing has control over your life that you do not give them. Let your yes be yes and let your no be no, and be OK with it.
Relax and stay in the day. We have a tendency get caught up in the past- what is was, or what we remember it as- or the future- the “what if’s”- that we miss the beauty of the present moment. The truth is, all we have is the present moment. So let us seize this moment and have a joyful and peaceful holiday season.
Love and blessings to you and yours for a blessed and peaceful holiday season,
Rhonda McBride’s new book, “Peace, Power and A Sound Mind”, will offer the alcoholic or addict and those that love them an understandingof addiction and the tools to return to a life of health, happiness and peace of mind.