It’s that time of the year again - great food, dessert, family and friends. Good times, right? For many struggling with addiction, the holidays can be very stressful as challenges in life seem to raise to the surface. And often what we feel instead of peace and joy, is anxiety, sadness, regret and depression.
We view reliance on alcohol and other forms of addiction as the result of underlying core issues that have not been addressed and healed. Most often, these core issues develop early in life, with assistance from those very people we tend to be with during the holidays. If you aren’t prepared (and usually most aren’t), these situations can be overwhelming and trigger those underlying feelings that make us want to numb out with our drink or drug of choice.
But, you are NOT powerless! Here are some practical tools to help you prepare yourself and keep your peace this holiday season:
1. Honor Your Needs. Don’t confuse self-caring with self-centeredness. Self-care recognizes that you have legitimate needs and you have the wisdom and maturity to take care of them. Where’s your peaceful place? A book by the fire? A walk along the river? Experimenting with a new recipe? When you take the time to take care of yourself you’ll feel better and as a result have more patience with others.
2. Plan YOUR Ideal Holiday Season. What would make this an incredible holiday? Who do you want to be around? Who do you want to avoid? Be proactive and empower yourself to create a holiday you really want! And don’t feel guilty about it.
3. Avoid Toxic Situations. The holidays are a time of tradition. Sometimes tradition means doing things that you dislike, being with people or in places you don’t want to be, or in situations where you don’t feel good about yourself. How many times do you tell yourself that you “have to” do this? What if you didn’t? What if you gently and respectfully declined the “have to” and instead did something that supported you and brought you joy? And when this isn’t possible, set boundaries that help you avoid triggering topics or situations. For example, you can have a pre-planned “exit strategy” when you feel negative emotions being triggered. Retreat to a quiet place and get grounded, say a prayer, or do some deep breathing.
4. Ask for Help. What do you need this holiday season? Who do you know who would support you? Not asking deprives others of the opportunity to be loving and generous. So ask for the support you need with confidence, and picture yourself getting it.
5. Stay in the Moment. The past is history, the future is not set, the experience you are having takes place in the present. Focusing on what happened before or what might happen in the future keeps you from enjoying the “here and now.” Stay present with your feelings, your thoughts and your actions.
6. Get Physical. This sometimes can be hardest for those who were drinking or using daily for years. Exercise was not high on the list of priorities. But you don't have to be training for a marathon to get a host of benefits, especially in recovery. Modest activity releases a hormone called endorphin. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. So just start with something.. a walk, a few push ups, a slow jog, a bike ride - even in the winter! If you do a little each day, you'll gain reinforcement and strength in recovery.
7. Find Ways to Help Others. You can’t give away what you don’t have. And by helping others, you experience the reality that you have more than you realized. The holidays are a great time to volunteer. Missions often need help preparing or serving food around the holidays. Find a church, or reach out to your local food bank or Goodwill and ask how you can help.
8. Count Your Blessings. A great way to combat a bout of depression or anxiety is to remind yourself of the things for which you are grateful. You may have some very real challenges, but our tendency is to take the blessings for granted. Remind yourself regularly. This is what Thanksgiving was originally about - We are thankful we have food to nourish us. In my case, I am thankful for my health, I am thankful for my friends, good coffee, food on the table, and for the opportunity to help others with their addictions. Millions of people lack clean drinking water and basic medicines. As you continue to list the things for which you are thankful, the negative feelings will begin to shift.
9. Make a Radical Resolution. Thing big and don’t rule out any ideas prematurely due to perceived limitations. The details tend to work themselves out when we are on the right path. Here at The Clearing our motto is Alter Your Life. Whether it’s with us or elsewhere, make the commitment to yourself that your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health are your most important goals. Don’t settle for coping or treating symptoms. Learn to heal the underlying core issues so you can live free.
We wish each of you on the road to recovery the very best for the holidays and a wonderful 2015!