Whether it’s your first or tenth holiday season during recovery, and whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, or some other tradition, it’s important to stay focused on what matters: your health and well-being.
What follows are tips for dealing with holiday excitement and busyness; most of these you probably already know or can figure out yourself, but we can all use reminders when we’re feeling overwhelmed.
While intended for those in recovery, most of these tips can apply to anyone. If you’re a family member or friend of someone in recovery, or if you stumbled on this blog post accidentally, we hope the list below helps you remember to relax and let go of expectations.
1. When you’re feeling scattered, take a deep breath, and remind yourself, “This moment is all there is.” Past and future do not exist. All that is or ever will be is now. Soak it up.
2. When you’re feeling stressed, ask yourself, “What really matters in this situation?” Does it matter whether the gift you chose is the “right” one? Does it matter whether the potatoes are lump-free? Or does it matter that you and those around you feel loved? (But these gifts and cookies and decorations will show them how much I love them! Not if the process of getting those things turns you into grumpy, anxious, distracted company all month.)
3. Regarding number 2, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to make it easier to love the people around me today?” Maybe the answer is to take a nap. Maybe it’s to put aside the party-planning and play a game with your kids. Maybe it’s to be more productive at work so that you don’t take your work-concerns home with you.
4. Define for yourself the perfect Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, etc. What does the perfect holiday feel like? What does it look and sound like? Make a list of everything that needs to happen to create this perfection. Then, narrow the list down to 1-2 items. Burn the rest.
5. Have an “Expectations Talk” with close friends and family members. Make a list of everything you expect of each other during the holidays. Review the lists together and decide what is negotiable and what isn’t. Be honest about what you can and cannot handle.
6. Don’t go broke. If you can’t afford gifts for everyone, make gifts. Or, give the gift of your time: coupons for babysitting, lawn care, housecleaning, a home-cooked meal—these gifts are priceless.
7. Excitement can be just as much a trigger as depression. Whether the holidays make you excited or depressed, recognize both emotions as anomalies. Don’t let them derail you. Stick to your typical schedule. Spend 10-20 minutes (or more) each day doing something that calms you, whether it’s meditating, going on a walk, coloring, shooting hoops, listening to music, or watching squirrels try to get into the bird-feeder.
8. If you have a sponsor, put him or her to work. Call often. Keep to your normal schedule of AA or NA meetings (or go more often if necessary).
9. Create your own fun. Be the person who takes the pictures and videos at parties. Be the person who entertains the kids. Be the person who pesters people to play charades. If you need to be a goofball to stay sober, do it. If you need to escape and hide out somewhere by yourself, do it.
10. Let your light shine. The holidays are hard for many people, regardless of whether they are in recovery. Use the tools you’ve learned about communication, listening, kindness, and self-care to be the light for friends and family who are struggling.
After getting through another holiday season sober, celebrate your achievement. Know that you are a remarkable person with a remarkable level of courage. And if you slip up or relapse this holiday season? You are still a remarkable person, and you are more than worth another chance at sobriety. Talk to your sponsor or therapist. Call Mountain Laurel Recovery Center to talk about treatment options. Continue to work at your sobriety with patience and love.