The holidays present a slew of stressors, especially this year. They include financial pressure, over-commitment, and the expectations of a “perfect” memory-making scenario (while keeping everyone safe). For individuals new to recovery, the holidays may also present a surplus of triggers. Celebration of any kind, be it a birthday, promotion, or end of the week meet-up, often includes alcohol.
The holidays are no different. Certain alcoholic beverages may feel like tradition, or a staple at the family table. Dealing with relatives – especially those you haven’t seen in a while – can be uncomfortable or awkward. Even on Zoom meeting! Arguments break out. Feelings are hurt. And with all of their good intentions, folks who don’t understand addiction recovery (or are defensive of their own habits) may utter, “It’s just a glass of champagne… what can it hurt?” And this year, the stressors might include being alone for the holidays, or worry about social distancing, or health concerns.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
Additionally, many of us experience the winter blues. “This is the most wonderful time of year” starts brewing in late November. However, many of us don’t actually feel it. In reality, the holidays are hard. The days are short, the stores are crowded and in Michigan, the roads are usually snowy. And when we don’t fit the picture of holiday cheer, it’s easy to turn it inward.
What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t my house look this festive? And, who has the time?!
One of my favorite winter activities is bundling up with a thermos of hot chocolate and taking an evening walk. In my residential neighborhood, I spot Christmas trees and menorahs and roaring fireplaces from the sidewalk. Looking in, the scenes are picturesque. I imagine the family that lives inside… their conversations, their sugary treats and golden retrievers. From the outside, it’s hard to imagine that anyone with that perfect of a living room could ever struggle with wintertime sadness.
The truth is, winter dredges up feelings of loneliness and isolation for many people. Some of us are grieving loved ones, or moments with loved ones that have changed this year. We may be feeling guilty about our role in time honored grudges and rifts.
Further, if you are able to travel, holiday travel is a ring of hell all its own. Returning to our hometown means returning to our hometown haunts… reminders of our younger (wilder?) years and the buddies we shared them with. Our routine is disrupted, making it difficult to keep to our 12-step meeting schedules. And we may stray from normal food and sleep habits, making us vulnerable to our impulses. Or, if we are alone this holiday season, we may be faced with dead time. And boredom is a sly and powerful trigger to drink. Use a 12-Step Meeting Finder or other telehealth option when the going gets tough and the triggers are coming.
First of all, quit beating yourself up if this month (year) hasn’t been all twinkle lights and gingerbread. You survived, and you’re doing great. The holidays come but once a year. Second, quit pushing yourself. It’s unrealistic to expect to soldier through every trying moment. Instead, ask for extra support. Plan ahead. Do what you’re able and leave the rest.
On a similar note, how do we tell family members about a newly established recovery? How do I share my challenges and triumphs? This conversation should be on your terms. It is your story, after all. But it may be helpful to get input from a sponsor or counselor. Again, plan ahead and define your boundaries. The goal should be to keep yourself accountable, safe, and strong.
In conclusion, I leave you with my favorite cartoon fella, Charlie Brown, on holiday melancholia. Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself!