The hallmark of any good holiday movie or sitcom is the moment when things don’t go as planned. Who doesn’t love a good joke about “Mom’s dried out turkey” or the moment when Cousin Eddie pulls up to the Griswold house in his rusted-out RV? The things that go wrong and the ensuing chaos and frustration is what really makes us laugh. Why is it so hilarious? Because we can relate!
We’ve all had a less-than-stellar potluck dish, and many of us probably have that one family member who is channeling the “Cousin Eddie” vibe. However, when we start to have these kinds of experiences directly in our own lives, it becomes a lot less funny and a lot more awkward and frustrating.
The holidays may often bring up difficult feelings, complicated situations, and maybe even some fear.
So as my holiday gift to you, here are five tips that can help us take good care of ourselves, our recovery, and our sanity through the holiday season:
- Holidays are not always happy. First things first, let’s acknowledge that the media is hard-selling us the idea that the holidays are going to be nothing short of magical. But let’s be real: we’re in Atlanta and we’re not going to have a white Christmas. It’s probably going to be 85 degrees and raining, and that new sweater is going to be awfully hot and itchy. Let’s dig deeper and get really real: the holidays are often filled with tremendous grief, stress, pressure, and anxiety. When we look at our lives and they don’t match the story we are being sold, we may begin to believe the lie that there is something wrong with us. Hear me when I say this: there is nothing wrong with you or your experience. In one way or another, the holidays are hard for us all. Know that you are not alone.
- Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. So, not every holiday is happy, but it’s important to be hopeful that your newly-sober holiday may hold the potential for more joy, happiness, and meaning. But sometimes folks in early recovery confuse hope with a sure outcome. Hope that your brother won’t ask you to get high with him this time because he knows you just got out of treatment, but expect that he might, and prepare with your sponsor for how you are going to safeguard your recovery. If you are a family member of someone in recovery, hope that your loved one won’t violate your boundaries by asking you to slip them a little extra cash, but prepare for how you will say “no” in the event that it does happen. This is about taking responsibility for closing any potential back doors that addiction may try to slip through.
- Watch What Happens. No, I don’t mean to watch a steady stream of Bravo shows. The Real Housewives are clearly ill-prepared to help you respond to difficult feelings in a healthy way! What I do mean is this: take a step back and try to be mindful about what is happening around you. Watch it unfold as if you were a third-party observer. Try not to assign judgment to yourself or others. See what you notice, write down interesting observations, call your sponsor or a trusted person in your network and discuss what you have observed. It’s okay to take a step back from your feelings when things become overwhelming. It’s okay to just try to observe facts. This can actually help us make better decisions about what to do with the feelings we are having, rather than impulsively reacting out of them.
- Assume Positive Intent. This one is challenging, but it can really help to diffuse difficult feelings about our loved ones. Grandma may tell you how much she missed you at the family reunion, but she heard that you went to this place called “MARS” and that you’re doing much better now. She is going to ask you a million times what “MARS” is, and you will correct her a million and one times and tell her, “It’s actually MARR, Grandma!” You will feel the shame and annoyance start to build. This is where you get to practice assuming positive intent. Assume that Grandma loves you so much and that she is just trying to understand. Assume that she has been worried sick about you and is searching for some way to show her support. Suddenly, you don’t care so much that she perhaps thinks you were on another planet instead of in treatment, you are just grateful that you can give her the gift of easing her mind by showing up sober this holiday.
- Laugh at yourself. Sometimes, if all else fails we just have to laugh. Sometimes our personal holidays are just as much a comedic disaster as those we see in the movies. Taking a deep breath, taking ourselves way less seriously, and marveling at the absurdity and hilarity of it all can sometimes be just what we need to make it through. Reach out to your network, tell them how bad the turkey was, and tell them that your Grandma apparently believes you have been orbiting in outer space. Chances are, the folks in your network are having some rough patches in their holidays too, and maybe they could use a good laugh.
It is important to note that I would never suggest that these tips are the tips to get you through the holidays. If you are working a recovery program, you know yourself and you know your unique stressors and triggers. So by all means, implement the strategies that work reliably for you. More than anything, my hope is that everyone will remember to intentionally plan for how they can take good care of themselves this holiday season.