Are you dreaming of chestnuts roasting on an open fire for the holidays or are you dreading what lies ahead? Holidays can be challenging for anyone and for the person in recovery the holidays can be especially difficult. Spending time with family and friends can bring up a wide range of emotions including sadness, anger, shame and more. Whether you are newly in recovery or have years behind you, there are many things you can do to protect your recovery. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the holiday season.
1) Hold on to Your Recovery Routine – Each person determines the recovery activities and routine that help them stay in recovery; and, during the holidays, it is essential to maintain consistency. For some this may be regular meetings with a counselor or healthcare professional while for other people it might be support group meetings or daily phone calls with someone else in recovery. Be sure to schedule these activities as priority on your calendar and consider them mandatory for your own wellbeing.
2) Avoid People, Places and Things that Threaten your recovery. Is there an old haunt that you associate with your pre recovery days? Now more than ever is the time to avoid going there. Additionally, if your past holiday traditions include spending time with people (including family members) who are likely to be dismissive or critical of your recovery, take action to minimize or eliminate time spent with those people. If your past Christmas Day tradition was to spend the day with extremely harsh and condescending Aunt Mabel, this is the year to make other plans. A short and gracious “I’m sorry I can’t make it this year; I have other plans,” is all that needs to be said. In some cases, there are “things” that you may associate heavily with your pre recovery lifestyle. This might include a cigar gathering on the porch after dinner or an outing to a specific entertainment venue. Take care of yourself by politely declining these invitations.
3) Increase Selfcare. Holidays tend to be a time when people overcommit and find themselves extremely tired and just plain frazzled. Be sure to maintain your self-care routine and even increase the level of selfcare during the holidays. Each person will know best what their definition of selfcare means. For some people it is an extra hour at the gym, for others it might be a massage or pedicure and for some it might mean a long hike in nature. Whatever form of selfcare works best for you – do it!
4) Create New Traditions A woman in recovery for 20+ years reported that the first year in recovery, she started a tradition of hosting a casual get together at her house and extended an invitation to everyone in her recovery group that she thought might be alone or need a “new family” to spend the holidays with. Everyone brought a dish to share, and bottled water flowed abundantly. Board games, holiday movies and lots of laughs filled the party. Twenty years later the annual event continues, with a special welcome to those new in recovery.
5) Politely Decline. If past holiday seasons have left you exhausted and running from place to place, make this the year to politely decline. Make this the year you RSVP “NO” to the neighborhood caroling night, and you opt out of the all-day shopping spree with your sister. Protect your time to stay well rested and ensure your recovery routine stays top priority. If the home room Mom calls to ask if you can bake 10 dozen cookies, let her know that December is not a good time, but you would be glad to provide treats at the end of year event. If you find yourself already committed to delivering 10 dozen cookies, stop in at your local bakery to pick them up.
6) Do Something for Someone In Need – A wise person in recovery once said that the best thing you can do is “get the hell out of your own head and your own stuff.” Find someone in the community who is in great need and do something to brighten their holiday season. You adopt a child who wouldn’t otherwise receive Christmas gifts, or you donate a coat to a homeless shelter. And if you need the perfect reason to decline the invitation to Aunt Mabel’s Christmas dinner, volunteer at a local church or soup kitchen to serve dinner to the homeless.
7) Communicate with Family in Advance If you do plan to attend a family function it may be helpful to communicate in advance any specific requests or needs that can help support your recovery. There may be certain topics you request to be “off limits” for the holiday dinner or you politely ask that the dinner table is not the place to discuss how your recovery program is going. Let your family members know what they can do to help you maintain your commitment to staying in recovery.
And a final note to wrap up this list of tips, have an exit plan. Your exit plan might be an agreement with a recovery friend to be ready to text for help and have a reason to leave an event or gathering. Your exit plan might be a “prior commitment” to stop by and visit a friend who was going to be alone today, or your exit plan might be as simple as “I am starting to feel really exhausted and am going to head home.” If the event you are at is in your own home, politely excuse yourself to another room to breathe deeply, relax and focus on taking care of yourself and your recovery.
Staying in recovery is the greatest gift you can give yourself this holiday season.