Getting through the holiday season in recovery can be challenging, especially if you’re grieving.
Bells are ringing. Halls are decked with boughs of holly. Jack Frost is nipping at your nose.
If you’re a person who loves the Christmas and holiday season, this may be the most wonderful time of the year. Family and friends gather. Magical lights reflect on tinsel-laden evergreens. There’s a distinct shift in the air – a feeling of reverence, of magic, of celebration.
But what if your holidays in recovery aren’t as joyful as they’re cracked up to be?
Getting Through the Holidays With Loss and Grief
What if you’ve experienced a recent deep loss and are grieving? What if the season triggers memories of difficult years past? What if you actually feel depressed or sad with all the holiday cheer, while it seems like others around you are all excited and eager for Christmas?
It may be tempting to withdraw when it looks like you’re the only one around who is suffering. It’s a lonely place to be.
The truth is there are tools in your recovery arsenal that can help you get through the holidays without using substances.
As a woman in long-term recovery, I’ve received the gift of many teachings over the years for how to get through challenges during the holiday season:
You’re Not Alone.
Watching others laugh and have fun when I’ve felt like I am crumbling inside has created loneliness, sadness and feeling like I’m the only one.
I learned to take the risk to reach out and tell my truth to someone safe. When I spoke my truth, I found others who were just as surprised as I was to learn that this isn’t a unique experience. “Wow, you too?” Connecting with others who get me is transformational.
It’s Okay to Feel What You’re Feeling.
Having pushed them down most of my life, feelings over the holidays have often surfaced in unexpected ways and at unusual times, especially in early recovery. I didn’t even know what they were most of the time.
I learned that it was perfectly okay to not know but to be teachable and curious about them. With honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, I learned to be present with my feelings, honour them, and not have to run from them. They were, at times, uncomfortable and scary. Of course, they were. Unfamiliar things usually are, at first.
It’s okay. I was okay. I learned to be gentle with myself. This, too, shall pass.
You Can Let Go of Expectations.
There is often a lot of pressure during the Christmas and holiday season to be cheerful and happy. Obligations to spend money, attend family gatherings, engage in traditions that could be harmful to my healthy recovery. I have had expectations of myself or felt obligated to others’ expectations of me.
As I gained strength and courage in recovery, I learned that I am enough exactly as I am. I need not be anything other than my authentic self. Putting my recovery first before expectations is healthy.
Saying “No” is okay.
I don’t have to go to every party to which I am invited. I don’t have to behave certain ways so others will be happy at my expense. When I prioritize my recovery over everything else, I give myself the chance to heal and learn a healthier kind of relationship with others. Learning to say no may feel risky and scary, but it becomes easier each time.
Stay connected to your recovery.
If I choose to attend parties or participate in seasonal celebrations, and even if I decide to take some time in solitude for self-care, I’ve learned to take my recovery community with me.
At times, I was able to have someone in my recovery circle be physically there with me. When that wasn’t possible, I made sure my supports or a trusted someone was ready at the other end of the phone for impromptu supportive calls or texts.
I became comfortable leaving parties and events to attend a meeting or spend time with others in recovery.
During my first Christmas sober, just two months out of treatment, I threw my coat over a formal dress and heels at a tense family function and walked down near the skids of Calgary to the old Alano club for an A.A. meeting. My attire stood out like a sore thumb, but I was sober and with my recovery people in a meeting that I desperately needed so I didn’t give in to the temptation to drink. Whatever it took, I learned to stay connected with recovery.
Facing challenges during the holiday season brings an opportunity to be present with your experience, honour it, and learn to live in a healthier, more balanced way. Even through grief, sadness, depression or anxiety, the greatest gift is the freedom to be who you are and learn at the same time.
It is the gift of recovery.