Christmastime is not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. Aside from the traditional stresses of the holidays like putting out money for gifts and splitting time evenly between families, some people deal with personal struggles at this time of the year. If you are a newly recovering addict, this time of the year can be particularly difficult. Relationships may be strained and the sights and sounds of the holidays may trigger negative emotions. How can you survive the holidays without a dent in your recovery?
Below is a Sober 12 Days of Christmas Survival Plan for getting through the holidays with a smile on your face.
1. Christmas Present
Attending family gatherings can be difficult. You probably hurt some people in your circle and they may not be quick to forget your actions. Some people may doubt your ability to stay sober; others may have a nonchalant attitude toward your struggles. You can’t change an entire family in one night; forgiveness and understanding come with time.
In the meantime, focus on being in the here and now. It’s not Christmas “past” but Christmas “present.” Put your best foot forward and remind yourself that you may not have been here to celebrate the holiday if you didn’t commit to treatment.
2. Home Alone
Not everyone has a big family around them. Being alone for the holidays is difficult for anyone but particularly for a recovering addict who needs extra support. Don’t use this loneliness as an excuse to veer off track – stick to your recovery goals and remember that you are doing this for YOU.
Reach out to members in your 12-step group. Many would be happy to open their homes to a friend in need. Or, consider starting your own tradition by spending the holidays volunteering or attending a church service.
3. Spirit of Giving
Speaking of volunteering, a great way to get through the holidays while building on your character is by donating your time to a local charity, food drive, homeless shelter, senior center, toy drive or soup kitchen. Nothing is more rewarding than serving those around you, and it puts your problems into perspective. Recovering from an addiction is no cakewalk, but other people have equally difficult lives and still find the strength to move on. By giving to these people, you’re finding purpose in life and the will to keep pushing forward.
4. Surviving the Sounds
You may have spent your last Christmases getting high or drunk. The sights and sounds of the holidays can be enough to trigger negative thinking, making you want to use again. And, unlike other triggers that can be avoided, it’s hard to hide from Christmas when reminders of it are at every store and in every advertisement.
Reach out to your family, friends and self-help groups to get added support. Keep yourself busy instead of parked in front of the TV or radio. Follow your aftercare plan and have outlets for stress, such as by meditating, practicing yoga or following deep breathing exercises.
5. Keeping Spirits Bright
At this time of the year, people have a way of looking back and acknowledging the things that have changed. Rather than looking at the past and the mistakes that were made, focus on your progress. In order to be at the point you are today, you had to admit your problem, seek treatment and actively work on your recovery, all things that you are doing today. You’ve come a long way, so stay positive and hold your head high. Recovery is not about what you lose but about what you gain.
6. I’ll be Home for Christmas
Even though some relationships may be strained, focus on strengthening them this holiday season. Now is a good time to reunite with family and friends and possibly start new traditions. This could be the push that your family needs to put the past behind them and start fresh. Also, when you’re reminded how wonderful it is to be with key people in your life rather than a slave to your addiction, it will be another step forward in your recovery.
7. Trimming the Invites
If you get a mailbox full of invitations to holiday parties and gatherings, consider yourself loved and lucky. But, this attention also comes with a responsibility: you must trim down the invitations. Not all environments will be conducive to your recovery, and you’ll need to separate these invites from the rest. You don’t want to challenge your recovery simply because an old friend or coworker invited you to a holiday bash.
At the same time, you may be ready to go beyond your comfort zone and attend a few gatherings. You don’t have to cut yourself off from everything just because you are a recovering addict. Choose your parties wisely and practice good habits such as by bringing along a trusted, sober friend and having an exit strategy in place.
8. Believe in the Season
When you believe in the joy and magic of the holiday, you’re bound to find happiness. That’s because believing is powerful. You don’t have to see something to believe in it – all you need to do is feel it or have faith in it. This is why the magic of Christmas is so strong in young children; they just believe in the good of people.
This season, believe in your own recovery. No one has a crystal ball to tell you what the future will hold, but you can just imagine how wonderful your life will be without drugs or alcohol holding you down. Believing in your ability to stay sober is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this season and beyond.
9. All I Want for Christmas
We have a way of glamorizing the holiday season – dreaming up vivid images of sipping on hot cocoa, caroling through the neighborhood and mingling with loved ones over hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. Rarely does this fit the reality of the holidays, which are spent shopping, spending, cleaning, cooking and rushing? The trouble is that when our personal affairs don’t fit within a Norman Rockwell painting, we end up feeling disappointed.
Manage your expectations this holiday season and be prepared for disruptions in your schedule. Things don’t always go perfectly, and you can’t let this ruin the true spirit of Christmas. Move away from the impractical thinking and let the holidays happen the way they are meant to.
10. Joy to Others
Addicts tend to be selfish and consumed in their problems. Even in early recovery, you begin to peel back the layers and realize that you need to take responsibility for your actions rather than blaming others. However, this takes time. Forgiving others and working through past problems is not something that can be done in a day or two, but you will find that the wounds heal over time.
With Christmas here, work on letting go of the past. You forgive for yourself, not for the other person. You can’t force forgiveness, but you can actively work on it. Practice by wishing joy and peace for everyone this holiday season. When you find it in your heart to be truly happy for others, you know that forgiveness has taken place.
11. Spreading Christmas Cheer
Volunteering isn’t the only way to find a higher purpose in life. You’ve been through traumatic experiences, which means you can offer a level of empathy and compassion that others can’t. Look for people in your life or community that could use extra support and understanding. You know what it feels like to be at the bottom, and your story can give strength and courage to others. This is why some recovering addicts choose to work with addicts; they bring personal experience and value to the table.
12. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like….a Sober Christmas
There’s no mistaking when Christmas rolls around. Lights are everywhere, Christmas carols are playing and decorations are hung in every inch of every city. Before that first snowflake falls, it already looks a lot like Christmas! The signs of your own recovery are just as apparent, providing that you acknowledge them.
Just as you effortlessly notice the sights and sounds of Christmas, identify the signs of your own recovery. It can be hard to envision leading a sober, productive lifestyle when you’re actively using or just entering treatment, but now (hopefully) you can. Christmas only comes once a year; sobriety is forever.
Photo credit: Wong Mei Teng