The holidays are once again upon us. It’s time to dread upcoming visits with family members, bemoan our financial insecurity, and look forward to the coming New Year with unbridled panic: ‘Tis the season to be incredibly stressed out.
It’s Sad not S.A.D.
Depending on your geography, this is a time of precious little sunlight and lots of precipitation. There’s no question that millions of Americans are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).
There should also be no question that quite often, depressive symptoms are better explained by the impact of unfortunate recurring experiences like… the holidays.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
The holidays are a time in which folks quite naturally reminisce. For many, this is a delightful bit of nostalgia. For millions of us in recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, abusive childhood, or other nightmares), recollection is at best bittersweet. At no other time of year was the contrast more apparent between how things were and how we wanted and needed them to be. The memories alone can overshadow any joy the current season holds.
Home for the Holidays
There is no greater sense of unwanted obligation than the compulsion to spend time with those who hurt us the most. We tend to be unwaveringly loyal to those undeserving of our devotion. Each year we return with a mix of false hope and cynicism, praying it will be different this time. When it’s not, we redirect our anger at ourselves for having expected anything better.
One of the more difficult aspects of recovery is that it practically guarantees a permanent gig as the black sheep of the family.
We long to have another family member join us on the journey. Too often we’re the only one who’s changing. The loneliness of being in a houseful of relatives can be overwhelming.
One of the best investments we can make is hitting extra meetings to help us survive the things we feel we must do. Google local meetings when you travel, call the helpline and hit online meetings. Don’t explain to your loved ones why it’s necessary to take a break, just assure them you’re a lot more fun when you spend an hour amongst those with similar struggles.
Broke not Broken
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the average American will spend around seven hundred dollars on gift-giving this Christmas. When we’re struggling to make rent, it’s easy to hate the expectation that presents be a priority. This is one of the biggest pitfalls of the season.
Instead, shift your perspective: Express a sentiment to your loved ones and focus on what you can give of yourself. It’s too easy to feel inadequate when we compare ourselves to others.
Toasting the New Year with a Cup of… Coffee
The holidays can be an incredibly difficult time to stay sane, clean, and sober. Holiday gatherings with friends, Christmas parties at work, and visits with family can be huge triggers. Even the traditional spiked eggnog or New Year’s toast can throw us into a tailspin. It’s vital that we make plans prior to going into the fray. We urge folks to spend time with sponsors and trusted others to identify what we can do to get through this (if indeed we’re ready) AND what to do if things start to come unraveled.
This is a time when we look to the coming year with anticipation. Some of us ponder possibilities while others focus on trying not to panic. Joyce Myers said it best, “I may not be where I want to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.”
Gratitude and attitude have a cause-and-effect relationship. One of the best investments we can make is noting our progress to date and mindfully choosing to take pride in it. Setting realistic goals for the near future makes sense, setting ourselves up with unrealistic New Year’s resolutions does not.
Spend as little time as you can reflecting on past regrets. They remain something you’re powerless to change. The most important thing about what’s behind us is that we survived it. What lies ahead is potential and far more worthy of our time and attention.