I recently had another chat with the lovely folks over at Mountainside Treatment Center in Connecticut. We discussed how difficult the holidays can be for many of us, specifically for recovering addicts or their families who have to face many harsh realities this time of year. What many people don’t realize, is that while the holidays can be a truly magical time, it can also come with an abundance of expectations as well as both external and internal pressures.
Think about all of the perceptions of the holiday season that surround us – all of the Christmas movies where a family has a happy ending and snuggle up around a cozy fire, or a heartfelt love story where couples kiss as the snow falls, or even the romantic, joyful ads we see on TV. It’s ingrained in us that this is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but the sad truth is, this is not everyone’s reality. For families in recovery, the holiday and all that comes with it can be an extremely difficult time. A time that feels more like something you have to merely get through, rather than a time for celebration or joy.
On top of that, we put so much pressure on ourselves to try and have this “perfect” holiday filled with serving the perfect food and drinks at our holiday parties, finding the perfect gifts, and wearing the perfect outfit. But for families in recovery, this “perfection” will not only be unreachable, but it will be far from real-life. The holidays are never as they seem. But there are many things that can be done to turn these struggles, pressures, and expectations into pure hope:
1. Remove the expectations entirely.
Don’t have any expectations for what the holiday season “should be like.” Instead, take it a day at a time and let the holidays be. And appreciate any of the good moments and happiness that it does bring to you and your family.
2. Talk it out.
Be open and honest, and have that conversation. Negotiate and reevaluate what this time of year means for your family. Ask: What is best for us? Should we keep it simple or still have a big celebration? Should we stay home or visit others? Do what is best for your situation, and more importantly, have that discussion about what will work best for everyone involved.
3. Figure out what’s meaningful vs. what’s not.
Make important family decisions that can have a serious impact on the holidays. Will it be worth it to have alcohol at the party, or should we opt to get rid of it? Should we have a big family gathering or keep it small? Sometimes you have to be okay with spending Christmas in your PJ’s with close family by your side, instead of visiting Uncle Harry like you do every year. Remember, you can only control yourself and how you respond. So, stay strong and help others try to understand what you’re experiencing and why this year, things may need to be different. You need support, not more stress, so figure out what’s meaningful to your family to have or do during the holidays and go from there.
4. Don’t be afraid to change tradition.
Come up with new holiday traditions or routines that work for your family. Instead of having an alcohol-based party, try something new like board games, charades, building gingerbread houses, or fun family competitions. And be okay with these changes. Although any change can be scary at first, remember you’re only helping your family in the long run. You’re making the holidays more suitable for your current situation and way less stressful on everybody.
5. Change your thought-process.
Instead of seeing all these changes as negatives, try to change your way of thinking. Don’t think about everything you won’t have this holiday season, only focus on everything you WILL have, and all that you have to be grateful for. Try to see the changes in tradition in a positive light – remind yourself changes such as these are necessary, and that sometimes we must get through the bad in order to reach the good…even if that good won’t be around this holiday season. You may not understand why things have to be a certain way, but try your best to find the positives of the situation. Everything happens for a reason, and there is a reason all of this is happening right now – you just might not see it right now.
6. Accept that things won’t be perfect.
Nothing ever is, though, and you need to remember that. Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean magical snow will fall and all will be right in the world. This can be a harsh reality to face considering expectations are so high this time of year. And unfortunately, sometimes shit waits to hit the fan at the worst possible times – like during the holidays. But it is okay. This too will pass, and you will get through it. And sometimes, the least perfect Christmas can end up being the best one yet – because you made it through and you can look back, learn from it, and grow.
7. Remember what the holidays are truly about.
It seems as though holidays have become more about presents, drinking, eating, and shopping, – while many have forgotten what we’re truly supposed to be celebrating – which is love, family, friends, and most importantly, the precious gift of life: of being able to be around those we love for another holiday season. Don’t forget what the holidays are supposed to be about and what we are truly celebrating.
8. Have hope.
Have less expectations and always have hope. Keep fighting, keep going. Don’t let expectations defeat you. On Christmas, today, tomorrow, next week, or next year – always remember: YOU create your own happiness, and regardless of how bad things may get, seem, or be – never ever lose that hope.
For families in recovery, or any families struggling this holiday season, remember you’re not alone. Surround yourself with as much love and support as you possibly can, and let your hope carry you to better days.