Teenage girl enjoying winterBeing days of importance, out of the ordinary round, holidays often involve vivid experiences. They become markers in our memories. “The Hannukah after Dad died,” or “The New Year we all went on vacation together.” The days themselves begin to carry weight and baggage, and it’s not always good. A lot of stress goes along with holidays– expectations of ourselves, assumptions about others and their expectations.

For some of us in recovery, holidays become a struggle, as much as (or more than) a time of celebration. It’s hard to remember that each twenty-four hours is part of the unending “now.” There’s no inherent differences between a day we call “December 25th” and a day we call “December 26th.” Likewise “December 31st” and January 1st.”

But we can reclaim holidays, and make them assets rather than liabilities. Here are a few simple steps:

Step One: Let go of the most burdensome “shoulds” associated with any holiday. Admit you don’t have the power to ‘do it all’ and just focus on something you like. Maybe decorating is too much for you, but you can make a tradition of taking a “decoration tour” to enjoy others’ creativity.

Step Two: Recognize that loneliness is the commonest trap connected with holidays, and plan ahead to enjoy the company of those who support your recovery, at some point. If you don’t have a support group, maybe there’s a volunteer opportunity that can offer you some friendly faces.

Step Three: Decide what you want to celebrate–maybe to others Valentine’s Day is all about romance, but perhaps to you it’s about celebrating what recovery has taught you about caring service to others in need.

Step Four: Take some time to think about the bad memories or feelings associated with the holiday. Sometimes those reasons lie hidden, ignored, or denied in the past. Facing them may rob them of their power or at least give you ideas about changing for future holidays.

Step Five: Take some time to talk about the bad memories or feelings with a sponsor or close friend in recovery, or someone you trust. Come to terms with how your addiction tainted the holiday, and you can let it go and find reasons to celebrate.

Step Six: Don’t over-plan. Be ready to take advantage of opportunities to celebrate in different ways, explore new traditions, etcetera. Be open to trying something different.

Step Seven: Put it in proportion. If something doesn’t go the way you expected, it’s still just one twenty-four hour day and there’ll be another one. Go ahead and laugh about the cake that flopped, the terrible sweater, or other “disaster.”

Step Eight: Examine whether the holiday offers any opportunity for you to repair any damages from your drinking or using days, especially those associated with the holiday itself.

Step Nine: Take a concrete step toward repairing connections or making an amend. Holidays sometimes offer powerful opportunities for a phone call, a card, or a visit to put things right and start again.

Step Ten:  Stay focused on what you’re doing. It’s easy to fall back into old habits of depression, or isolation. Reclaiming holidays doesn’t just keep them from becoming relapse triggers– it can also offer chances to live the joy in recovery.

Step Eleven: Make quiet time for yourself, too. Sometimes the appreciation of a holiday comes in the moments of meditation or mindfulness of simple things.

Step Twelve: I bet you can guess this one– find someone else who has difficulty with the holiday(s) and form a mutual aid and celebration pact! Share a meal, laugh together at the commercialized excess, watch the stars. Joy shared is joy magnified many times over.

Happy holidays to all of our friends on the Recovery Friendly Web!

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