Theresa dreaded this time of year. She called the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years the “Black Hole of the Holidays.”
She wasn’t really sure why she felt like this. All she knew was right around mid- November, she went into some kind of survival mode. She grit her teeth, faked some holiday cheer at the office, and just tried to make it through.
Sound familiar? If so, you aren’t alone! Many people in recovery struggle to get through the holidays.
For some people, the holidays are a time when it’s harder to resist the temptation to use. That social drink of champagne at the office holiday party or a night out for New Year’s is just too much to resist with all the well wishes and holiday cheer all around.
For others, the holidays heighten our awareness of how imperfect our own family life and relationships may be. For many in recovery, divorce, separation, and lots of past hurt often keep us alone and cut off from our families.
Theresa used to love the holidays as a child growing up in Washington, D.C. Her mom let her help decorate the house, bake cookies, and make gifts for family and friends.
When she got married she expected to continue the same traditions with her children. But then a lot of things she expected didn’t quite turn out the way she wanted in her marriage.
Now, at age 46, divorced with no children, and an alcoholic recent past, she knew she would never get to live out those holiday traditions as she’d always hoped.
The “Black Hole of the Holidays” was just a six week long reminder of her failures as a person, not to mention all the dreams she’d had that would never come true. No wonder she got depressed every year.
Sometimes the thought of that was enough to make her want to drink again. If she was drunk, she didn’t have to feel.
Hope for Holidays, Even for Those in Recovery
Thankfully, for Theresa and others like her, we don’t have to settle for “surviving” the holidays. There are a few simple steps we can take to help us get through without relapse and maybe even a bit of joy.
First, you need an action plan. And you need to tell someone about it.
An action plan is a list of the things that tend to “trigger” you-people, events, situations, songs, thoughts-that cause you to feel sad, depressed, angry, alone, or tempted to use.
For Theresa, this meant holiday events with children around, like the neighborhood holiday block party. Another trigger for Theresa was being alone over the weekends or any days she didn’t have to go into work.
The action plan also includes what a healthy response to the trigger would be, or how to avoid the trigger altogether. Responses include names and phone numbers of people to call, alternate events to attend, or ideas for handling situations that can’t be avoided.
Theresa’s plan had ideas for responding to her two triggers. The first one was easy… she politely declined the invitation to the block party. And even more importantly, she scheduled a pampering manicure and pedicure for the same time.
To address her second trigger, being alone, she decided to attend an extra recovery meeting each week and arrange time to meet up with friends for coffee, the movies, or a little shopping.
Surviving the holidays isn’t just about avoiding our triggers, but it’s also about replacing them with healthy alternatives and plans. If our action plan leaves us curled up at home, avoiding everyone, we’ve missed the point.
Sometimes, however, our triggers are impossible to avoid. Maybe it’s Christmas at your parents or sappy holiday music that as unavoidable as rush hour traffic in D.C. and nearly as annoying. At those times, when we think we might just lose it, the final piece of the action plan comes into play.
Once your action plan is done, share it with someone you trust- like your sponsor or accountability partner. Ask if they are willing to be your emergency point of contact for those moments when you might just give in and use, or blow up at the kids, or break down and forget all your boundaries, or get swallowed up in self-pity and loneliness.
Sometimes you just need someone to remind you to breathe, take a walk, read the Serenity Prayer, make a gratitude list, or pick you up for a meeting.
Theresa used her action plan to help her through the holidays. It wasn’t always easy, and she still was glad once the world returned back to normal after New Year. But she had a few, simple, good memories to carry with her. And maybe after this year’s holiday season, she’ll have a few more.
Make Your Action Plan
So what are you waiting for? Make your action plan before you get any further into this holiday season!
It still might not be a season of joy for you…yet. But sometimes just making it through is enough. Chances are, however, that by being intentional in your approach to the holidays, you’ll feel a lot less like you’ve been steamrolled by them. Having a plan is empowering. And that feels pretty good.
If you’d like to download an Action Plan Template, click here to send us your email and we’ll send you a blank template to complete. This plan is one we use with the men here at CrossRoads Freedom Center. By making sure each of them has a plan for the holidays, we are helping them create new memories for their new lives of freedom and recovery.
May God grant you serenity to accept the things you cannot change (like the holidays), courage to change the things you can (like having an action plan), and the wisdom to know the difference.