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Addiction Recovery: How to Survive the Holiday Season

Guest Writer: Kristen Kaserman, LMFT

Recovery During the Holidays

Addiction: let me count the many ways.

The holiday season is not only a time when many overindulge, but a time when some lose themselves to their addictions. The leaves begin to change and fall, the air become crisp, and nights colder, announcing the arrival of the coming winter and the holiday season. For many of us this brings memories of loved ones who have passed from our lives, and whom will not be with us this year. Others may feel the stress of finances as they try to provide meaningful gifts and meals in celebration of the holidays. Some people feel more alone, as if they are on the outside of life looking in, separate from friends and family despite being surrounded by them.

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Regardless of an individuals specific triggers the holiday season can lead to an increase in addictive behaviors in an effort to: relax, escape, change feelings or mood, cope, forget, or any number of other perceived benefits.

Families are beautiful, tortuous, wonderful, crazy things……always have an escape plan.

The holiday season tends to bring families together for celebration and long standing traditions. With this comes expectations and tensions. Reduce your stress; let go of unresolved family issues. Choose to address these in therapy or after the holidays. As ‘healthy and loving’ as your family may be, everyone needs an escape plan from time to time. Plan ahead, drive yourself to the get-together, excuse yourself to a back room to read, journal, nap, meditate, go for a walk, play Candy Crush, or whatever else gives you some space and time to yourself.

Your Family and Recovery

If this is your first holiday in recovery, family members may be very suspicious of any behavior that resembles ‘sneaking off to use’. Be aware, and prepared for questions. An answer as simple as, ‘I have started a meditation practice and will rejoin the family in an hour’, or ‘I need 30 minutes to relax and will rejoin the group then’, or ‘I like to walk after a meal to ease digestion’, should suffice. If your family knows you are in recovery or struggling with an addiction, and they like to play ‘20 questions’ then brace yourself and be prepared to take a deep breath and respond rather than react. Sometimes it is difficult to remember their hearts are in the right place and their questions, despite sounding accusatory, are coming from a place of love and concern. A balance of honesty and boundaries can ease the situation. “I appreciate your concern. I am feeling a little stressed with all of the questions and would like to just take some time out for now.”

Healing the Grief

This may be your first holiday after losing a loved one. Everyone grieves a little differently. Some things that have helped others in dealing with grief and loss have been: changing traditions, writing your loved one a letter and burning it, honoring their memory and what they brought to your family in a way that is meaningful to you, or joining a grief group.

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Setting up a Holiday Budget

Holidays can be an expensive time of year. Set up a budget, starting today if you haven’t already. Be realistic. As much as I would love to buy everyone I know something amazing for the holidays it is not within my budget to do so. Make lists of who you would like to give gifts to and set dollar amounts for each. Get creative! There are a number of inexpensive creative projects you can make for friends and family. Oftentimes having put in the effort and thought to make something for someone is more meaningful than an expensive gift.

And again, let go of expectations of self and others. Expectations and disappointments can become the whips we beat ourselves with that lead down the road to relapse.

If getting money as a gift is a trigger for you, then plan ahead. Set up a support person to help you ‘hold’ any monetary gifts, immediately deposit money into a bank account, or have a plan of things you need or want and would like to spend the money on ahead of time.

Social Support

The holidays can be a season of loneliness and depression. If you are new in recovery or are trying to change old patterns around the holiday season, you may find yourself isolating more from family and friends. You are only as alone as you choose to be. In every city there are 12-step meetings around the clock, full of people in recovery there to help support and encourage any newcomers. Many 12-step groups plan events to celebrate the holidays together. The holidays are also a wonderful time to give back. Volunteer with a food bank, shelter, Big Brothers Big Sisters program, or any number of other opportunities in your community. Connecting and giving back to others with your time can be fulfilling, rewarding, an opportunity to meet new people, and will help keep you out of your own head; which can be a dangerous place when struggling with addictions and depression.

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Slow down and breathe! So many people talk about this season “flying by,” and feeling like they did not have the opportunity to enjoy this time. Everyone breathes but many people do not breathe well. Our bodies are amazingly well designed. Our breath can help direct our central nervous system. When you slow down and breathe place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Now take a deep breath filling your lower lungs, allowing only the bottom hand to rise and fall. When you can do this, you are effectively breathing your body into a state of rest and digest. If your upper hand, on your chest, is rising and falling with your breath then you are staying in a state of fight, flight, freeze, or heightened anxiety. Learning to shift your breathing can help you slow down and enjoy life, recovery, family, deal with emotions, and enjoy this holiday season.

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