My first year out of rehab, I tried to be everything to everybody. I did my 90 in 90 and recorded the time and place of each meeting on a carefully kept calendar. I got straight As and A+s in my graduate program and checked my grades about ten times a day. I bought and wrapped all my Christmas presents… in August. I attended multiple religious celebrations, volunteered to coordinate every possible event at my church, did service in other places, you get the idea.
Then, eventually, I crashed. Once I crashed, I sometimes couldn’t make it out of bed to get to family holiday celebrations. I missed time… again.
As I made my way back through recovery, I discovered something I had heard many times before: anything you put before your recovery, you will lose.
By trying to do everything and be everywhere, I had neglected the self-care my recovery needed: meetings, meditation, time alone, and a lack of drama and stress in my life. So I started to cut back on things. I didn’t fly to every family holiday if it would mean missing work (and a paycheck!), exhausting myself and putting my recovery at risk. I got rid of extra obligations. I let the dramatic people go from my life… and you know how the drama royalty love to surface at holiday time (often drunk dialing or texting!)
How to Have A Stress Free Holiday in Recovery
Here is my advice for the holidays in recovery: Do as little as possible.
1: Avoid Booze-Heavy Parties
Don’t go to work parties that involve tons of alcohol and/or other drugs. Don’t go to ones that stress you out. Ask yourself if it is truly a requirement of your job that you attend. If it is, then make the usual plans: eat first, plan an early exit, have someone call you with the urgent message that your house is on fire, etc. But most of the time these events aren’t truly requirements: we just think we have to show up. Let’s face it: most of the people at the work holiday party will be too drunk to remember if you were there or not!
2: Handle Family Drama
If family events cause drama and stress for you, ask yourself this: which will make me feel worse: going, or not going? If your family knows you are in recovery, be honest about your feelings if you can. They may be more supportive than you think. Most families would prefer to see you safe than see you at a holiday dinner. You can also negotiate an alternative: for example, I decided to skip the family Christmas in a far away city and instead attend my father’s birthday, at a quieter, less stressful time.
3: Tackle One Task at a Time
Don’t take on extra commitments. It’s tempting to want to help the homeless, do more service, and clean someone else’s house (okay maybe that’s just me.) Holidays are a time that can bring on tremendous guilt, especially if we missed family obligations or ruined family holidays during our active addiction. I can’t name a holiday I didn’t somehow screw up during my active addiction… except maybe Friendship Day, which I’m sure you have to google to figure out if it even exists. But driving yourself into the ground, especially into relapse, won’t make up for lost time. Only time – time being present, not just (or even necessarily) sober – will make up for lost time.
4: Slow Down
Try not to hurry too much. I find myself hurrying: hurrying through my morning meditation, skipping support group meetings to catch up on work, even cheating myself and my beloved kitty of a longer pet and purr session. My cat is my barometer: if I feel like I have to stop petting her because I have something else to do (unless I actually have to leave for work!), I am putting the junk before the cat. It’s the same with meetings or reaching out to others in recovery if that’s what works for you. Or yoga, meditation, running, or whatever path your recovery takes. Slow down, and stick to what matters most.
5: Log-Off of Social Media
Cut way back on social media. Looking at pictures (carefully crafted!) of others looking like they’re leading the perfect life will only depress you. Reading friends’ calls for help will make you scared and sad too. Right now, you have to take care of you. Social media fills us with fake feelings: we fall for constructed images, and we can even get caught up in putting our best face out there. Just ignore it. Instagram will be there if you want it again – someday.
6: Turn Off the TV
Stay away from the TV too. Watching commercials of people giving expensive gifts that you can not afford, reuniting with family and spouses that you may have lost or never found, and living lives that are fantasies will get into your brain. Try reading a nice book you enjoy, or picking up the phone and talking to a low drama, low stress friend or family member. Or, as always, cuddling a cat or walking a dog. Or feeding your fish (I don’t suggest you cuddle or walk a fish, but my area of study is substance use and mental health, not marine biology!)
7: Plan a Sober Holiday
If you enjoy gatherings, plan a sober gathering. You don’t have to just invite friends who don’t imbibe and/or use. One of my best New Year’s Eve parties included sober and drinking friends… just no drinks. Instead, we feasted on my cooking, including deviled eggs that I’m sure no one will forget. Drinking is NOT a necessary part of social events, no matter what commercials, advertisements and friends may tell you.
It’s okay to say no. It’s essential to put yourself first. That means putting your recovery first: whatever that means to you. Exhaustion, mental, physical and emotional, is the number one enemy of recovery.
And remember: you can’t wrap any holiday gifts, send any cards, or go to any family parties if you’re dead.