Monthly Archives: December 2015

Twelve Practical Tips for a Sober Holiday

Since New Year’s Eve is known for partying, I thought it might be a good time to bring out an old blog from my days of working in the substance abuse field.  (This came from conference material, and while many of these suggestions are focused on those in a 12 Step program, most can be heeded by any of us, by being a little creative and substituting something from our own lives where it talks about 12 Step activities and meetings).

Here are twelve practical tips many 12 Step groups offer for any holiday:

1)   Plan extra 12 Step activities.  Take newcomers to a meeting, answer phones at a clubhouse or central office, volunteer for Twelfth Step calls, speak at meetings, tell your story, or visit alcoholic wards at hospitals.

2)  Be host to 12 Step friends, especially newcomers.  If you can’t throw a formal party, take one person out for coffee.

3) Keep your 12 Step telephone list with you at all times.  If you experience an urge to use, postpone everything until you’ve called someone who understands and can remind you of your priorities.

4) Find out about special 12 Step events. Many groups sponsor holiday parties, special meetings, or other celebrations.  Go to them.  If you’re timid, take a supportive friend.

5) Skip any drinking occasion you are uneasy about.  Many of us were clever at coming up with excuses when drinking.  This is where we can put that talent to use.  No office party is as important as saving your life.

6) If you have to go to a party where use is probable, take someone with you who is supportive of your sobriety.

7) Don’t think you have to stay late.  Plan an “important date” in advance which you have to keep.

8) Go to church.  Any church.

9) Don’t sit around brooding.  Read a book, visit a museum, take a walk, or write a letter.

10) Don’t start getting upset about all those holiday temptations now.  Remember to take each holiday “one day at a time.”

11) Enjoy the beauty of holiday joy.  Maybe you cannot give material gifts, but this year you can give love.

12) “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  (Step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous)

Here are some other choices we can make for ourselves during the holidays:

1) We can keep a realistic attitude by staying in the present and not dwelling on those past experiences and traditions that keep whispering, “This would be better if. . .”

2) We can choose to keep a sense of humor about it all.

3) If the holiday stress is building up, we can choose to take a break and do something different like going for a walk, breathing deeply, or calling a friend in the program.

4) We can avoid major life changes during the holidays by remembering it is not a good time to move, change jobs, or begin or end intimate relationships.

5) We can keep a hopeful attitude.  There is much to be said for the old adage of counting our blessings.  They are a wellspring of hope.

6) Through prayer and meditation, the guidance of a Higher Power will help us make the right choice each time.

Dealing with Holiday Traditions When You’ve Experienced a Loss

Holidays can be a time of mixed emotions, especially if you’re struggling with the recent death of a loved one or another loss, such as a relationship breakup or divorce.

The biggest thing to accept is that things are not going to be the same as when your loved one was with you.  It’s important to speak about the person you’ve lost and make them a part of the holiday in any way you can, especially the first year.

There is no timetable for grief, and the concept of closure is a difficult one.  (My personal belief is that there really is no such thing as closure.  You can eventually make peace with the loss, but you’re never “done” with it).  Grieving someone honors them and the relationship you had with them.  That being said, it’s also important to move on when you’re ready.  Doing so allows you (and the loved one) the freedom to continue to grow and to integrate the changes into your lives. (Yes, our loved ones continue to grow and evolve on the other side, and your relationship continues – it’s just going to be different).

When preparing for the holiday, think ahead about what you can comfortably handle and bring others in to help with the parts you can’t – hanging lights, cooking a meal or ordering food, etc.  Speak up when you feel friends and family are leaving you alone a little too much, or if they’re trying to keep you too busy.  You may not think you know what you need at any given moment, but you have to go with what you’re feeling – and ask for it.

There are no “supposed to’s”.  If you don’t feel like putting up the tree, don’t.  And feel free to change your mind, even if it means canceling plans at the last minute if you just can’t find the energy to do something you’d planned.

Let traditions slide if you just don’t feel up to them this year – or change things up to give new meaning to this time.  If there are children involved, be sure to acknowledge that the holiday will be different this year.  Have them help with various planning and preparations if possible, so they feel more a part of it, especially activities that honor the loved one – lighting a candle, setting aside time to tell everyone’s favorite story involving him/her, doing something that person enjoyed, or volunteering or donating time or money in their name.  Remember that your loved one did LIVE, he/she didn’t just die.  Honor the life.

Keep things simple. And be aware that the anticipation can be more difficult than the actual holiday.  If a little happiness tries to creep in, don’t shut it down.  Your loved one wants you to feel joy.

Above all, be gentle with yourself, and have a Blessed holiday.

Coping with Holidays After a Loss

Holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we navigate after a loss. The ways we handle them are as individual as we are. What is most important is that we be present for the loss in whatever form we can. Holidays are part of the journey to be felt fully. They are usually very sad, but sometimes we may catch ourselves doing okay, and we may even have a brief moment of laughter. Whatever you experience, just remember that sadness is allowed because death doesn’t take a holiday. And feeling joy does not negate the impact your loved one had on your life.

Our friends and relatives often think they know how our holidays should look, what the family should and shouldn’t do. They may just be uncomfortable with our pain, and just want us to feel better. But grief is one of those things in life for which there is no detour. We HAVE to go through it in order to come out on the other side. However, we each go through it in our own way, so don’t let anyone else dictate how you manage your holiday. There are no “supposed to’s”. Now more than ever, be gentle with yourself, but do it your way.

One thing that usually helps is to find ways to honor and remember your loved one. Here are just a few suggestions. Be creative.

-If you miss shopping for your loved one, buy something he/she would have liked, then donate it to a shelter or some other organization that adopts families for the holiday.
-Light a candle
-Say a prayer
-Donate time or money in their name
-Do something you loved to do together on that day
-I’ve even heard of families who set a place at the table for their loved one, and share fond memories of him/her during the meal.

It isn’t as important how you remember. You honor them by the fact that you remember.
Just Remember.

Sending you peace for your holiday season.

Expectations and the Holidays

Any client who has worked with me knows I talk about expectations a lot, because they affect everything in our lives – our relationships, our jobs, how we view our lives in general. . .

The holidays are no different. My office is busier this time of year than any other. For starters, the sun is less visible, causing a lower level of vitamin D and more cases of the blues, if not depression. And then we have the anticipation of celebrations that we fear will not measure up to expectations, or the letdown when they didn’t.  But mostly I hear the awareness that it won’t actually come close to what it’s “supposed to be”.

In fact, there may be more expectations wrapped around holidays than any other time of year. The media throws romanticized versions at us, dictating what is “traditional”. Many people believe holidays should be spent with loving family where everyone smiles and laughs and gets along wonderfully. If it doesn’t turn out that way – or if their family doesn’t look like that, they feel upset or down that their family is so dysfunctional. And some are just depressed because they don’t have family to spend the holidays with.  Perhaps they’ve recently lost a loved one – or can’t be with their family, and feel they have nothing to look forward to at all.

The truth is holidays were seldom, if ever the way the media portrays them for most of us. Movies, TV shows and songs are forms of art. Art is supposed to evoke emotions, so they sometimes portray things more extremely to reach that sentimental place within each of us.

My husband and I had a few years where we couldn’t connect with any family for one holiday or another. What we did was to start a new tradition. A couple of Thanksgivings were spent in a Bed & Breakfast at a tourist location where there was lots of shopping and interesting restaurants. One year, we went to a different movie each day for 3 days. The point is that we spent time doing things that we enjoy doing, but seldom have time for.

Over the past 10 years or so, my husband has been a professional Santa.  While his work can be grueling  (try being “jolly” for 6-10 hours at a time), it affords the opportunity for us to witness some great excitement and some very touching scenarios we might not otherwise be exposed to.  It helps remind me what the holidays are really about.  Love and giving. That helps me keep the expectations at bay.

I love having my family here, but as we plan for this Christmas, we are looking forward to taking our 6 year old granddaughter with us to her Aunt & Uncle’s house in Chicago, who have some pretty big surprises planned for her.  For the past several years, we’ve been able to see the holidays through her eyes, as she’s tried to figure out why Papa looks like Santa – or is it the other way around? I’m hoping this year will rank up there at the top of my “favorite holiday” list. But I’ve learned that the only way it can is if I go into it without expectations of how everyone should behave. I love them for who they are, not who I want them to be.

Hoping your holidays are filled with lots of love and fewer expectations.