by Joshua Hoe
I have a tough time during the holidays.
I live alone, my family lives across the country from me, and most of my friends are off with their own families on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Sobriety can be a struggle for me during this week in particular.
But somehow, with support, and the grace of God, I have remained sober for the last 5 Christmas weeks.
What tools have I used?
1. Use inventories
I am a big fan of emotional inventories, part of being an addict for me is knowing I am not always fully aware of (or covering up) how I am feeling.
One of my biggest strategies for sobriety is using red flags and my knowledge of things and events that trigger me to initiate substitution behaviors.
In other words, I try to know when I am in danger to start substituting positive behaviors for where I used to act out.
I cannot do this if I am not processing my situation accurately, one o so I do inventories. Just to be sure.
You are probably familiar with the HALT inventory (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) – I have always found this one really useful.
2. Gratitude Lists
Many of my struggles during the Holidays start with feelings like:
* Nobody really loves me
* It’s not fair that I am all alone
* I will never have anything good on Christmas
And many more, but the point is these are exactly the kind of things that tip me toward acting out. Usually that process goes something like this:
Nobody really loves me, it will never be better, might as well act out.
One way to counter that, for me, is to remind myself of the things that are really good in my life.
Often I find things are even better than they used to be, sometimes I find that they are as good as they have ever been.
Disabusing myself of these negative thoughts usually takes creating a gratitude list.
Just to protect myself, I set a lower limit, in other words, I won’t let myself get up until I come up with a certain number of things that I am grateful for.
This might sound silly, or childish, but it keeps me sober and helps me get past irrational resentments.
A natural counter to depression is exercise.
When you exercise your brain produces endorphins which enhance mood and make you feel better about life.
One of my favorite recovery sayings (that I made up) is:
Endorphins might not be Dopamine, but they are still pretty great!
Another benefit, because you are losing yourself in another activity, you are probably not thinking about your sorrows.
I love to put on my IPOD, play music that really picks me up, and do some serious aerobic exercise. This almost always puts me in a much better place.
4. Go to Meetings
Over the last several years I have gone to meetings on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Years Day.
I don’t let a holiday get in the way of meeting schedule.
Only once, in all of those holidays, did nobody show up.
If nobody shows up, I wasted 15 minutes. No biggie.
If people show up, I get to share fellowship with some people who are probably in the exact same place I am in emotionally about the holidays.
That is always a blessing.
If nobody shows up, I would recommend calling your sponsor and at least getting a few minutes of feeling you have some people who care about you.
5. Make Calls
The most common excuse for not using a phone list is, I didn’t want to bother anyone.
This becomes particularly acute during holidays.
As is true in most areas of addiction, do it because you don’t want to do it.
Here is the thing, most program people, especially those with good sobriety, understand exactly why you need to talk to someone.
I know that I try extremely hard to answer every call that I get, if not at the moment – a few minutes later.
If I am busy, I will tell someone that I will call them back as soon as I can get a break. And then I call them.
Most people on your call list will either not answer, answer, or ask if they can call you right back.
It is never a bother to talk to someone who needs support. And everyone I know tries to live by something like this code.
6. Be social in safe spaces
One of my favorite things to do on holidays is go to a movie.
Usually a comedy.
I almost always go by myself.
But that is fine, I am outside of my house and I am not wallowing in my depression.
Obviously, pick areas and routes that do not take you by anything triggering or dangerous.
Maybe treat yourself to popcorn (unless you are an overeater).
I am a big proponent of what is called Mindfulness Mediation – where you just let yourself feel what you are feeling and concentrate on just letting the feelings be what they are.
It is a process through which you realize:
a) Your feelings and urges are temporary, you can watch them rise, crest, and fall like waves in the ocean.
b) You can practice surrender.
c) You are not your feelings, you are the watcher – they affect you, but they are not you.
All of these have been very powerful experiences for me.
I would recommend that you do at least some reading about Mindfulness meditation and maybe even meet with a practitioner before getting to into it. But, it has been a very helpful tool for me.
8. Connect With Your Family (if possible)
Just because you can’t be with your family physically, it does not mean that you cannot still connect and share your holidays with them.
One pattern I engage in is “taking my ball and going home” – in other words, when things don’t go my way, I just refuse to settle for second best.
“If they won’t come to see me, it’s okay, I don’t need them anyway”
This is self-destructive and counterproductive thinking at its worst.
Just because plans didn’t work out right doesn’t mean your family doesn’t love you.
And if there is family drama that makes things harder, maybe it is a good time for amends?
If this can’t be an answer for you, don’t despair, there are people who love and care about you.
Try online meetings, online support services, go to Twitter and search “recovery” – you will fine a TON of people struggling just like us.
There might not always be neat or easy answers, but even when I was in prison, I could find things to be grateful about if I really made myself work on a list.
I wish you the happiest of sober holidays – remember, especially when you don’t want to – it works when you work it!
What are your tools for the holidays? I would love for people to leave other ideas people can use to stay sober, please feel free to leave a comment!