Reducing Holiday Havoc

As soon as Halloween candy and costumes disappear from stores, they’re replaced by red, green, and gold displays heralding the coming of Christmas (and, at equal-opportunity retailers, blue and white for Hanukkah and black, green, and red for Kwanzaa). These decorations often evoke one of two feelings: child-like excitement or stomach-twisting dread.

To turn the latter into the former, think about what winter holidays meant to you in your youth and what they mean to you now. Your memories might contain both nostalgia and old wounds. Perhaps your gatherings resemble those in the alt-country Robert Earl Keen song “Merry Christmas from the Family,” in which the opening line is, “Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party.” If your experience is similar, you can choose how to integrate those memories into who you are today.

Celebrate Sober: Holiday Planning Tips

If you’re in recovery, being around people whose “holiday spirits” come in a bottle or can is daunting. If avoiding parties where you’ll be tempted to indulge doesn’t feel like an option, plan ahead:

  1. Go with sober supports who will help bolster your resolve.
  2. “Bookend” by talking to someone beforehand and afterward. Let that person know you made it through unscathed.
  3. Have a nonalcoholic beverage in your hand throughout. Hold onto it to avoid confusing it with someone else’s alcoholic drink.
  4. If there’s music, dance!
  5. Spend time with children, helping to create happy holiday memories for them.
  6. Have an exit strategy if triggers prove hard to resist.
  7. If there’s conflict among family members, remember you’re not obligated to take sides or take their words personally.
  8. If food is addictive for you, eat lightly and drink water before heading parties, use a small plate, and avoid the buffet table and second helpings.
  9. Count your blessings not just your stressors.

Including Spirituality and Avoiding Commercialism at the Holidays

Some family functions bring together folks of various spiritual beliefs, practices, and lifestyles, like in the Dar Williams song “The Christians and the Pagans.” Open hearts searching for common threads can foster understanding in these situations.

Interfaith gatherings or new takes on old traditions can help you integrate recovery values into holiday celebrations. In Christmas in the Ashram, Jesus and Krishna are the guests of honor. Hanukkah celebrations might include the music of Hasidic reggae rocker Matisyahu, who attempts to inspire thought in his work. The modern African-American holiday of Kwanzaa reflects values that might resonate with those in recovery, including unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Reframing the holidays to include spirituality can take the focus off the commercial. Do you really want to waste precious time and energy clamoring for the latest gadget or toy? Do you want the children i­n your life to remember receiving love or loot? And wouldn’t you prefer to enter the new year unencumbered by debt and the worry that accompanies it?

You can write your own “It’s a Wonderful Life” story, complete with do-overs and karmic return on investment of the good you have done for others, returning to you multi-fold.

May your days be merry and bright, may laughter and love fill your stockings, may miracles abound, and may you enjoy a safe and sober holiday season, however you celebrate.

By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1

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