Emotional Sobriety at the Holidays

Holidays are a season of gaiety and celebration, intended to affirm bonds of family, friendship and life. But for those whose families have been disturbed by addiction and relationship trauma, these rituals can feel empty or even painful. The very gaiety and the pressure we feel to be happy can accentuate what’s missing, or what never got a chance to be.

Additionally, as we gather with relatives who may be part of the pain we’re remembering, we may feel an inner conflict. Part of us yearns for the closeness and connection this time of year naturally engenders, while another part fears what might come along with it. Will there be tricky undercurrents? Will family issues explode into the middle of the holiday scene and make it feel unmanageable and scary?

We may also be stepping into a world where no one understands or even wishes to know about recovery, or who may even see it as a threat. All of this can make maintaining our emotional sobriety feel challenging; we can feel pulled between worlds both on the inside and the outside.

Some Tips for Maintaining Emotional Equilibrium:

  • Stay in the moment: Breathe when you feel yourself becoming preoccupied with the future or the past. Breathe, look around you, get centered in the present.
  • Stay close to the program: This is no time to skip meetings.
  • Act as if: Don’t get caught up in unnecessary, dark imaginings, move through your holiday events as if the strains that are present weren’t enough to send you through the roof.
  • Be proactive: Create little rituals and gatherings of your own with friends.
  • Manage stresses: Everything gets blown out of proportion when we’re stressed out, and holidays are naturally busier and more hectic than normal life.
  • Shop ahead: This will lessen your feeling of burden and stress.
  • Enjoy holiday food but don’t go crazy: Savor your favorite ritual treats, but don’t eat in a way you will regret later. More isn’t necessarily better.
  • Limit your time at any events that concern you. Stay in a hotel; take a friend; check out meetings in that area.
  • Get enough rest, sleep and down time. Slightly step up your self-care, rather than putting it last on your list. Keep exercising – it’s calming.
  • Don’t make the holidays a time to “deal” with old family issues: Don’t turn your family gatherings into therapy sessions. Holidays are generally not a good time for “getting into it”.
  • Keep expectations realistic; keep it simple.
  • Enjoy the little things this season: The holiday season is filled with quiet moments of pleasure, such as street music and decoration, good smells and warm wishes. Enjoy them within yourself.
  • Enjoy who and what you have: There is always someone at a family gathering who you’re glad to see. Go where it’s warm.
  • Be open to healing: Sometimes just gathering and affirming the bonds of life and love can bring up pain that needs to be felt and healed. If that comes up, just let it be. Let yourself feel and release it.

Remember that this is just another day on your spiritual journey. The holidays needn’t be overrated nor underrated. Move through them and let them move through you.

Tian Dayton, Ph.D. is the author of Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance.

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