What Sobriety Has Taught Me About Surviving The Holidays

Holidays are hard when you're in recovery.

Holidays are hard when you're in recovery.

The holidays are a stressful time of year for many folks. Thankfully, recovery has taught me some amazing ways to cope. 

I’d been sober for about two years, and was hosting Christmas dinner at my place. The house was jam-packed with good friends, my husband, and my mom. During dinner, my mother got into an argument with one of my friends about the nature of alcoholism. My friend believed alcoholism was a disease; my mom refused to accept that idea.

“If alcoholism is a disease, that means you can't control it,” she said. “Then I’d have to forgive my father for his drinking and his behavior. I’m not willing to do that.” Shocked, I asked her about my alcoholism, and if she believed she could forgive me. “No,” she said. “I don’t think so.”

At that moment, I realized recovery had given me more than just the willingness to not take a drink. It taught me that I mattered, and after that Christmas I didn’t see my mother for four years. I wanted my sobriety to be stable enough to withstand her judgments. (Don’t worry. My mom and I have a great relationship now, 18 years later.)

The holidays are a stressful time of year for many folks. Thankfully, recovery has taught me some amazing ways to cope. Here’s what I’ve learned:

You Don’t Have To Do It All

I turn down at least a dozen invites each year in December. It’s not because I don’t value the people who have invited me to the events, it’s because I’ve chosen to prioritize my family in December. I’d rather invest my “people” time in my daughter and husband. So instead of going to those parties, we do fun holiday traditions together, just the three of us. It’s lovely.

You Aren’t In Charge Of Other People’s Feelings

Seriously. You aren’t. When you turn down those party invitations, you are not in charge of their reactions. If people want to pout about it, let them pout. They have chosen to react that way. I’m not suggesting you be rude, I’m saying you get to choose how you feel after you turn down the invitation. Release that guilt. Let it go.

Don’t Force Yourself

I have always been a last minute shopper. Yes, I run around like a madwoman on the day I choose to do my shopping. For years, I tried to make myself shop like those organized folks who have it all done by the first of December. And you know what? Trying to force myself to be like them was far more stressful than running around like a madwoman one day a year. So now I just understand my habits and accept them. I actually love shopping late now.

Let Go of Expectations

Expectations are the worst. If I could release one habit, it would be expecting other people to do...well, anything. In recovery, people say, “Expectations are just preconceived resentments,” and they are correct. When we expect people to behave in a certain way (often without letting them know what we expect), people will invariably disappoint us. This will lead to anger. Try your best to let go of those expectations. It will bring you so much peace.

Don’t Pick Up Your End Of The Rope

The holiday season means spending a large amount of time with family. In recovery I learned, “If you want your buttons pushed, go visit the installers.” Many of our worst emotional habits are around the dynamics of family. It can be an emotional tug-of-war we go through almost by habit. But I learned that I don’t have to pick up my end of the rope. I can choose to just not participate in the tug-of-war. So when you're with your family, just ignore the rope when it's handed to you. It will change the family dynamic completely.

When I walked into my first recovery meeting, I didn’t know I’d be learning a whole lot more than how to stay sober. I was handed a set of tools that would help me navigate life on a daily basis, and those tools work for everyone.

I hope you found this helpful. Happy Holidays!

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