I remember my first stretch of Christmas and New Year’s while in recovery quite well. I had about two and a half months free from alcohol and drug use (which seemed miraculous at the time, as it still does today), and I was preparing for what I knew would be a test of the principles that I had been reading and hearing about on a daily basis. I was nervous, but was as honest as I could be with those that I got a chance to spend time with as I flew back home. That honesty was especially helpful when I was in environments that were full of temptation (in my case, finding myself in bars or other functions where most were drinking—something that is somewhat hard to avoid where I am from in Wisconsin). I was also eager to share the glimmers of new life I had been experiencing with those close to me, even though I wasn’t sure how it would be received.
Over the last week I have heard many men and women tell stories about how they previously had sobriety dates in the month of December, implying that they did not make it through the holiday season without caving into the lure of drinking, drugging, or acting out in their addiction. For those recovering from addictions of any kind, the holidays bring about a variety of stresses, old behaviors and environments, interactions that may provoke use, and more availability of the things we are trying to break free from. Sometimes perceived loneliness can trigger destructive behavior, which tends to creep into the lives of those lost in the hoopla of the holidays.
Statistics show that binge drinking, alcohol-related deaths, and drunk driving rates increase between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Those that struggle with unhealthy eating behaviors find it more difficult to stay on the path towards healing. Emotional and mental disorders can reveal themselves in more devastating ways during this time as well. For those that have recently lost a loved one or are going through divorce/separation, this Christmas may uncover heavy grief. This time of year can certainly bring plenty of highs while also bringing lows.
As we approach the day we celebrate our Lord’s entrance into our lives and surround ourselves with others, here are a few ways to remain at peace through it all:
- Stay accountable. Whether traveling or not, it is a great idea to book-end your day with interactions with those that understand what you are going through. Stay in touch with those in your recovery fellowship, and be willing to take phone calls from those who are experiencing moments of difficulties. You are not alone, and regular interactions with others is a great reminder of that.
- Limit your expectations. I’ve found it true that my level of serenity tends to be inversely proportional to my level of expectations. When I have unrealistic expectations for myself and others, it creates feelings of angst, frustration, and inevitable backlash. While we cannot manage our environment, we can manage the assumptions we hold and the prospects of what we believe ought to happen, especially as the complexity of family is involved.
- Give thanks. You’ve been given a great gift, and this may be a time to remember the pain that God has lifted you from. Recovery is not always a perfectly paved road, and turbulence is bound to happen at times. However, it always beats the alternative of resorting back to the shackles of our addictions. Plus, staying true to the reason we gather on this December day aligns us with the love that God has and his pursuit of us. We are to celebrate the coming of our Lord, who has made Himself known in beautiful ways to the recovering addict!
- Look for new opportunities to invite Christ into your life. For a lot of years, the holidays were, amongst many things, an excuse to over-indulge. Opportunities for vice are certainly more present during this time, but so is the opportunity to welcome Christ (back) into your life. Share that love with others and be of service if you can. Based on the faith of those around you, pray for prudent ways to share the Good News of God’s love and mercy in your life.
- Keep to your routine as much as possible. This is something that I struggle with around the holidays, especially when travel is involved. Maintaining my regular diet, getting exercise, being a part of fellowship groups on a daily basis, and the things that help keep a reasonable amount of peace in my life seem to fly out the window. Finding a fraction of what keeps serenity in your life throughout the rest of the year during the Christmas festivities will help solidify who you are. This may require giving yourself permission to step away for a little bit, which should be welcomed by those that now get to spend time with you fully alive as a result.
As changes in my life seem to be happening faster than I can keep up, I rest my faith in God who has been present to me even when I couldn’t believe it. I look back with gratitude to that first sober Christmas back home with my family and friends who showed me support when I couldn’t help myself. Getting through that week without drinking or using drugs propelled me further on my road to recovery. There was even a moment at a New Year’s Eve dinner held by one of my friends when I looked around and realized that no one was drinking that night (rare considering the holiday, even though my friends did not drink to excess the way I did). They had gone out of their way to enjoy a sober New Year’s Eve in solidarity with the changes that I was attempting to make in my life, an act that still brings me joy and appreciation. I pray you find the same kind of support, which I know you can if you are open to it.
Our Lord humbled himself by taking on human form and entering this world in a manger. Let us do the same while giving glory to that God, who goes to remarkable lengths to show us love. These are just a few of many different ways to maintain your serenity throughout the Christmas season. What are some of your experiences that you have found to be helpful? Please comment on this page or via social media to share your experience, strength, and hope with others.
From those of us at Catholic in Recovery, God bless you and merry Christmas to all!