The Holidays and Recovery

We've entered what is referred to as the “season to be happy.” It started on Halloween, then Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Thanksgiving and now, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For many of us, it is all about family, friends and celebrations. For many, it truly is the “best time of the year.”

Nevertheless, this can also become the season of relapse, anxiety and depression. If holiday cheer and endless get-togethers make you feel lonely or somewhat depressed, know that you are not alone.

The economic pressure on individuals to spend money on presents and holiday gatherings can only exacerbate the feelings of shame for those struggling. The sense of isolation and loneliness can be extreme. The family get-together can become a blame game. For many, the holiday season can be a trigger for relapse. And for families who have lost a loved one to the opioid crisis or depression and suicide, the joyous nature of the holidays can be unbearable.

There was a posting on Facebook this past week that started by saying “It is important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to the Holidays. Some people are not supported by large wonderful families. Some of us are having problems or may be overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. And, many people have no one to spend these time with and are overcome with loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. We need to remember to support those who are having family troubles, health struggles, job issues, and worries of any kind.”

This is especially true for people in early recovery, for those still struggling with addiction and mental illness, and for those families who have lost someone to these diseases. The sadness can be even more overwhelming when it is expected that this is the “most joyous time of the year.”

We all having coping skills that we use to deal with anxiety, depression and loneliness. Rather than turning to alcohol or drugs, consider ways of exercising. If you feel stress during a holiday dinner or there is too much pressure to answer questions about your recovery, excuse yourself and take a brief break.

Especially during the holidays, set realistic goals and decide in advance what you can comfortably handle. Unlike the rest of the world, addiction and mental illness does not take a holiday break. Do not feel bad about yourself if you are not “enjoying the best time of the year.”  The holidays can mean something different for you and there is a recovery community that will understand and support! For those who have lost a loved one, the holidays can be a time to reflect on the joys and remembrances of ones’ life and embrace the emptiness through the comfort of others. For individuals in recovery and their families, the knowledge that they are here to celebrate another new year can be comforting.