Being Present and Coping Through the Holidays
The holidays are upon us once again. For many, this season elicits excitement, a whirlwind of gatherings of friends and family. Celebration can be felt in the air as people connect with each other, and share good will. People become nostalgically aware of their pasts, with hopes to propel the best versions of themselves into the New Year. For many, however, the holidays can also be painful and stressful. People who are new to recovery are often met with unique challenges during their first sober holiday season, and these problems can be as diverse as the individuals experiencing them. Parties, family, travel, gift giving, expectations, and loss can all be difficult for recovering individuals.
My experience was no different. My first holiday season in recovery was my little brother’s last in this world. I spent the majority of that year’s festivities feeling profound inadequacy and shame regarding my circumstances. I can remember the panic that filled me when family and friends asked where I was living, or when a homemade gift that I had made was pulled from under the tree. In retrospect, I wish that I had acquired better coping to help me remain present at a time that would become so momentous in my life. After losing my little brother to suicide in 2009, I was determined to learn how to reflect and be engaged in moments that I had taken for granted.
When embarking on the journey of developing coping skills, I, like many people in early recovery, found that my primary coping strategies were avoidant. Binge-watching television, reading books and taking walks were effective, but they removed me from the present moment. Distraction came naturally to me, as I had used substances to divert me from reality for years, but it would not help me obtain my goal.
My first major step in developing coping skills was learning grounding skills and developing safe spaces to release emotion. Grounding skills allow an individual to regain mental clarity when feelings or circumstances seem overwhelming. I learned that I could count objects in a room, rehearse breathing exercises, or practice progressive muscle relaxation when overwhelming grief and sadness would threaten to remove me from the present moment. I learned to establish safe places through interpersonal connections. I made friends with people who suffered similar losses, with whom I was able to freely cry, rage, and experience full range of human emotion without fear or judgement. Personally, developing a community that understood me was crucial. For some, this will happen in 12 step or alternative recovery meetings, for others this might look like group therapy or specific support groups. Others may be more comfortable releasing emotions in a physical location, like a shower, car, etc. There is never a right or wrong way to express emotions, as long as how you do so does not harm yourself or others.
After developing the ability to sit with myself, I was able to see that there was a part of me that was crying for something greater in my life. I desperately needed to shift my focus from merely surviving to thriving. At this point, I began to increase positive self-regard and practice self-love in the form of affirmations that enhanced my acceptance of self. By embracing myself in all of my imperfections, I was able to learn to honor my resilience, my strength, but also learn to appreciate my vulnerabilities. Loving myself has been one of my life’s most difficult obstacles, but also most rewarding. Through developing self-love and coping strategies, I have been able to access my higher self, and become capable of staying present in the moment. I have fashioned a trust in myself and my process. Today, I can barely recognize the scared, insecure girl who was frightened by her own homemade Christmas gifts. The gifts I am able to give today are a product of a hard-fought battle to learn to be present. My coping skill journey has yielded my most authentic self, and giving of ourselves is the greatest gift we have to give.If you or a loved one is struggling from addiction this holiday season, help is only one call away. Contact Banyan Treatment Center for more information on how to regain a healthy lifestyle through addiction treatment.