The holidays can be a stressful and emotional time for people in recovery, especially those with co-occurring disorders such as PTSD. For many veterans, this is a yearly struggle. Holidays can be particularly challenging for people in recovery, and you may even feel like you dread if you live with PTSD. You may have intense emotions connected to the holidays.
If you have trouble enjoying the holidays, it’s not as uncommon as you may think for people in recovery. It’s not because there is anything “wrong” with you. While other people seem to be effortlessly happy, you may have trouble enjoying yourself. Holidays can be difficult for a plethora of reasons. Keeping yourself safe, and protecting your recovery, is a good goal for every holiday season
Participating in Holidays Safely
Participating in holidays may be an effort you make to keep others happy rather than yourself. If this is true, you may need to evaluate the pros and cons of showing up to a family gathering. If holidays make you lonely, sad, or regretful, these feelings may feel magnified in the wake of a pandemic. However, as with all emotions, this too shall pass. Having a plan for your holidays will help you feel more in control and prepared.
Many veterans feel the loss of friends and other sorrow around the holidays. These feelings are valid and important – remembering those who can’t be here is a part of the holidays. But you may even feel sensitive and “raw” than previous times this year.
This year is not like every other due to COVID-19. If you have any chronic conditions or other health problems, it may be smart to stay home and celebrate “virtually.” Older relatives, too, shouldn’t be exposed to large groups of people.
Staying home doesn’t necessarily mean staying alone. You and a few recovery friends or your close or live-in family may want to form a “pod” for a holiday. Ideally, this means everyone outside the household would get tested for COVID before and after the event and monitor any symptoms. It also means be honest and trustworthy when it comes to possible exposures.
Staying home and practicing self-care can also help you have a calmer, less stressful holiday. However, “marathon” 12-step meetings will still be available online throughout the holiday. You can log on when and wherever you want. If you plan on spending ANY part of the holiday alone, make sure to make your local AA or NA group your homepage.
Self-Care During the Holiday Season
You may worry that nobody will quite understand the way you feel about the holidays as a veteran. However, in recovery, you learn that while specific backgrounds and lifestyle activities may be different, the reasons people get high or drunk tend to be the same. You’re not alone. Many people in recovery worry about celebrating the holidays because of the complicated emotions they evoke.
Talk with your sponsor or therapist to devise a plan for celebrating the holidays. Here are some ideas to make the holiday season easier:
- Find out if there is alcohol at any gathering, and have a plan for what to do if you’re worried. Bringing a sponsor or recovery friend can make a huge difference.
- Have an escape plan if you’re worried about your recovery, feeling triggered, or lonely. Always know what meetings are available to you during the holidays.
- Don’t avoid thinking about your losses or try to avoid your emotions. It’s good to remember people we’ve lost, and you can make sure to light a candle or do something else in their memory each year.
- Talk with you’re your family and friends about your feelings. If you feel like isolating, it may be time to reach out and do the opposite. You’re never alone in recovery!
- Set boundaries with others. It can be easy to let other people take control, but it will probably be more stressful. Let people know what activities you’re willing to participate in, and don’t over-extend yourself. Make yourself available for only a few hours if that’s all you think you can handle.
- Give yourself a break from activities when you need it. Get-togethers can be stressful, and time walking or doing a mindfulness meditation can help you check in with yourself and create calm.
- Try to get enough sleep. It can be hard to do this when you’re feeling stressed, but try a hot cup of chamomile tea with milk before bed if you’re having trouble.
- Commit to recovery activities. Have a plan for checking in with your sponsor, friends, and others in your support network.
- Be gentle with yourself. Your presence at most festivities is enough. Don’t feel guilty for not being the life of the party. Just be yourself.
- Get support for suicidal feelings. Call the Veteran’s Suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential help any day of the year.
Coping with the holidays is different for everybody. Do what works for you and try to focus on the present. The holidays, like everything else in life, will pass. Reach out for help if you are having trouble this year. You’re never alone!
Are you a veteran struggling with alcohol or drug use? We can help you get your life back together in a discreet, caring, and safe environment. The staff at Confidential Recovery includes veterans in recovery who can offer their experience as guidance. We offer counseling and support as we help our clients chart a path to recovery.
Contact us at 619-452-1200 to find out more about how we can help you reclaim your life. All calls are 100% confidential.