For some, the holidays are filled with magic, joy, community and, warm feelings of love and splendor. For others, this season conjures memories of hurt, shame and anxiety; feelings that are medicated using drugs and alcohol. If you’re a teenager at home for the holidays and these times are difficult for you, here are 5 tips that will help you not only stay sober but, enjoy and create new memories that will last a lifetime.
Substance abuse thrives in isolation. It also thrives when surrounding yourself with toxic people who do not have your best interests in mind. Being connected to healthy, supportive people can help take your mind off FOMO, isolation or the “shoulds” (I should be out partying, I should be drunk/high for Christmas/New Year’s Eve). Begin to introduce more meetings into your schedule, either virtually or in-person. Call your friends and wish them happy holidays, be present with your family or call your sponsor and talk about what you’re thinking and feeling. Sometimes the best we can do is show up. By just showing up, you have cracked open the door of connection that can later be pushed wide open as time goes on.
More than any other time of year, it is easy to get caught up in “Self”. “What am I getting for Christmas?”, “What is my family going to think of me?”, “What are my friends doing?” If you’re not careful, the stories that you make up in your mind can grab ahold of you and create feelings of fear and sadness. To get “out of your head” try and think “What can I bring to the holidays?” vs. “What can I take from them?” Offer to help make dinner, clean the house, help keep the younger kids entertained. If your homegroup is meeting in person, arrive early to set up chairs, make coffee or be the greeter. The holidays are not only stressful for you but almost everybody. See what you can do to relieve stress for others.
The cunning, baffling and powerful thing about substance abuse is that it creates an effect that seemingly relieves you of the thoughts or feelings that have you down. The reality is those unwanted feelings are only suppressed and come back even stronger once the effect wears off. This is repeated in a vicious cycle and can create many unpleasant holiday memories. To avoid this, try introducing some mindfulness into your routine. The great thing about mindfulness is that you can do it almost anywhere at any time. Try to spend 5-10 minutes when you wake up just noticing your breath. Notice your thoughts as they move through your mind and pay attention to how your body feels. This practice helps when feelings begin to overwhelm you. There are many ways to meditate too. Try going for a walk and pay attention to your surroundings, the feeling of air on your skin or the sounds around you. Wherever you are, you can take a break and practice mindfulness until you feel relaxed and ready to engage in what you were doing.
Research has proven that people who practice gratitude tend to be happier and less depressed. It can be difficult to unchain yourself from negative emotions once they grab ahold of you. Practicing gratitude can be the key to unlocking the pleasant feelings that bring you back to healthy living. Creating a small gratitude list can change your perception towards a positive outlook. Sharing your gratitude with others by telling them why you are grateful for them can bring even greater happiness. Introducing a gratitude practice to your morning routine can jump start your day and set you on course for positivity.
It wouldn’t be the holidays without enjoying a little indulgence in Christmas cookies, new videogames, electronics and other gifts you’ve received from friends and family. Remember that recovery and right living are all about balance. Too much of anything can be a bad thing and for people in recovery, it’s easy for anything to become too much! Plan a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re not practicing unhealthy habits. If you play 2 hours of videogames, plan for 2 hours of family time, a hike in the park or a 12-step meeting before you return. If you haven’t seen friends in a long time, invite them over to hang out but make sure it doesn’t run into dinner or other plans you may have with your family. We can enjoy the “gifts of sobriety” when placing recovery first.
You don’t have to let your holidays become overwhelming, but if they do, have a plan you can practice to get you back on the “spiritual beam” and into right living. Try to enjoy your time with friends and family this year, see what you can do for others, stay present in your holiday experience, remember what you have to be grateful for and balance your life between pleasure and direction. If nobody has told you that you matter, YOU MATTER. Have a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!
About the Author:
Cole Szabo is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LADAC I) and Admissions and Outreach Coordinator for ARCH Academy.