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Alt text: celebrating holidays while in recovery
December 19, 2017

It’s Okay to Be Selfish: How Not to Feel Bad About Missing Holiday Events While in Recovery

Alt text: celebrating holidays while in recoveryWhen holidays approach, instead of facing them with dread because you aren’t confident you can handle festive gatherings, office parties and other events without jeopardizing your recovery, be a little selfish. Remember that your recovery takes priority over everything else, and that includes a big family dinner with all your relatives, assorted neighbors and friends. Yet how to navigate holiday events without feeling uncomfortable or a nagging feeling you should be able to handle it can be tricky. Here are some tips on how to bow out without adding to your stress and how to make even guilt and shame work towards your recovery.

YOUR PRIORITY IS YOU AND YOUR RECOVERY

Holiday cues can seem ever-present and inescapable when you lack a plan for dealing with them effectively and safeguarding your sobriety. What’s most important to realize, however, is that your first and only priority must be you and your recovery. Without this recognition, you’ll be at the mercy of whatever invitation to attend holiday events and gatherings you receive and subjected to the attendant emotional swings feeling pressured to participate provokes. With your recovery at the top of your list in terms of prioritization, there’s an immediate positive effect. You’ve singled out what must take precedence. Everything else can be allocated according to a schedule that helps you make the most of your progress in recovery.

YOU LOVE YOUR FAMILY, BUT THEY CAN REALLY GET TO YOU

Perhaps one of the biggest negatives you’ll face about the holidays is that you want to spend time with family because you love them, yet you know the get-togethers are triggers that you just can’t handle. Old family arguments often resurface, charging the air with tension and anger. When Uncle Bob gets a snootful, shoves a drink in your face and starts spouting his philosophy that you should be able to handle your liquor like a man, or you duck out to get some fresh air and see teen family members smoking marijuana, or you feel shame reddening your face when others talk about your addiction, scrapes with the law and other consequences you’ve had to deal with due to your addictive behavior, the atmosphere can quickly go sour. All you want to do is escape. Not only that, you know that such triggers may prompt you to put aside your resolve to remain sober and tip a few back just to overcome the bad feelings.

How do you let family members know you care deeply about them, yet you must regrettably decline this holiday invitation? As part of your recovery plan, you’ve pledged to work on your recovery and that means steering clear of big family activities for now. Say just that, for a start. Your loved ones know what you’ve been going through. At least, those closest to you do. Others may be only somewhat apprised of your recovery efforts, but you needn’t concern yourself with what anyone else thinks.

LET GUILT WORK FOR YOU, NOT AGAINST YOU, IN RECOVERY

Granted, missing important family events during the holidays feels like a punch in the gut. It also makes guilt more likely to surface, even though you consciously know that you’re behaving proactively for your recovery by staying away from festive, although sometimes raucous and unsettling, family events. Turn these guilty feelings around and regard them as positive motivators for your ongoing recovery.

  • Feel good about the fact that you’ve turned your life around, getting treatment to overcome your addiction and making progress toward your sobriety.
  • Accept that you’ve made mistakes and that you don’t need to be perfect. No human is. Besides acknowledging your errors, make it a point to learn from them. In this way, you add to your resiliency, since you are building a knowledge base from which to draw.
  • Become mindful when guilty emotions pop up, and use mindfulness meditation or another spiritual and self-based practice to bring you back to the present. This will help dash guilt and allow you to concentrate on what’s right for you and your recovery at this time.
  • Freely say “no” when you know you must, instead of caving and saying “yes” when asked to do something or participate in recovery-threatening family events. When you cultivate the ability to say no with a smile, you’ll be adding to your recovery toolkit and reducing guilt at the same time. It won’t be a disaster if you’re not there for a family holiday event. And you can make it up another time with a special lunch invite or bringing over flowers, for example.

WHAT ABOUT SHAME? HOW DO YOU GET PAST THAT?

You’ve done dreadful things while in the grip of addiction. For those, you likely feel some measure of guilt. You did them, yet you’ve also taken steps to change. For feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, a natural-born failure, regarding yourself as a loser, that’s shame – and it’s much more difficult to overcome shame than guilt. Undoubtedly, you’ve worked on the issue of dealing with shame with your therapist during recovery and may still require continuing help to deal with this toxic emotion. Learning how to revise your self-beliefs and adopting a more forgiving and loving self-attitude takes time and practice. You can get past shame if you keep working at it with professional help.

Relative to shame and holiday events with family, frame your decline of invitations in positive terms. Stress how grateful you are to have such loving family members support your recovery efforts and always being there for you. Express your love for them. At the same time, clearly state that you are doing what’s best for you and your recovery – and you sincerely hope they understand. This is both incredibly self-loving and empathetic and demonstrates love toward others.

RESHAPE DECISIONS FROM EMOTION-BASED TO VALUES-BASED

When faced with a family invitation this holiday that stirs intense emotions, before you automatically accept and feel the immediate pang of regret, knowing this isn’t good for your recovery, hit the pause button. Remember that emotions are fleeting, unstable and often skew perception. This can result in numbing your reasoning skills. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction colored by emotion, reshape your decision-making to be guided by your values.

For example, you value highly your recovery and rightfully feel proud of the progress you’ve made thus far. You’re making difficult changes in reordering your life, adopting healthy and balanced lifestyle behaviors, improving yourself wherever possible, making sober friends, reaffirming what’s important to you. Your decision to forego family events that could jeopardize your recovery is rooted squarely in your values. This will make the decision less onerous and conflicted than if you decide solely on emotion.                              

Sources:

American Psychological Association. “Stress Tip Sheet.” Retrieved November 14, 2017.

Beach House. “How to Make Guilt Work Towards Your Recovery.” Retrieved November 13, 2017.

Beach House. “How to Minimize Shame in Your Addiction and Recovery.” Retrieved November 15, 2017.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Rethinking Drinking, Handling Urges to Drink.” Retrieved November 14, 2017.

Psych Central. “Helpful Hints for Navigating the Holidays.” Retrieved November 14, 2017.

Psych Central. “Shame: The Core of Addiction and Codependency.” Retrieved November 13, 2017.

Psychology Today. “Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction.” Retrieved November 14, 2017.

Recovery Nation. “Recovery Workshop: Lesson Four – Prioritizing Your Values.” Retrieved November 14, 2017.

WebMD. “Home for the Holidays.” Retrieved November 13, 2017.

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