Holiday meal with family

For some people, the holiday season offers a much-needed reprieve from the stressors of day-to-day life. They see the time spent with family and loved ones from Thanksgiving to New Year as a great way to end the year, and they start looking forward to it once the weather gets cooler and the leaves start to change. They can’t wait for all the good food they are going to eat and the exchanging of presents, and they get into the holiday spirit by decorating their house or planning trips home to visit the family. To people like this, the holidays are a happy time filled with happy memories, but not everyone experiences the holiday season this way.

There are those of us out there who have a much different experience of the holidays. When we see the leaves changing and the temperature dropping, we start to feel anxious and depressed. We begin to brace ourselves for the excess of emotion that we know is coming. We start to think about the letdown of holidays gone by, family troubles that always seemed to surface during the holidays, loved ones we have lost, or past traumas that occurred during that ‘happiest time of the year.’ Or if none of these things apply, we just don’t particularly like the holidays for whatever reason, and so we settle into the oncoming winter, wishing we could just hibernate until spring.

I know that this has mostly been my experience with the holidays, and before I entered into recovery, it was even worse. I would always worry about whether or not I was going to be able to drink the way that I wanted to because, with family around, I had to try to temper my appetite. They all knew for the most part that I had a problem, so in between the knowing looks and questions of, ‘how are you doing?’ I would have to try to sneak in more drinks to make it through the party.

But I had to try to find the sweet spot, the place where I was just drunk enough to feel okay but not too drunk to make a fool of myself, and let’s be honest, I wasn’t ever really great at doing that. I would always overshoot the mark and just have one too many, which usually resulted in me doing something foolish that I regretted later.

So as you can see, I never really like the holidays that much, and once I got sober, this didn’t really change.

Once I got sober, the holidays became, in a sense, a reminder of the damage that I caused during my addiction. The first year that I was sober, I spent the holidays in treatment, and I was away from my children, which made it particularly hard on me. Being in treatment depressed me for a number of reasons, but the main one was that I felt like I had let my kids down. I felt like I should be there for them, and the fact that I wasn’t caused me a great deal of pain.

The following year I got to spend the holidays with them, but being back home and sober created its own set of challenges. I had to interact with my ex-husband, which was never easy for me, and being around my family and friends brought up many emotions that I thought I had already dealt with. This is something that I have heard several people express to me, that when they go home for the holidays, once they get sober, they experience a strange sort of melancholy feeling. On the one hand, they are happy to not have to be drunk or high, but the other hand, they feel sort of like an outsider in their own homes. There are people drinking all around them, and even if they have no desire to drink, it can still be a strange experience. Their family members many times do not know how to interact with their newly sober self, and because of this, it causes awkwardness and puts unwanted attention on the person. It is almost as if everyone’s eyes are still on the person, watching them and waiting to see what they do.

While we haven’t made it to the end of this holiday season yet, I have already experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, but with that said, I also feel like I have had a bit of a breakthrough in how I can better handle my anxiety and depression during these times in the future.

I wasn’t able to have my children this Thanksgiving because they spent it with their father, and when I found this out, I started to have a bit of a pity party for myself. Whereas in the past, I would let this consume me, this year I stopped myself and made plans instead to enjoy my time alone by cooking a good meal and watching a bunch of TV. However, coming to this conclusion didn’t sit well with me, and so my next thought was, why don’t you try to help someone else? Rather than making the holidays all about me, why don’t I make it about someone else? So I volunteered at a local soup kitchen and served food for a couple of hours.

Taking the focus off of my emotions and my thoughts greatly improved my Thanksgiving experience, and it made me realize that in the past, while my depression and anxiety were very real, I never allowed myself the opportunity to get out of myself. I never gave myself a chance to feel better, and because of this, I never did.

Going forward, I plan to try to make the holidays about others. If I start to feel down or I start to feel overwhelmed, I am going to try to turn my thoughts toward someone else. This method has worked so incredibly for my recovery, so why can’t it work for my holidays as well?

If you get depressed and anxious during the holidays, then maybe give helping someone else a try. Even if it doesn’t completely remove your depression, it will at least for a brief period allow you to forget it.