This time of year can fill us with dread instead of “ho-ho-ho” jolliness. If we are part of a difficult family that we’re expected to get together with, we know the scene won’t be like a Norman Rockwell painting. If we are new to recovery and wondering if we can get through family get-togethers, we suspect our holidays won’t be easy.
What can we do? We can admit that the holidays aren’t perfect for most people. It isn’t true that everyone else is having a good time. Expect some difficulty, and you can come up with a plan to cope. Some recommended ways to handle the holidays are to:
• Refuse unreasonable expectations. Comparing people to ideals won’t help you get closer to them.
• Create a plan for how you’ll act in challenging social situations, like the office party or a family gathering. Discuss that plan with a family member or friend, and talk it over with them afterward. You’ll have a much better chance of success if you don’t try to go it alone, and your relationship with family and friends will deepen.
• Refuse absolutes. Saying things like “always” and “never” about people — like “he always drinks too much” or “she never listens to me” — generally make us feel worse and probably aren’t totally true anyway. Choose to think differently.
• Let go of one long-standing grudge. It’s hurting you more than them, anyway. Practice wishing that person well. Twice daily, pray for them, hold them in the light and think good thoughts. Do it through clenched teeth, if you have to. Even long-term resentments often give way after doing this for just a few weeks.
• Make amends for something you’ve done wrong. It’s simple, really. You say “I’m sorry for …” Don’t make excuses, don’t blame other people and don’t ask them to do anything. Don’t even ask their forgiveness. Just sincerely say you’re sorry.
• Cultivate an attitude of giving, rather than getting. The root of many difficult family gatherings is a concern with how much we’re getting out of the occasion. Try this: At the next get-together, help everyone else have as good a time as possible. You’ll be amazed at how much more fun you have.
• Make time to sit down with another person in your life and share things you’re each grateful for. Or, write them down or say them out loud every day.
• Realize that there are others who aren’t having a great time, either. Avoid judging others or feeling sorry for yourself.
If this is an intense time of year, give yourself an early gift: Use a therapist; team with a friend and support each other in thinking more positively; if chemical dependency is in your life, use 12-step programs.
It also helps to keep one very important thing in mind: There really is an end to the holidays. It’s only a couple of weeks away. Remembering this helps keep things in perspective and may stop us from putting too much pressure on ourselves and others. Sometimes we just have to get through a difficult time.
Techniques like these are used in recovery, but anyone can use them to create a more peaceful season.
Randy Anderson is the manager of Serenity Lane’s Roseburg center. Serenity Lane is a private, not-for-profit treatment center. Resources and tips are at serenitylaneblog.wordpress.com or serenitylane.org.