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The Tools for Having Holidays that Nourishes Your Soul

In Part One we discussed many breakdowns reported to me by clients which can ruin the holidays. Now we will look at some tools to deal with those breakdowns. As I said in Part One having a strong mind is an important piece of the solution. Remember stress is in the eyes of the beholder. It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me sometimes and I continually have to remind myself to change my interpretation of the situation. The holidays are a great test to see how we do.

If you are fortunate enough to be in therapy, take some time to make an individualized plan for your holiday plans.

If you are in group therapy, I hope the group would address people’s concerns at this time of year.sad woman wondering How to have a holiday in recovery

Past History

If you feel emotionally strong enough to visit your family or to have the family celebration for the holidays, you must bring boundaries. It is not your job to have everyone “like” you during the holidays. It is your job to take care of yourself and have the holidays that you want for your memories. If you are visiting family here are some boundaries that have worked for some of my clients:

  1. Stay in a nearby hotel/guest house or place where you can go to if the situation begins to get emotionally toxic. Be firm about this boundary.
  2. Be vigilant about the conversations in which you will participate; “That’s a conversation for another day, thanks for asking. I don’t know the answer to that question right now. I haven’t thought about that. I am working on that. Interesting question, why do you ask.”
  3. Bring a list of neutral topics to discuss movies, books, music, recipes etc.
  4. Set time limits. I can be there for that. I am going to skip that. I will be here for dinner at. You don’t need a story just “here is what works for me”.
  5. Have an exit plan. Always have an exit plan when you think you are going to be in a toxic situation.

If you are hosting a family holiday, think about the boundaries that will take care of you.

  1. “I will provide the main dish. I have made a list of the other dishes we will need, please sign up to bring one.”
  2. “We are not serving alcohol this year. Here is how alcohol is going to be handled this year.”
  3. “There will be coffee and a few things for breakfast out on the counter; you are all on your own to get what you need for that meal. I will be serving lunch and dinner, just dinner etc.”
  4. “This year we would like to ask you all to give a gift to your favorite charity instead of gifts to the adults or instead of gifts. Let’s all pick one child’s name and we will be responsible for getting that child a gift. Please have your gift traditions at your own home. We will not be exchanging gifts this year.” Whatever feels right to you put it in writing to everyone.

Loss of a Loved One

If this is your first holiday without a close loved one, it can be challenging. You may be flooded with all of the wonderful and not so wonderful memories at this time. I highly recommend a journal, especially as a tool for this period of time. Start a page called things I will miss with the passing of (my Mom/Dad/Sibling/Friend/Partner) for starters. If there are some challenging times put those down on another page. You can look at these leading up to the holidays, so you are not overwhelmed and blindsided by a flood of memories that catch you off guard.

Develop a ritual, some rituals to honor your loved one. Light a candle, take a luxurious bath to gently wash away the grief, play music you listened to with your loved one, take a walk with the focus being a “chat” with your loved one, have a special place you always go to be with your loved one, cook his/her favorite holiday dish for a few ideas.

The important distinction here is to be prepared to honor this person. There is something so brutally final about some of our ways of interpreting death in our culture. I believe we can keep those we have lost close to us when we change our interpretation to include, he/she is still with us just in a different form.

No Money and Being Alone

I put these two together because I believe having a strong mind is the most important distinction here. When all the media is recommending you spend money and be with family you must reinvent your own holiday to honor yourself and honor yourself alone. If you are part of a gathering your gifts can be things you do with the other person-walks, foot rubs (more intimate), teach them a skill you have, free music event, go fishing,  free any event, read a book aloud, discuss a daily meditation every Monday etc. Use your creativity. When your gift is something of yourself and the rest of your community is very materialistic (or an ex has more money than you) it takes a strong mind to offer this gift with pride and dignity. These are the gifts that will heal the world. The materialist holidays we have in many places are not good messages. I know families who are saying “No” to materialism and yes to experiences together. This is a strong good message and tough to hold to when you are in the minority.

Anxiety, Depression, and Recovery

I also am going to put these three together because I believe the tools are similar. Again, if you are fortunate enough to have a therapist, group, network of support to assist you with your anxiety/depression/and/or Recovery, please sit down and put together an individualized plan. Whatever you use to keep yourself stable, you must do during the holidays. Medication, meditation, yoga, walks, breathing, therapy are all tools that you can’t sacrifice during the holidays. Be realistic in what you can do. Delegate, delegate, delegate and remind yourself things don’t have to be perfect. Give yourself a realistic timetable so you build in time for the tough moments. Don’t isolate.  Stay in touch with your network of support and ask for help when you need it. Always have an exit plan; A place where you can go and take a walk or sit in your room to regroup.How to have a holiday in recovery with family

Difficult Conversations

If you know you have family who have strong opinions about the current political situation, and you don’t want fighting, send out a boundary letter that includes Rule 1 No political conversations. If your family has a sense of humor, you can tell them you set up a few chairs in the snow where they can go to discuss politics.

If you are a guest for the holiday gathering you are in charge of what you want to discuss or not discuss. Refer to some of the comments I recommended in the beginning to shut these conversations down.

If you are hosting the event and you feel someone is being bullied or made to feel uncomfortable you as the host can say “It is time to change the subject now”. If there is a good debate going on and everyone feels comfortable, that is a different situation.

We get into difficult situations because we forget we can set boundaries; we can say No and we can make requests. Don’t let the holidays run you. Take charge and have this holiday nurture your soul.

“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius