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This time of year is exciting and special for many, as families come together to celebrate the holidays. However, it isn’t exciting for all. In fact, it can be a very difficult time for people in addiction recovery. Here are a few common issues for those in recovery during the holiday season:

  • Having anxiety about seeing the family for the first time
  • Being away from family (even if it’s for the best)
  • Worries about being triggered to drink or get high
  • Running into people you don’t want to see
  • Financial stress

My first Christmas in recovery was an emotional roller coaster. As those who have struggled with addiction can understand, being around family during the holidays is hard. Sometimes, recovery involves taking a break from certain people and situations so as to really focus on oneself and avoid bad influences. Because no matter how much we love our families and no matter how much they love us, having them too involved in the first stages of recovery can be a major distraction and very difficult to navigate.

My First Christmas in Recovery

Leading up to my first sober Christmas since my struggle with addiction, I was living in South Florida, (away from my family in New Jersey) and I was about 6 months sober. Originally, I assumed I would go home for Christmas because hey, I was sober! But my mom didn’t feel comfortable enough to let me come home yet. I had been in and out of recovery the past 5 years and she so badly did not want to mess up whatever was working down in Florida.

I was upset, but how could I argue with her? I spent the last several years tormenting her. Thankfully I was in a good place mentally, which allowed me to stay calm and avoid getting angry with her or screaming at her that I deserved to come home. At the time, I didn’t deserve anything except for another sober day.

But that didn’t change the fact that I was upset. That’s how life works: We have ideas and expectations in our heads. Often, expectations are resentment waiting to happen—and I had just found a meaty resentment for the Christmas season.

Dealing With Resentment

I did what I do best. I felt sorry for myself and isolated myself completely for a couple of days. That’s when a few friends noticed something was up with me. And thankfully, they went the extra mile to reach out to me.

Shutting down is the worst thing you can do in the face of a problem—whether you’re in addiction recovery or not. I can’t think of a single instance in my life when isolating and pitying myself made anything better. You know what did help though? Talking to someone. Letting them know how I truly felt.

That’s what I did. I spoke to a close friend of mine who was also in recovery, but with many more sober years under their belt. I was transparent with him and let him know exactly how I was feeling—anything else would have been counterproductive. This is vital to recovery: having someone in your life who you can tell absolutely everything to.

After I told him about my situation and how I was feeling, he told me:

  • “This is not how your life will be forever.”
  • “You’re making a sacrifice this year to ensure every holiday after this year is great.”
  • “At least your family doesn’t have to worry about you this year.”

After hearing that, it became clear: I had to look at the big picture. Not only for Christmas but my whole life. Was I living my best life? No. I wasn’t living my best life, but I was doing what was necessary to get my life back on track and one step closer to living my very best life. There are no shortcuts in recovery: what you put in is what you get out.

Get Back in Line and Set Yourself Up for Success

After that talk with my friend, my view shifted completely. I didn’t have an incredible Christmas but you know what? It was a good day. I hung out with friends, went to meetings, and ate at Denny’s. I’ll never forget it. I knew in my heart that if I stayed on this path, I would be okay and next year would be an amazing Christmas.

And you know what? The next year was amazing. And that’s because the year prior I got back in line and did what I was supposed to do. I don’t expect everyone to have the same experience as me, but the lesson is this: If you are in addiction recovery and the holiday season isn’t shaping up to be what you wanted or expected, that’s okay. Remember that you are doing what’s necessary to live better and make strides toward your very best life. It might not come quickly, but it will come.

Finally, if you’re having a tough time, reach out to someone you trust and let them know how you feel. I promise you are not the only one feeling down or unhappy around the holidays. Together, you can come up with a plan for what you’re going to do to make the holiday season a little bit better. Follow that plan and remember that the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas is another day sober. 

*Daniel is a writer in recovery and a coordinator for EMTexas. He believes absolutely anyone can get sober provided they are willing to take action.

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