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MidLife GridLife – Holiday 2011

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There was a time when just hearing certain Christmas carols would cause tears to begin seeping from my eyes. And not in a good way.

To this day, I have no idea why, but the disturbance seems to have receded somewhat. Perhaps I’ve grown past it, or, more likely, the fact that I stopped listening to Christmas carols of my own volition has created less opportunity.

Holidays can be tricky.

No one is more aware of that than someone like me who works with people in recovery from substance abuse and people who live with mental health issues.

Holidays heighten financial issues; relationship issues; loss of loved ones; religious differences.

Family issues.

You could create an entire library of films about dysfunctional families at the holidays alone–I know, because I’m collecting them!

On the flip side, holidays are the loneliest time to be alone.

Addicts in recovery—especially those in their first year—are feeling all the things the rest of us feel during the holidays, only in High Definition.

It’s scary as hell.

They’ve spent years not feeling things, numbing out, obliterating a history of violence or abuse or neglect. They’ve ruined relationships with parents and children and countless helpful souls along the way.

Sobriety brings it all back.

Medication can do wonderful—or at least above average—things for people who have mental health issues, but they don’t work magic. A person who suffers from chronic depression will likely struggle more during the holiday season. A person who is bipolar may have to fight a shopping mania or push harder to get herself out of bed.

There are no magic pills to make the harder seasons easier. But hopefully, there are family and friends.

If you are not one of the people for whom the holidays bring instant joy, I will make a small suggestion—or two.

Reaching out and rituals.

Whether it is an annual excursion to the downtown ice rink, saving for a meal at a special restaurant, cooking or baking a special dish, attending a special service at church, hosting a pizza slumber party gift exchange for friends, you can create your own rituals and traditions to look forward to every year.

This is especially important if you have children, but can be just as valuable if you are filling time alone.

Be creative. This is your life.

Traditions should reflect what is important to you.

I once helped a client create family traditions that included taking Christmas decorations to her father’s gravesite; it was her way of including his memory in every holiday.

If you are divorced and see your children on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve can be difficult. You might consider making plans with friends in similar situation, or attending a candlelight church service for community.

Volunteering is also a great annual tradition—and not just on Christmas!

It’s also important to reach out and connect with people. Chances are, you are not the only person wishing for holiday companionship, but too shy to say so.

If you are one of the people who embrace and are embraced by the joy of the holiday spirit, I hope you’ll reach out as well. You are fortunate. May you continue to be so, and pay it forward!


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