bereaved adults, Holiday Stories

Surviving the Holiday ‘Cheer’

by Annell Decker, LPC

Annell Decker

Facing the holiday season can be daunting enough on its own. If you are dealing with the additional stress of grief, it may seem almost impossible. You may be experiencing grief due to the death of a loved one or a close friend. Grief is also a natural process with the loss of a beloved pet. As humans, we also go through a period of grief over a divorce, loss or change of job, moving or a big change in your life such as becoming sober. All of these circumstances are stressful, even if you are emotionally, physically, or otherwise stable. The necessary grief work is added to normal life.

So, how to handle all of this stress during the holiday season? First, try to think about what is important to you. Maybe even make a list of what you need the most during this time period. Ask a trusted person to help you. You might want to have some quiet time to yourself to seek spiritual renewal, or to commemorate the loss in some way. Perhaps you feel the need to be around other people, sharing your time & talents.

You may need to gain some sense of control over your life. Some ways to begin may be: organize a closet, redecorate a room, or sort through belongings. Resale shops appreciate donations. You may want to visit a person or place, give time and/or energy to others. Once you have decided what you need and want, how can you put this into action?

Nobody else can decide for you how to spend your time, energy & money during the holiday season. You have the right to change from old family traditions. If you need solitude to appreciate nature, you may want to spend some time in a cabin alone. Is there a retreat that interests you, a short class to take or a book you want to read? Do you long for meaningful contact with others? Many organizations have special programs during the holidays that are advertised. Con-tact any church near you and volunteer.

You could prepare a holiday meal for a family in need. Instead of purchasing expensive gifts, what about something made by hand? Do you have special abilities? You could prepare gift certificates for: babysitting, yard work, rides to the store, a walk in the park, as well as pet sitting or other needs. You may be the one to fulfill a special need and be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

Whatever has meaning for you, consider going in that direction, rather in the way that others are expecting you to go. You have the right to change how you celebrate. You know what will work best for you this year, or, at least you don’t want what you have had in the past. Others can fol-low their own path; you need to take care of yourself!

Many of the holiday celebrations involve alcohol or other addictive substances as part of the festivities. Another trigger may be the beer commercials during sports on television. Isn’t it amazing how alcohol is supposed to make you young, popular, rich, admired & welcomed to any group? If you are new to recovery, this may present a particular challenge to you. What can you do differently to make your holiday season harmonious with sobriety?

The traditional meals for Thanksgiving & Christmas do not have to be held in the home of drinkers. Suggest these be done in a neutral setting, such as a restaurant, which would also be less stressful for the cooks as a bonus. Or, have the meals at your house & make it clear to everyone that there will be no alcohol allowed.

Other celebrations may include watching football or other sports, with their alcohol commercials. Gather a group of sober friends, including young people, to help make it a fun, sober event. New Year’s parties may be another challenge. What about having your own? Talk to your local 12 step group, or church, to see if they are having a special event.

If you want a more private & personal gathering, invite some close friends or family over. You might have them write down things from their past year that they want to change, or things that they want to let go of now. You can burn the lists in a small bon fire, fire pit, metal can, etc. to symbolize sending them out to the universe. If you use your imagination, you can establish new traditions with fun and meaningful celebrations in sobriety!

About the Author: Annell Decker has a BA in History and a MEd in Counseling from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. She is a certified Licensed Professional Counselor. Annell worked with the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend, Alpine and the Ray D. Anderson Community Corrections Facility, Brownfield (TX). For the last 7 ½ years, Annell has worked as a Case Manager for La Hacienda Treatment Center in Hunt, (TX). She has volunteered her time with the American Cancer Society, Peterson Regional Hospice Bridging the Gap and Pathways programs.