Christmas-The Most Emotive Time of The Year!
Christmas time is a realistic testing ground for anyone’s recovery regardless of length of time in recovery. Christmas ignites many feelings that can overwhelm a person who is recovering from an addiction disorder, and many of these feelings still automatically invite old ideals and behaviours. For a start, many professions have quite a long holiday break over the Christmas period creating a fairly long gap without the daily distraction of going to work. Sure, some recovering folk can embrace Christmas with virtually no pressure and this would be because the addict or alcoholic has a good relationship with themselves and understands what is expected of them and what they expect of others. Expectations may well be a good place to start as this topic is high on the list of common problematic areas for anyone recovering from an addiction. Because of all the past ‘bad’ Christmas’s there can be an overwhelming need to make this Christmas ‘perfect’ in every way possible which is actually ‘mission impossible’.
Allowing ourselves to do other peoples thinking for them is dangerous and our illness can con us into believing that we are emotionally balanced enough to control Christmas and make everyone’s Christmas exceedingly happy. Please remember, over exertion and frenetic activity on your part may confuse friends and family and may think you have something to hide! As a recovering person, we have nothing to prove to anyone and so humility is the golden key to a more emotionally balanced Christmas. It is important to acknowledge what you can and cannot control over the Christmas period. Reality strongly suggests that not everyone understands your ‘disease’ and so our underlying sense of personal fragility may cause us to over react to other people’s perceived insensitivity. Christmas can be quite interesting when we allow it, watching family members drinking habits can promote tension, lectures, arguments; all of which can trigger unpleasant feelings and possibly embarrassing to witness. Inevitably we tend to get lectures from people who are in major denial about their own problems, using the recovering person as an emotional punch bag! There is something quite distasteful about being applauded by those who are in denial, but we must see this for what it really is, a very useful mirror and a reminder of one’s own recent attitudes and behaviours.
Feelings of inadequacy can cripple us to such a degree that we can literally shut down, again making others suspicious about our behaviour. We must remember that there are some friends and family members who also have high expectations and may have unrealistic beliefs about our recovery and capabilities, thinking that we are now ‘cured’ after only a few weeks in rehab! Our responses to things like Christmas are not necessarily of our own choosing as we may not have enough social experience to be relaxed enough to respond to intense internal and external stimuli that Christmas generates in abundance. By this I mean, should a recovering person appear subdued and quiet it not necessarily because they are ‘stoned’ or depressed but a natural response to the debilitating fear of the unknown, socializing without a mood altering chemical! Recovering people can struggle in social gatherings as many of them suffer from social anxiety for quite some time, appearing reserved and quiet and yet internally the fear can be quite unbearable for the sufferer.
“Come on” is the cry from friends and family, “come and join in”. These words can be frightening to the recovering addict, as hearing these words can trigger an instant fear of self-judgement due to the sudden exposure and expectations. What is said and how we interpret this can sometimes be very extreme causing high levels of stress and anxiety. The more we believe that we are not functioning properly the more stressed we become, perhaps only having ‘old behaviours’ to rely on in order to cope! Old behaviours such as silence, isolating, being angry and defensive, sulky or even taking a drink!
Generally, people do mean well but can be very careless and tactless in their approach towards their concerns or caring about the person who does not drink alcohol or the person who cannot partake of the brandy soaked Christmas pudding. Most recovering folk suffer with varying degrees of shame as well which fuels one’s own sense of inadequacy and so when Uncle Fred shouts out “its ok Johnny, now you’re out of rehab life must be great for you now”-see this for what it is, lack of insight and selfish. WHO DOES THAT REMIND YOU OF?
Recovery is a life long journey, not a destination
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process