The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming! These words can strike anguish and fear, or excitement and anticipation. Or all of the above. There can be feelings of gratitude and generosity, grief, guilt or anger. My childhood, my memories and my dreams can color my hopes for the upcoming six weeks. It takes attention and intention to avoid depleting my energy in frenetic preparation and to find moments to restore my mind, body and spirit to sanity.
Yoga, meditation and breathwork help immeasurably to help me identify feelings of exasperation, excess and exhaustion. Any one of these, and any two together, much less three throw me out of balance and into a dangerous condition of pre-relapse mode. This is where I lose my allegiance to my recovery and let myself become emotionally intoxicated. When that happens I act in ways I used to behave, and lose my ethics, morals and standards – even in small ways.
Families are complicated and HALLMARK makes it especially so. We have obligations and traditions that may be overwhelming or inviting. Early in recovery these feelings can be magnified. I know I had little balance in my expectations and fears about my “first Thanksgiving” and my “first Christmas”. They loomed large with hopes and were littered with landmines of triggers and past traumas.
I wanted to participate in the holidays in a healthy way but was faced with the possibility that my family might not be ready to deal with me as I am now. I was uncertain about how I long I could stay around them and be grounded. I wanted to be there as part of my amends, the establishment of a new relationship. But the holidays also have these glossy cinematic overtones; the perfect meal, the smiling guests, the happy games, the after dinner talk or walk. That had never been my reality and I wanted it to be. I wanted happy home, happy meal, and happy family. What was I going to do to prepare myself for reality and to avoid exhausting myself trying to control things so that I could, perhaps, have a nice Thanksgiving, a pleasant Christmas visit, and good holiday with my kids.
For Thanksgiving I was tempted to “do everything myself” so that I could make the event the way I wanted it. With the help of others I soon realized that I couldn’t write the play. I could set the table but I couldn’t control what or how my guests ate; literally or figuratively. So that was lesson one: do what I could do and let go of the rest; let go of the outcome, let go of trying to control that which was not mine to control. Lesson two: avoid doing it all. Ask for help; ask for contributions of both effort and dishes.
For Christmas I wanted to heap gifts on my neglected children. I wanted to make “everything perfect” – perfect tree, meals, gifts, company – the whole Christmas experience. I was just getting back on my feet financially as well as emotionally. I couldn’t buy a nice tree, we had few ornaments, and I certainly couldn’t buy the kids the type of gifts they yearned for. I was also a little overwhelmed by the family: my parents, him, his parents, his family, my extended family, the driving, planning, BEING there. It was all too much. I felt I couldn’t say no. After all I was now sober and I needed to be honest. I couldn’t do the lying I had previously done to avoid or miss or be late for the meals and get togethers we had been invited to.
To the best of my ability I had to be honest (unless to do so would injure them or others). I had to think about myself and my abilities to be present, to drive and rush around and to be present for the kids. So I learned a few more lessons. Lesson three: I learned alternative ways to say “no”. I could say “I can’t make it this year on that date: maybe we could come down the following weekend?” “I am sorry we can’t stay for the meal – but we can come by for dessert.” “I can’t stay long; we are going home to enjoy some time with our gifts and games.”
Lesson four: Keep your budget. Be moderate and spend wisely not only with your time and energy but with your money. How to spend moderately and still enjoy a generous heart? Debt is not useful to the future security of the family. I learned to give unusual rather than expensive gifts – office supplies in a tool kit or a Detective Set assembled from a thrift store hat and coat and fingerprinting materials created from makeup brushes and ink pads including a book on junior detection. Giving gifts of books and games would have to suffice without apology – just as they were. That was lesson five: don’t apologize. That is reflexive – it points back to me. It means the kids have to take care of me rather than finding usefulness in their presents.
To restore my relationship with my family to sanity I needed to learn and practice a few things; the moderation of activity, the moderation of expectations, the moderation of control and the moderation of spending. I had to find a balance between my desire to overdo, over spend, over please; all the result of my guilt for not having been there during my active disease.
As with the twelve steps there is a step before the steps; a lesson before the lessons: breathe, assess and calm myself. This starts with a routine of self-care. I take just 15 minutes before the day begins to read an affirmation, sit in silence and meditate, practice my breathing (so that I can remember it more easily through the day), and stretch my body out. In my recovery I have learned healthy ways to be there for myself, so I could be there for them in the long run.
Avoiding depletion with preparation that includes self-care can also be used to restore myself to sanity if the activities in life get away from me. Here are the “lessons” again:
-1.Have a short morning self-care routine – thereby setting the intention to re-discover balance throughout the day.
- Let Go – of outcomes, of others, of people places and things.
- Ask for help. Involve others and create a community. That is the reason for all of this anyway!
- Learn to say “no” and “NO!” and “not now”. Give yourself space to be where you are.
- Keep your budget – of money, of course as well as time and activity and energy.
- Avoid apologies. Make your best decision for you and your family, avoid looking back as if this holiday could make up for all the past. Just be here now in authenticity without apology.
Find a way to have fun and to be in the moment. That is what you will remember when you are balanced and restored.
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