Coping Through December and Beyond

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For many, the month of December, with its tradition of holiday and end of the year, seasonal festivities, leaves them dealing with unpleasant feelings of isolation, sadness, and loneliness. When we enter the recovery stage of substance use, the month of December can feel like little more than thirty-one days of red flags and wire traps. On social media, friends and family appear to ride high on waves of alcohol-fueled celebrations, at home, at work, in bars, and restaurants. At the same time, we struggle to charter our way safely to January 1st without a relapse.

Traditional advice during this time of year encourages us to maintain contact with our sobriety or drug-free living support group. We can arrange to meet at alcohol-free events and explore other ways to enjoy seasonal celebrations away from alcohol temptations through these groups.

But not this year.

The COVID Effect

It has been a tough year. Let’s be honest. Added to the usual challenges attached to maintaining living sober, we’ve had to navigate a new world of virtual support groups. If your state is permitting indoor in-person meetings, there may be restrictions on the numbers in attendance.

Maintaining contact online may be easier said than done. While virtual support groups via Zoom may not present problems, accessibility may present an issue for others. Where spacing is limited, privacy may raise issues. The notion of a roommate or a young child overhearing sensitive information related to real recovery challenges may not be appealing. Although muted to other members in attendance, background noise may be a factor making concentration difficult.  Due to personal or professional commitments, attending a “live” online support session with your peers may be difficult.

A Holiday Like No Other

This year may be famous for where we didn’t go rather than where we did. With limited gatherings anyway, our friends, family, and those closest to us may be right next-door but apart. Suddenly, everyone is trying to re-arrange holiday plans, aligning expectations with a new reality of virtual-feast planning, Zoom celebrations, and religious services.

Alone vs. Lonely

Before falling into a bottomless pit of despair, realize there are one or two key differences between being alone and lonely.

Loneliness can hit us square in the jar in a crowded room. You might recognize it as realizing you do not fit in, or you feel too shy or socially overwhelmed to mingle about and talk. Loneliness can, of course, also hit us when we are alone—perhaps triggered by a holiday event, realizing that we are away from family members or family of choice.

By contrast, being alone means we are okay hanging out by ourselves, no matter the occasion.  Whether seasonal holidays, birthdays, or pandemics, we don’t lack anything without company.  We value our company as offering solitude and time for valuable reflection with busy lifestyles rather than feeling buried beneath an avalanche of emotional triggers. But how do you get there?

Managing Expectations

COVID lockdowns or not, managing expectations plays a crucial role in avoiding emotional triggers and falling into relapse. Acknowledging that remaining at home may be stressful, and your thoughts may become occupied by alcohol or drugs is the first step. But think about other seasonal expectations that are difficult to live up to in any year. For example, the pressure to go out at night when you might have preferred to remain indoors. Are there family members you might rather avoid, but you are expected to talk to each year?

Think about how many of us are conditioned to build up this time of year to almost impossible proportions. Ever watched Christmas Vacation? A great movie if you want a good laugh and observe the coming together of assorted relations, habits, opinions, and lifestyles. And, of course, each attempt at living up to the perfect holiday dashed along the way. Of course, the movie is only an illustration, not an assignment, and there are other ways to illustrate your expectations over this time of year, no matter what your family culture traditionally celebrates.

Taking Back Control

When we manage our expectations, we return control into our lives. We are empowered to consider how we would like our lives to look and feel in a way that holds meaning and relevance. Take time to think about how you wish to spend your Christmas or end of year celebrations. This year you may decide to skip the holiday meal and spend the day eating chocolate caramels and binge-watching your favorite movies!  It is up to you.

Embrace the use of technology as a new way to stay in touch with the family and friends you wish to remain close with. There is always the phone, FaceTime, texting, and of course, Skype or Zoom if you are able. What may seem a slightly odd way of being together, in time, family gatherings and events could include one or two out of town Zoom guests!

Commit to Yourself

Commit to staying mindful and positive during the holiday season. Your support groups may, for some, be inaccessible in the traditional way. However, if you can access group support via Skype or Zoom, make use of it.

Know who you can call if you feel triggered into a relapse or feel lonely in general. Remember, there is no shame in feeling emotional or down. However, knowing who to call or text for support is vital for your wellness journey. Being honest about how you feel, or may feel in advance is an essential step in preparing to handle feelings in a healthy, non-destructive way.

If you can, and it is an appropriate time in your recovery, offer to be an accountability buddy to someone less further along than you. Knowing you may be accountable to someone relying on your support can significantly influence your life, yielding positive behavior, and a healthy mindset.

Embrace Alone Time

Lastly, learn to like your own company. An important skill, enjoying time spent by yourself, offers the freedom to seek the company that aligns with your values. Not sure what matters most to you? Making use of time alone for reflection is a great way to find out.

Whatever you choose to do, make time to pamper yourself just a little. Value any time you spend alone as a gift of mental clarity, a time to celebrate your strengths and recommit to wellness and recovery.

When we enter the recovery stage of substance use, the month of December can feel like thirty-one days of red flags and wire traps. As 2020 draws to a close, this year may be famous for where we didn’t go rather than where we did. Suddenly, everyone tries to align expectations with a new reality of virtual-feast planning, Zoom celebrations, and religious services.  Understanding the key differences between being alone and lonely helps us think about how we wish to spend our time alone this holiday season. A leader in the field of transitional recovery services, Hired Power’s discretion and confidentiality assures anonymity through all stages of returning to wellness. Whether moving to your detox program safely and with discretion, to recovery and sober living partners that can help you through the holidays, Hired Power is there for you or your loved one, standing as that bridge between you and traditional recovery plans. You don’t have to struggle alone. Our personal recovery assistants are here to help you walk through this process, step by step.  Call Hired Power today at (714) 559-3919. We look forward to hearing from you.