Nineteen years ago this December 27, I took my last drink.
It was my worst holiday season ever and—in retrospect—my best, because shortly afterwards I got my life back.
All these years later, the holidays still bring a mixed bag of dread and joy for me. The season stirs up a jumble of emotions, expectations and situations that, if I'm not mindful, leave me feeling depleted and resentful.
Ten years ago, I took a break from celebrating the holidays altogether. I'd hit a particularly rough patch in my personal life, and the idea of trying to be all festive and jolly felt insincere at best and relapse-inducing at worst. I knew I couldn't be genuinely present and engaged with family and friends. So I packed up my troubles and spent the holidays a world away from my customary Minnesota snow globe Christmas—at a weeklong yoga retreat in Mexico.
It was a drastic move, I know. And I can't say there weren't some hurt feelings all around for bailing on my family's holiday plans and traditions. But my yoga-retreat Christmas got me through an extremely difficult time and taught me important lessons about setting boundaries and sticking up for my recovery. I've since carried those lessons into my holiday planning, trying to stay open and willing to doing some things differently so I can focus on the truest gifts of the season.
This year, I've made three simple promises to myself and my recovery—three ways I'll be celebrating the holidays differently:
1. I'm saying "yes" to a little me time. For one day, one whole day in December, I will not work. I will not decorate. I will not bake cookies or write cards or clean the house or run errands. Instead, I will devote the day to having fun. I might go to a movie or a play. I might read a novel. I might go for a snowy hike or camp out in front of the fireplace all day reading magazines and doing crossword puzzles. I might hang out at the coffee shop for hours and then come home and take a long winter's nap. Who knows? I'll play it by ear, see how I feel, and enjoy a guilt-free, chore-free unscheduled day.
2. I'm saying "no" if I need to. Between family gatherings, work events, my son's school activities and celebrations with friends and neighbors, holiday social commitments start to stack up by the first week of December. All the while, work doesn't seem to slow down. I pretty much attend any and every event I'm invited to, but I'm realizing that's not a sustainable pace. This year I'm giving myself permission to say "no" to a holiday event that's just too hard to squeeze into my schedule. It won't be easy because I really dislike having to decline invitations. But the truth is, I can't do it all—and I need to be okay with that.
3. I'm saying "enough" to overspending. Okay, so, I've never done this—and I'm not sure how well it will go over with my loved ones—but I'm setting a $25 cap on gifts I will give everyone on my list this year. (There, I wrote it! I'm committed!) For me, there's just way too much stress and anxiety wrapped up in holiday shopping and consumerism. The whole experience sets off this huge snowball effect that leaves me feeling frazzled, panicky and upset about the ridiculous credit card bill coming my way in January. This year, I'm not going to participate in the chase—at least not at an unmanageable level.
So, those are my little/big ways of doing a few things differently this holiday season. I challenge you to make your own list and find your own way to experience and enjoy the truest blessings of this special season.
Peace, hope and recovery, friends.