Monday, November 26, 2007

Make a Happy Holiday

Making a happy holiday season...

The holidays can be a real challenge to our sobriety
--families and social gatherings are harder to avoid
--there are more opportunities for lapsing,
--and alcohol seems to be everywhere.

While sobriety often involves avoiding situations where alcohol is present, that may be much more difficult due to our jobs or family obligations.
But successful sobriety involves planning for urges, and much of the distress can be of our own making. Hence, we can make a happy holiday if we plan for urges and focus our thoughts.

Plan and prepare for urges.
--Having allies as you plan for the holiday parties can make it easier to develop exit strategies for parties.
--BYOB--bring your own special beverages.
--Do some role playing so you are prepared for the drink offers.

But remember that most people don't really care if you are drinking, so you're unlikely to have to defend yourself.
Anxiety about not drinking in public seems to be a common reason for lapses! "No, thanks" is really all the answer anyone needs--though dense folks may need to hear it a couple of times.

Our own families can seem to be an obstacle to sobriety, but 'seem' is the operative word and our own beliefs and expectations are the real problem.
--Avoid self-fulfilling prophecies: 'she always gets to me', 'he's going to drive me nuts'.
--Try to be aware of our own absolute and demanding thoughts. Then it's easier to see how we set ourselves up for distress.

The underlying belief in most cases is a demand we are making that everything be perfect, that there be no disharmony or conflict…in other words, that people not be human, and that they live up to an ideal we've constructed for how the holidays 'should' go!

Recognize happy moments when they are occurring.
Some people spend so much time planning for happy events that they forget to notice when the happiness is happening! It isn't that golden moment when you all sit down at the Norman Rockwell table and Grandpa carves the turkey--it's the laughter an hour before when the kids were 'helping' in the kitchen.

As we plan for an idealized holiday, we may be building unrealistic expectations, creating anxiety about imperfections, and magnifying flaws. If we are more rigid in our thinking, we may become more and more brittle as the time passes and all the flaws seem to mount….
Taking a step back and seeing when people are genuinely enjoying spontaneous moments can make those imperfections seem trivial.

Be realistic about the past.
We use our own subjective and highly imperfect memories of how it 'used to be'--implying, in this belief, that something has changed. Or the memories of 'bad' holidays past may be clouding the happiness of this one.
These anxieties and distresses can be real triggers. How realistic are those memories, good or bad, and why are we allowing them to impinge on this year?
If we spend our time planning for perfection and remembering perfection--is that the measure of happiness during the holiday?

Taking a step back to pick out the moments and images of beauty, with our newly sober and sharper minds, can give us a perspective that we missed when we were drinking.

Taking a moment to recognize the things we appreciate about this season--the beginnings of the longer days, the stark beauty of the winter, the colorful and joyous things that have been assembled by those who have come together--taking those moments can help provide a balance and serenity.

And seeing the humor in the madness and folly of seasonal travel and family gatherings can help us tolerate even the most ill-minded folks!

You can't change other people. But you can change how you react to them, and create reasonable expectations.

We can plan to avoid lapses. And we can keep to an unshakable belief that there is no aspect of this season that drinking would make better.

Make a happy holiday!

Copied with permission from Don S at

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