How do you view Christmas? As a time of happiness and inspiration, through its powerful symbolism of hope and salvation? As a time of anxiety, guilt and insecurity, derived from warped relationships and bitter memories? If you are in rehab or early recovery, then the latter is more likely. Like it or not, this once a year event can be a hugely disruptive influence that breaks up daily routine and plays havoc with our emotional balance.
Lots of addicts view Christmas time with fear and loathing often for very personal reasons. But it does not have to be so. In rehab we are told that every situation is an opportunity — an opportunity to learn and to do things differently. So let’s try and see it that way.
- Plan your days: Christmas can be a period when normal daily structures get suspended and there is more free time. So try to work out in advance how your day might go. Think about doing special things, perhaps helping colleagues who are needy. Plan to set aside time for meditation or prayer. We should be happy at Christmas, but don’t expect a feeling of happiness to come without putting in some effort. Joseph Addison, the famous eighteenth century writer, once said: ‘Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.’ So try these suggestions:
- Give to others: not just presents (though that can be nice), but give your time, your affection and your talents, without expecting anything in return.
- Work on an attitude of gratitude: what is positive about my life, what can I be grateful for right now? Keeping a Gratitude Diary can help you focus on this and keep away negative thoughts.
- Think about goals for the coming year: what do you want to achieve, what would you like to be doing in a year’s time? Christmas is a time of hope – we can all use a bit of that.
- Get in touch with family and loved ones: not to tell them how well you are doing but to ask how they are. Remember that all relationships seem to become doubly sensitive at this time – proceed with caution.
- View any social gatherings with care, especially if alcohol might be involved. Take prudent steps to ensure that you remain safe – go with an understanding friend or an escape plan if it all gets too much.
- Replace old self-defeating Christmas traditions (like wrapping presents while drinking a bottle of sparkling wine) with new positive traditions (e.g. going for a walk on Christmas morning).
- Keep an emotional balance; check yourself each day and if you’re experiencing mood swings or unreasonable feelings of anger, loneliness, anxiety or depression, then do something about it – talk to someone, try to get to a fellowship meeting.
If you are feeling really negative about Christmas, try an exercise in challenging your beliefs:
- What negative thoughts do you have? For example: Christmas is a commercial sham; Christmas is an excuse for excess; Christmas is for fools; Nobody cares about me otherwise I’d be having a better time.
- Then ask yourself: what is the evidence for these beliefs and would a less dogmatic and less negative view be more helpful?
- What alternative thoughts would be more productive towards you having a good time ? For example: There is a commercial side to Christmas but lots of people enjoy it without great expense. Some people overdo it at Christmas but I don’t have to. A lot of very sensible people enjoy Christmas in a very meaningful way. I will have a better time if I don’t isolate and make more effort to be sociable.
- Try discussing these points with other people.
Still feeling negative?
Negative thinking has been a habit for many of us and is part of the self defeating cycle of negative thoughts, feelings and actions that probably ruled our lives for a long time. It won’t go away easily.
Try this exercise: We all have memories of Christmases past, some good, some maybe not so good. How will you remember this Christmas? As a time when you felt lonely, unloved, insecure and inadequate? Or as the time when you finally decided that you did not have to live every day at the mercy of your emotions – that you could change your feelings by changing your thoughts, actions and attitudes? What do you actually have to do each day to make you remember this Christmas as a time when your hopes became real and you were re-born?
If you start taking positive action this Christmas, you will remember it as the moment when you began to change, as Ebenezer Scrooge did (in the book ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens) – I commend to you the final paragraph of that uplifting and enjoyable work:
‘He (Scrooge) had no further intercourse with spirits, but lived upon The Total Abstinence Principle ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of all of us!’
As an example of changing attitudes, ‘A Christmas Carol’ takes some beating. Why not read it this Christmas? I finish with its final words: ‘And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!’