First published on December 14, 2012.
Has anyone else noticed how early the Christmas chaos began this year?
I recall a few years ago here in Vancouver, a number of people became so disgruntled by the early onset of Christmas music in some of the stores—in the middle of October—that they took to Facebook en masse and complained. One store in particular, Shoppers Drug Mart, appeased the naysayers by stopping that music, but only after they drew their line in the sand, assuring us that the carols would resume again at the end of October. And they did.
ANXIETY FOR ADDICTS
Even before Halloween came and went, I noticed that several of my clients were already becoming quite antsy about the upcoming holiday season—for a variety of reasons. People who struggle with addictive behaviours—anything from drugs and alcohol to eating disorders, gambling, sex addiction, or relationship addiction—wondered if they would be able to maintain their sobriety when they began to actually feel the loneliness, fear, and isolation that they had used these behaviours and substances to avoid experiencing.
Those who have problems with compulsive overspending worried that they would max out their credit cards in short order when they went online or to the mall to do their mandatory Christmas shopping, while anorexics and bulimics worried endlessly about the food they would be expected to consume during seasonal festivities.
ANXIETY FOR LOVED ONES OF ADDICTS
As well, people who are loved ones of those struggling with addictions seemed to feel equally pressured, although the source of the stress was a bit different for them. For example, they frequently found themselves overwhelmed with difficult decisions such as “Should I invite the addict in my life to our Christmas gathering?” and “What if I try to set some boundaries and my addicted loved one becomes angry with me?”
The fear of conflict and, even worse, of actual confrontation can quite often keep people stuck in dysfunctional relationships for a very long time.
And because many loved ones have a pattern of putting their own needs on the back burner and trying to make things go smoothly for everybody, they routinely find themselves mired in their own personal versions of perfectionism. The source of their stress becomes issues like “How can I make this season wonderful for everyone else?” And, more often than not, that becomes their own addictive behaviour.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
SOME HELPFUL STRATEGIES
Whether you’re reading this as an addict longing to be clean and sober, or you’re already in recovery for your particular addiction(s), or you’re the loved one of someone addicted to a substance or behaviour, here are some tips you can follow for making this season a little easier for yourself.
Tip #1 – Lower Your Standards
The Christmas holiday season has become a set-up for chaos. Think about it—jingly bells and familiar carols blaring weeks—sometimes months—before the actual day, decorations designed to entice you into ‘the spirit,’ plenty of well-marketed merchandise on hand so that you can oh-so-easily part with your money—not to mention all the ads on TV showing loving families that always seem to give each other the very best hugs and presents ever.
Is there no end to the commercialism and the rose-coloured glasses we are expected to wear throughout November and December?
We are completely encouraged to believe that we can all have the perfect holiday if we only try hard enough, buy enough, and put up the very best Christmas lights of any house on the block. As I said, it’s a set-up.
In order to survive this season intact, the first thing you need to do is lower the bar and keep your expectations realistic—especially if you’re a perfectionist. Having your expectations up there in the stratosphere can only be a recipe for disappointment. Although it’s good to have a plan, it’s also important to understand and accept that your well-intentioned blueprint might end up changing. Try to relax and see if you can let life unfold as it’s going to. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to use your sense of humour—with yourself and with others—when some of your well-laid plans inevitably go awry.
Tip #2 – Be Aware of What You’re Buying Into
The happiness and joy we’re supposed to feel in this holiday season don’t come to us through a credit card. Of course, this is entirely contrary to all the hype and crazy messages we receive at this time of year to buy-buy-buy. In fact, we are led to believe, day in and day out, that the only way we can be fulfilled in our relationships is if we give and receive the perfect, store-bought gifts and some Hallmark cards to go with them.
In my family growing up, there was always a big lead-up to opening presents and how wonderful that was going to be. Because my family was quite dysfunctional in a number of ways, that positive glow didn’t last very long. Once the cards were opened and the gifts were exchanged, we all went right back to going our separate ways—the warm, loving family moment lasted for about twenty minutes if we were lucky.
I wish someone had taught me then that being more realistic about my expectations would have actually brought me more ongoing emotional ease than the fantasy of the Leave-It-To-Beaver family—the one I didn’t have—ever could.
Seeing reality as it is gives us more of a chance of remaining holistically healthy and resilient during this time of Christmas madness. The best way to do this is to explore your own values and priorities so that you can decide—sometimes moment-by-moment—what is truly important to you.
You’ll begin to see that it’s not really about what you’re going to buy—it’s actually about what you’re choosing to buy into.
Tip #3 – Take Good Care of Yourself
There are so many things to do at this time of year—especially if you’re busy with families, children, and jobs. There are trees to decorate or menorahs to set up. There are festive cards to write and mail out. There are parties, and bake sales, crafts tables to make items for, and lunches or dinners with people you usually don’t see at any other time of year. There are special events at churches and synagogues, and there are special outfits to purchase for these functions, not to mention the gifts most of us buy for family and friends. There just seems to be no end to all of it—bop till you drop.
So ask yourself—Are there any ways I can reorganize? Can I delegate some of these tasks associated with the holidays? Do I have to be all things to all people?
There is a wonderful saying known as K-I-S-S, which seems to have originated in 12-Step programs: “Keep It Simple, Sweetie.” This is a great suggestion for life in general, and perhaps most especially at this time of year. Even with a lot on your plate, how can you keep it simple for yourself so that you don’t have to feel completely overwhelmed?
Many people who are in recovery from addictions have heard of the acronym H-A-L-T, which provides a wonderful template for self-care. It stands for “hungry-angry-lonely-tired.” When you find yourself feeling just a bit off but you don’t really know why, try asking yourself the following questions:
- What do I need to do for myself in this moment?
- Am I hungry? Is my blood sugar low? Do I need to give myself a snack or a good meal?
- Am I angry—or perhaps hurt, sad, or confused? Is there an unresolved emotional issue that I need to deal with? Would it help for me to talk to someone about how I’m feeling?
- Am I lonely? Has it been a while since I’ve seen or talked with my close friends? Do I need to set up a weekly romantic date with my partner or a play-date with my BFF? Maybe I could speak with a professional counsellor if my loneliness has been going on for a while?
- Am I tired? Do I need a nap? Am I getting enough good sleep at night? Would a warm bubble bath or a soothing cup of chamomile tea before bedtime relax me? Do I perhaps need to consult with my doctor if I’m not sleeping well on a regular basis?
In recent years, Addiction to Christmas Chaos has become a widespread phenomenon—it happens in many countries the world over, often starting prematurely in October. Business owners and shopkeepers can hardly contain their excitement, as visions of wallets wide open and credit cards screaming to be swiped dance in their heads.
When you find you’re beginning to lose yourself in the Christmas Madness this year, you might want to try something different: keep your expectations realistic, be aware of what you’re choosing to buy into and, above all, take the best care of yourself that you can.
I wish you all a Holistically Happy and Healthy Holiday!