The holidays are considered a joyous time — we spend time with family, exchange gifts, and find time to reset and relax.
We also know the holiday season can be hard, especially for families or individuals dealing with substance use disorder and/or mental health challenges. This is especially true for young people in recovery.
The culture of the holidays is changing through generations.
For young people, the holidays often revolve around social events, rather than traditions. You return to your hometown, visit with family, and reconnect with old friends. This can be difficult for people in recovery to navigate as these things can often come with triggers.
We asked some of our interns and Student Voice Liaisons here at SAFE Project how they deal with the pressures of the holidays:
The holidays bring up a lot of unprovoked feelings about those who I have lost (especially to addiction) including close friends and my father. During the holidays, I have found that trying to stuff uncomfortable feelings of sadness, grief, or loss away is a bad idea. So in an attempt to navigate these hard feelings, I try to reflect on past memories from holidays when they were present. Sharing these vulnerable feelings of missing loved ones with family and friends tends to start good conversations and shared memories of quality times spent together.
At gatherings for parties to celebrate the holidays and the upcoming year, I always make sure I have a beverage in my hand to avoid being asked if I would like a drink. I always have an exit plan ready to go just in case I begin to feel uncomfortable at a social gathering. I make sure to stay connected to a network of friends who understand recovery and the feelings I am experiencing. The most important tool I use during the holiday season, and throughout the year, is to let others know if I feel inclined to return to use. I feel that getting active and spending time outside (even in the cold) really helps improve my mood during the holiday season.
— Robin B., Student Voice Liaison, SAFE Campuses
Growing up, my favorite holiday show was A Charlie Brown Christmas, and not just because of my love for Snoopy and Woodstock. What is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year can look very different for some people, as financial hardships, the loss of loved ones, and family dysfunction can make the holidays an incredibly difficult time. A lot of sadness and depression can accompany the holiday season; even Charlie Brown says, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that. But I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
It is important to note that these feelings are valid and experienced by so many others during this time; we are not alone in our sadness, anxieties, or fatigue. The holiday season is about finding meaning in the moment, whatever this may entail in your life. Remember to be gracious to yourself, give yourself time to grieve, and focus on the people who value, love, and support you.
— Annie P., Intern, SAFE Communities
I made the choice this year to not go back to my hometown and instead stay in the state where I started my recovery journey. My family back in New York has supported me by not pressuring me to come home for the holidays, knowing the risks of being back around people I know who use and sell substances. My family instead has supported me staying in California, where I have cultivated my recovery family, people who also practice abstinence, and who will not be drinking or using around me.
For others who want to be supportive, allyship comes with not assuming that people drink, or pressuring them to have a drink with you, and also by showing empathy in the fact that holidays can be generally more rough for people with addiction than other days of the year.
— Nyeree, Student Voice Liaison, SAFE Campuses
There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays. You need to do what’s best for you.
A few tips on how you can navigate the holiday season:
- It’s okay to put yourself first. Be mindful of your needs. Take care of your mind and body, while promoting your physical and mental health. If you need to take a break, go for a walk, read a book, or listen to music, do that! Self-care is about YOU!
- Identify and avoid your triggers. No one knows you, better than you do. You know what affects you and what can bother you. Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them.
- Be kind to yourself and others. Saying kind words goes a long way. It helps build connections, trust, and confidence.
- Find a comfortable space. This can be a space for you to get away when you need time alone–find somewhere that you feel comfortable to feel all of your feelings. Use it as a way to express yourself.
- Have an exit strategy. You may feel trapped at a gathering or during an event, but having an exit strategy in place can reduce stress and anxiety.
- Say no. Set personal boundaries and know when to say no. The holiday pressure is real, but you can say no to certain situations and activities.
- To sum it up: this is your holiday. Do what you need to do to be happy and healthy.