Today we will discuss how to deal with the holiday woes. Let’s be honest everyone does not experience holiday cheer. In fact, many people experience an increase in anxiety and depression during the holidays. We experience grief, loss and depression all throughout the year but it's something about the holidays that makes it feel worse. With the pandemic so many have lost loved ones. Often the holidays are a reminder that we will no longer see them again.
What is the holiday woes? A woe means a feeling of great sorrow, distress, sadness and unhappiness. Today we will discuss how to deal with three types of woes. Woes include trauma triggers, grief, and how to stay sober when you are triggered to use drugs or alcohol.
What is a trigger? A trigger is anything that reminds of you of past painful experiences or events. According to Wikipedia. A trauma trigger is a psychological stimulus that prompts involuntary recall of a previous traumatic experience. The stimulus itself need not be frightening or traumatic and may be only indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident, such as a scent or a piece of clothing. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2021, November 19). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.wikipedia.org
Triggers can be persons, places, things, smells, memories. For those in recovery you want to be careful about your triggers during the holiday season. You want to maintain your sobriety. For those who are not familiar with substance use recovery, the term sobriety means to not use drugs or alcohol. Sometimes we refer to this as abstinence.
The reason holidays can be a trigger to relapse is because often families use drinking and drugs to celebrate. Imagine going to your grandparents home for Thanksgiving and seeing your grandmother’s open bar and her welcoming arms. Maybe last year you would drink and smoke with your cousins, this year you just came for the food. Big difference. You think they won’t pressure you to use? If you say no, good luck. Most people would say, “heck yes.” What about seeing your favorite alcoholic drink there? Would you be tempted? Most times people excuse away behavior during the holidays that any other time would be unacceptable. Being drunk is pacified as “celebrating”.
What about those who have experienced trauma? Imagine having to go back to the house you were abused in, to eat dinner. What about Uncle Willie who use to touch you when no one was looking. Ironically, he’s an invited guest to Big Mama’s house. No pun intended. Remember she is her son. Your pain is pushed under the rug, all in the name of a family gathering.
I mean no harm and am not trying to rain on your parade. However, I am writing this as a therapist who must counsel my clients through these situations. The names are not real, and the stories I gave you are fictional, but the scenarios are what people really deal with in real life.
What about the dysfunctional family you were raised in? You could avoid them all year, until the Holidays. There is Aunt Karen who likes to get loud and fight. Uncle Bobo who carries a switchblade “just in case.” There’s the jealous sister who despises your existence and Aunt Bookie who use to be Uncle Booby. She likes to gossip and ask you why you’re not married. You really want to be like Jesus and say, “where is your husband, I perceive in the spirit you have five husbands and the one you’re with is someone else’s” But the God on the inside of you won’t let you call it like it is. So, you prepare to smile, grin and gracefully respond. All the while cringing your teeth, holding your breath and praying “God get me out of here.” Let’s not forget, Uncle self-righteous who loves to pray but clearly has some difficulty with regular hygiene that no wants to tell him about. They don’t want to offend him, even though he is offending you and everyone else with the stench.
What do you do when your family is dysfunctional? Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza doesn’t change their dysfunction. It means you feel like your forced to hang around people if you be honest you don’t really like. If you weren’t related to them, you’d never hang out with them.
Let’s talk solutions. K
Matthew 5:4 NKJV
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
How can the Holy Spirit comfort what we are in denial about? Remember the Holy Spirit doesn’t condemn us when we mourn He comforts us.
John 14:26 King James Version
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,
If possible, rethink holiday traditions. You don’t have to do it as it has always been done. Create a new tradition that is helpful for you. You don’t have to be around toxic people because it’s the holiday.
For those who are in recovery from substance use or alcohol. Remember your recovery is also contingent upon people, places or things. If you know your family is a trigger for you to drink you don’t have to go. If you are obligated and must go, pray first. Remember temptation doesn’t have to draw you away.
1 Corinthians 10:13 New King James Version
13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to [a]bear it.
What about trauma?
Remember the trauma is what happened, the feeling after it happens is fear.
Remember you don’t have to put up with dysfunctional family members who are demeaning, rude to you or condescending all in the name of celebrating a holiday. You don’t have to put up with rude behavior.
Remember trauma and grief triggers can be anything. My grandmother Betty was the pillar of our family. She had her own catering business. She cooked every year for our family. The first year without her was the hardest. One of her favorite singers was Luther Vandross. This Christmas was a song she loved to hear him sing. One day I was going into a beauty supply store to get hair supplies and their goes Luther’s soft silky voice playing over the intercom. Imagine me in the beauty supply store getting ready to bawl my eyes out. If this happens to you or something similar, it’s not Luther or the hair, it’s a trigger for grief.
Holiday music, movies and décor can be a trigger. Make sure you remind yourself, that you can get through this moment. You can see your therapist before and after the holidays.
Be generous considering volunteering on that day. I am sure food banks and homeless shelters would love to see you. I don’t celebrate Christmas, for no reason it’s just not my thing. That doesn’t stop me from donating to toy drives each year. I believe God rewards generosity but don’t do it because of the reward do it because it’s in your heart.
Lastly it’s okay to identify toxic behaviors. Wait…..Wait before you go full steam ahead. This is not the time to have conversations and process hurts from the past with your family. Trust me during the holidays it never ends well and creates drama they are more than likely not willing to address.
What I mean is you must call a thing a thing. What are toxic behaviors in your family that you need to avoid? If you know when Aunt Bobo gets loud when she has been drinking and is ready to fight, that’s an unhealthy behavior. Once you are in a place of awareness you can plan ahead. You know when Aunt Bobo get’s loud it’s time to make your exit or ignore her. What about toxic behavior within yourself? If you know you are in recovery from a cussing, fighting spirit know your trigger. It could be that when Aunt Tryonisha wants to try your patience, you have to be aware of what steps to take. Wishful thinking won't do it. It is better to have a plan even if you never have to execute it, then to not have a plan at all. Remember the plan.
I hope this helps. I tried to add a little humor in this blog. Either way it’s not to make light of a tough situation rather to give you perspective. Laughter is a healthy coping mechanism by the way. Consider bringing the funny movie as your new tradition.
The point is it is perfectly okay even scriptural to protect your peace and honor your heart. You don’t have to feel obligated to be, do or spend time in places and spaces that doesn’t honor you or the God in you. In summary it all boils down to PROTECT YOUR PEACE.
Proverbs 4:23 NIV
23 Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
I wish you a happy nontraditional Holiday.
Love Dr. Samaria
Dr. Samaria M Colbert © 2021