The holidays typically evoke images of family bliss: —Uncle John carving up a big turkey for a traditional family dinner, Grandma bestowing her precious gifts, and Aunt Mary gracing the family with the hilarious stories of her childhood.
The reality is that this dreamy scene usually is nothing more than that—a dream. For many families, who have experienced the damaging effects of watching their loved one suffer from substance abuse, the holidays can be a time of stress, painful memories of the past, and overindulgent behavior.
Whether you are new to recovery or have been sober for a while, the painful memories of your past addiction generally do not escape overnight. The disease of addiction typically carries emotional baggage – mostly guilt and shame. Chances are when you were abusing drugs and alcohol, you were not the most pleasant holiday guest. In fact, you were probably the talk of the table and the reason your family would tread lightly during family gatherings.
If you are in recovery, you know it is important to address any feelings of guilt and shame to combat the negativity that generally follows these emotions. Here are a few ways you can address and overcome your feelings of guilt this holiday season.
Embrace Your Self-Worth
Untreated guilt, during the holidays, is destructive and has no real benefits. When we come into recovery, we learn that we cannot change the past, and we should never wish to shut the door on it. We can, however, accept and own responsibility for our actions. I was told, pretty early on, that the best way to make amends to the people we love is to show them through our actions. This includes relinquishing ourselves of all self-pity and guilt.
Cultivating your own self-worth is self-care. After all, you can’t pour from an empty glass. We must take care of ourselves, so we can be of value to our loved ones this holiday season. It’s much easier to keep our word and change the dynamics of the tense family gatherings by keeping our word and valuing ourselves.
Cultivate Positive Relationships
One of the most important aspects of overcoming past guilt this holiday season is by spending time with the people that love us unconditionally. The truth is, we have put our families through the worst of it. Many times, our families may even contribute to the dysfunction from our past. However, the holidays are a time to spread cheer and peace.
Many of us have probably made poor choices that hurt the people we love the most. We may have even caused irreparable damage. It is essential that you consult with your sponsor before attempting to make amends and rectify a potentially broken relationship. Walk into your family holiday gathering prepared and with a light heart as you embrace time with your loved ones.
Stay in the Moment
Morbid reflection worsens negative emotions. This is especially true during the holidays when you may be feeling vulnerable. As mentioned earlier, you cannot change the past, so why dwell on it? If you are depressed or anxious, you are living in the past. If you can tap into the moment, you will cultivate peace.
We learn that we should always look at where our feet are planted and be there. Remaining present in the moment is an essential tool to utilize during the stressful holiday season. If you find yourself wallowing in guilt from your past behaviors, remember that at the moment, you are sober. You are not the person you used to be. Lay down the gavel and enjoy the precious moments with your family.
Meditation is a helpful tool for any alcoholic or addict. Meditation has personally been a key component of my recovery. I try to implement this practice every morning before I start my day. Meditation has a magical effect on silencing the noise in my head. Meditation has saved me from reflecting on past mistakes and allowed me to be present and enjoy the moment.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with guilt, give yourself permission to remove yourself. Go for a walk, find a quiet place to take a few deep breaths, and recenter yourself. Devoting a few minutes to meditate and go back inside refreshed and refocused.
The holidays are often spent with the ones we love the most, reflecting on the last year, and soaking up the gratitude for the many blessings in our lives. There are so many events to attend and so much going on around you, but take the time to slow down and appreciate the little things. In recovery, we get the gift of second chances. The grace we encounter, in our new sober lives, requires us to lay down any past guilt and shame. We have been given a clean slate and the opportunity to start fresh. Invest your time into looking at all of the things you have to be grateful for this holiday season. Make an honest effort to stay connected to your sober support, utilize tools you have learned in therapy when dealing with family, help others, and enjoy time with your loved ones.
This time of year is a great reminder that the best part of the holidays is spending time with your family and friends. Be present in the moment and enjoy what is going on around you. People are festive during this time of year. Rather than resisting that feeling, and harping on painful memories, embrace your sober holiday season.