The holiday season can be an “adventure;” and for many in recovery, this adventure is usually a challenging one at best. I am reminded of the choose-your-adventure books I used to read as a kid. You get to the section of the book where it reads, “if you want to go into the cave, go to page 72” or “if you want to face the bandits chasing you, go to page 119.”
You might find yourself married, divorced, or single due to the choices you have made this past year. It’s interesting to see single clients compare themselves to people who are married and how much easier life would be if they were married. They believe they would be less lonely and able to have sex more often. Married couples do the same, as they compare themselves to singles and how much easier life would be to be single again without the stress of in-laws and children. It’s been said, “Everyone you meet is in a battle you know nothing about.”
Perhaps this holiday season, you are a sex addict, intimacy anorexic, alcoholic, or drug addict actively pursuing your recovery, and you find yourself out of your daily routine that has been a lifeline. Now, life requires you to reengage with extended family. If you are single, you might be spending time with your grandparents, parents, siblings and cousins. Perhaps, you are staying with your parents in the home you grew up in around the old neighborhood that reminds you of the old ways in which you acted out. It is amazing how easy it is to fall into old family roles. Even though you are in your twenties or thirties, Mom still expects you to help clean up after dinner, Dad still drinks too much in the afternoon and is belittling to Mom, your siblings act as if nothing is wrong and make light of your parents “dead” marriage. Perhaps, no one knows about your recovery and the changes you are making. Perhaps, only your mother, brother or sister know. Choose your adventure.
If you are married, maybe you have several children. You are not having to travel for Christmas this year, but your spouse’s parents and siblings with their children are all coming from out of town to your place, not only to eat but to stay for several days. After your in-laws (who are all aware of how you have hurt their daughter/sister with your addiction) leave, you travel 8 hours before the New Year to spend time with your family, staying with them. They may know nothing about your addition and recovery. Your spouse will be present, as you disclose your addiction to your parents.
Perhaps, you are married but separated living outside the home away from your spouse and children, not sure you’re even invited into your own home for Christmas. Maybe you are in the midst of reconciliation with your spouse after a separation not sure how to make amends with your in-laws, as they all know what you have done. Maybe you are married but in separate bedrooms for the last 6 months but family staying means you get to sleep on the floor in the master bedroom to make it looks like all is well with you and your wife. Choose your adventure. Whatever adventure you are in, here are some tips and tools to help you and your sobriety survive the holidays.
Move from Me to We
Many in recovery know that any addiction has power because of secrets and isolation, so they have a buddy or someone who can help keep them accountable. It might be a spouse, a sponsor or someone in a support group. They might travel with you, or they might be available by phone. Make phone calls during the day to check in with your support system, sharing your thoughts and feelings with them. The more you can move out of the “me” and into the “we” the better off you are going to be.
Have a Game Plan
During the holidays, know your weaknesses and remember how you have acted out in the past. What makes great sporting teams great is not only do they know their strengths, but they are also aware of their weaknesses and how those weaknesses can be exposed. Be aware of people and places that are your triggers. Come up with 10 if-then scenarios that might come up during your time with family as well as healthy ways of overcoming the expected and the unexpected. “If I find myself in this situation or in this conversation, then I will _________.” If you’re traveling, take time to go online and find a 12-Step meeting in the area where you will be staying. Secure the room you are staying in. Before you or your family arrives, set boundaries (where appropriate) by clearly communicating what a boundary is and explaining that these boundaries are not meant hurt anyone but to protect you. If they are not able to honor them, determine what your behavior will be to remove yourself from the situation.
Stick to your Routine
You may have noticed that your daily routine of recovery work, meetings, calls, exercise, sleep, diet and prayer has helped you a great deal. Routine is one of the first things we give up during the holidays, so the more you can keep as many routine things in place the more likely your sobriety is going to survive the holidays.
Journal your Thoughts and Emotions
It may be difficult to travel with all your recovery books and materials. When in doubt, take one book and a journal. If all else fails, you’re flying and weight is an issue, take your journal. Journaling is perhaps one of the most effective tools in recovery yet one of the least talked about, as it is such a great source for writing about your thoughts, ideas, and emotions in a safe environment.
Take a Timeout
Let’s face it, immediate and/or extended family can be one of the most dangerous places for an addict to spend time. The people we love the most have hurt us the greatest. If possible and when appropriate, be sure to communicate your boundaries and expectations during your/their visit. Be sure to have a timeout plan for yourself to be able to politely leave the premises or reside to your room to regain your composure. This is a great time to reach out to your spouse, sponsor or recovery buddy in person or with a phone call.
Be intentional this holiday season. You are worth it!
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.