Surviving the Holidays: Tips for People in Recovery

santa-drunkFor most people, the holiday season – which includes Christmas and the New Year celebration – is a special time of joy and celebration.  We have a chance to give our thanks to God for all His goodness and a chance to rejoice in the birth of the Savior.  It is also a time to welcome in a new year with all the hope and promise it brings.

Yet, we must never forget that for people who are just beginning to walk the road of recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs, this is an extremely difficult and stressful time.  For several reasons, this time of year means we are very vulnerable to a relapse.

Let me offer a few simple thoughts that might help them make it through this holiday season:

A.  Remember the spiritual significance of the holidays - This time of year is a major commercial event for America’s retailers.  For some, more than half of our revenue is generated in the final ten weeks of the year.  As a result, we are bombarded with marketing messages that encourage us to spend beyond our budgets.  Despite the commercial pressure, we need to keep our focus on the spiritual significance of the holidays.  Our focus in November ought to be thankfulness – an attitude of gratitude.  And we must never forget that when it comes to Christmas:” Jesus is the Reason for the Season”.  Above all else, we are celebrating God’s sending of His only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer. Keeping a spiritual focus puts all of our other expectations for the holiday season in proper perspective.

B. Don’t isolate - For most Christians, the holidays are a time for family and other important relationships. For the newly recovering addict, especially those in residential programs, the holidays can be the loneliest time of the year.

Newly recovering addicts face two special challenges during the holidays.  On one hand, the holidays serve as a painful reminder of all the relationships they’ve messed up.  To many recovering people spend Christmas haunted by memories of loved ones and friends that have been alienated because of destructive and manipulative behavior.  So, there is a real tendency to fall into self-pity and remorse.  In order to compensate for the loneliness, some will take an equally destructive path; falling in with the wrong people.  To keep our sobriety, people who are still using alcohol and drugs, must be avoided at all costs

So, what’s the solution?  This is the time take advantage of new, sober acquaintances God has brought into our lives.  Reaching out to those around us and using this holiday season s as a special opportunity to get to know them better is the best antidote for that special sense of loneliness that comes with the holidays.

C. Use the holidays as a special opportunity for making amends - Instead of dwelling on failed relationships, the holidays provide a special opportunity to restore some broken relationships.  This is the time to make a list of those people and creatively consider ways to reconnect with them.  While it is not always possible to make amends to everyone that might come to mind, there will always be a few of them, especially family members, to whom amends can be made.  Some of those who have not heard from us for some time might actually consider your getting in touch with them to be a special gift this holiday season.  Talk to a counselor or sponsor about this and get some input before embarking on this important step in your recovery process.

D.  Give gifts from the heart - It’s easy to feel a load of guilt and shame about not having resources to give presents and other tokens of love to those around you.  There are other types of “gifts” that can be just as meaningful: a simple card (even homemade), phone calls or visits, lending a helping hand with a special project.  There is a virtually unlimited number of ways to show people around you that you care that don’t require a lot of cash.  Be creative!

E Share your feelings - The holidays can bring back a host of confusing feelings and memories.  Sometimes we’re tempted to dwell on “good times” that involved drinking and drug use.  For some, this time of year provokes painful childhood memories if we grew up in a troubled home.  Others experience loads of stress, disappointment, and loneliness during the holidays.  The worst thing to do is to keep all these feelings bottled up inside.  Find trusted sober friends and support groups where you can share what is going on within you.  This is a sure fire way to keep them in perspective and work through all these emotions in constructive and healthy ways.

F. Find healthy ways to celebrate the season – For some of us, it’s hard to imagine a Christmas or New Year’s Eve without alcohol and drugs.  But, for newly sober people, this time of year can be a chance to rediscover how to have fun without mind-altering chemicals.  Take a few moments to find out what is happening in the church and what other Christian and sobriety-based events are happening in your community – and participate in them!

G. Have realistic expectations – Most post-holiday disappointments are the result of expecting too much.  Keeping Christmas as primarily a spiritual celebration also keeps our expectation in reality, too.  We may find this holiday season is not the exciting and joyous experience others seem to make it out to be.  Maybe no one seemed to have reached out to us in any special way.  Maybe we did not handle all the stress of the holidays, as we would have liked to.  So what?  Making it through the holidays without using drugs or alcohol could actually be the most significant thing we managed to do this holiday season.  This, in itself, is a major accomplishment.

Eight Ways to Really Help the Homeless This Christmas

What do you do when you see someone holding up a sign, “Will Work for Food”? Do you roll down your window and give them money? Do you pretend you didn’t see them?

Nobody likes to be confronted by the homeless – their needs often seem too overwhelming – but we all want to treat them fairly and justly. Here are some simple guidelines to equip you to truly help the homeless people you meet:

1. Never give cash to a homeless person
Too often, well intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol – even when the “hard luck” stories they tell are true. If the person is hungry, buy them a sandwich and a beverage or give them a restaurant gift certificate.

2. Talk to the person with respect
Taking time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a wonderful sense of civility and dignity. And besides being just neighborly, it gives the person a weapon to fight the isolation, depression and paranoia that many homeless people face.

3. Recognize that homeless people (and their problems) are not all the same
The homeless are as diverse as the colors of a rainbow. The person you meet may be a battered women, an addicted veteran, someone who is lacking job skills…the list goes on.

4. Share God’s love whenever you can
If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would certainly spend time with the homeless. He would speak with them, heal them, and help them. Today, Jesus chooses to work through those who believe and follow Him.

5. Pray for the homeless
Exposure to the elements, dirt, occasional violence, and lack of purpose all drain years from a person’s life. God can use your prayers and the brutality and the futility of life of the street to bring many of the broken to Himself.

6. Take precautions for your own safety
Some living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Always be prudent while talking with street people. Stay in areas where other people can see you. Don’t take unnecessary chances.

7. Encourage the homeless to get help at an AGRM-affiliated Rescue Mission
Every day across North America, missions that are affiliated with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions strive to demonstrate Christ’s love and compassion by offering essential physical, emotional, and spiritual services to people in need. They provide a variety of services that include: shelter for for men, women and children, food, clothing and household goods distribution and other community services. Additionally, many offer help in specialized programs for abused women, homeless people who struggle with mental illness, recent immigrants, at-risk youth and those who are working to overcome addictions and other life-controlling issues.

8. Support Your Local Rescue Mission
Most rescue missions do not receive government money or large grants to maintain their services.  If you are looking for a place to volunteer where you can really make a difference, your local rescue mission is such a place.  For their on-going expenses, rescue missions depend on financial support from caring individuals, churches, businesses, and civic groups who see the value of sharing their resources with the less fortunate.  If you are looking to make a wise investment for your year end giving, you can make a donation with confidence to one of the AGRM-affiliated missions.

 Find Your Local AGRM Mission

Index to Posts on Emotions in Recovery

One of the surest signs that addicts are moving toward recovery is the return of their emotions. Once active use stops, their feelings are allowed to rise to the surface, often for the first time in many, many years. This period can be one of the most exciting – and one of the most dangerous – of early recovery. Without proper support, it is easy to fall back on their drug of choice to bring things ‘back under control.” Additionally, even if they don’t go back to intoxicants, there is also a concern that they might engage in other compulsive activities in order to circumvent the difficult process of returning to emotional health.

With this in mind, I decided to post a series of articles that I originally wrote for Rescue magazine, published by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, which appeared in the September 2000, November 2000, January 2001, and March 2001 issues.

  • Self Awareness- In this first installment, the importance of emotional self-awareness is explored, along with a discussion of the affect of growing up in dysfunctional families on emotional health.
  • Early Recovery- This second installment looks at the early days of recovery from addiction and the emotions addicts experience. The main focus is helping addicts to avoid relapse by constructively dealing with these feelings.
  • Grief – The third installment, entitled “The Role of Grief,” focuses on this particularly difficult emotion and how to help newly recovering addicts to deal with in a constructive manner.
  • Anger – The fourth installment focuses on another difficult emotion, anger, and provides some tips to help newly recovering addicts to successfully handle it.
  • Hope - The residential recovery program’s first goal is to create hope in our clients.  Here are some ways we can accomplish this.
  • Depression – Depressive disorders, which are more subtle, can be overlooked as factors that prevent program participants from moving forward in recovery.