This is the time of year when most of us start thinking about coming together with our families to celebrate the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, etc. We usually try and put on happy faces when we associate emotions with these celebrations. You know – things like good cheer, festive occasions, friendly smiles, happy times, brotherhood, goodwill, and so on. Yet the holidays have hidden stresses that most people don’t see or appreciate, and for many people, these stresses can serve to bring out troubling issues.
Some people have lost loved ones during the holidays, and their memories often bring about feelings of sadness when their memories are brought to bear during the holidays. For those with substance use disorders, the holidays hide stresses that serve as significant triggers. Many times, alcohol is served at social gatherings, and this can serve as a powerful trigger. For someone new in recovery, coming back into contact with extended family who still only has negative memories of the actions and behaviors the addicts/alcoholics exhibited when in their disease can be very stressful for both the recovering person and the extended family. Learning how to reintegrate into family in such gatherings takes time and effort, with a lot of love and patience on everyone’s part. And yes, most likely, mistakes will occur, and forgiveness will need to be extended. But that is what learning to love is all about. And when we discuss the greatest gifts we can give during the holiday season, there are two gifts I can think of that outshine any other gifts that come to mind. One gift is a natural outgrowth of the other. But the first gift is recovery. For the person in recovery, that man or that woman can offer to themselves and their families a whole person – someone not bound to a substance. Someone who is still vulnerable and learning how to navigate in a world that is in many ways foreign to them. Someone who has been hiding their emotions by using substances. But by continuing in recovery, I can, over time, become a whole person again. But of course, the greatest gift we can give during this holiday season is love. Love that is genuine, from the heart, and with the hope of helping the person to whom that love is directed to grow and become a more loving person.