There are a lot of reasons you might be spending this holiday season alone. Stories like mine are common, addicts and alcoholics are legion.
I’ve been alone on Christmas, in a self-created exile from the family and friends that cared about me. When I was 17, my apartment was raided by the police. I was living with a drug-dealing boyfriend, lying to everyone around me, and in way over my head. My parents tried to move me to a different state and offer me the sort of support I needed, but I was young and inebriated and in love. I ran back to the bad guy and the bad drugs like only a scared skinny teenager can run, poorly packed and people pleasing to all the wrong people, wearing gobs of glittery makeup.
I wish I could say things got better after that, but like so many addicts and alcoholics I know, that consequence and those that followed it didn’t slow or stop my drinking and using. Hospital visits, suicide attempts, overdoses: I stumbled through ready for the next score or swig, convinced that my problem was depression or the boyfriend or my stupid town.
Needless to say, holidays weren’t a big concern for me when I was in active addiction. Major life events, like much of my early twenties, slid by unnoticed and uncelebrated. Now, 10+ years later and working at Workit, I think it’s important to pause and reflect on the time before I knew what recovery meant. Before I was making self-care strategies for travel. When I didn’t think I’d even live past 27, and couldn’t see myself holding down a job or graduating from college. I spent holidays alone, or with others but totally unnoticed. Even in early sobriety, sometimes I just didn’t have the social network (or social skills) built up yet to celebrate.
There are a lot of reasons you might be spending this holiday season alone. Stories like mine are common, addicts and alcoholics are legion. It’s a family disease, and we leave a trail of angry, hurt, and scared loved ones in our wake. Maybe you are one of those confused parents or siblings or spouses who doesn’t understand why you’re sitting there alone, loving someone like crazy who ran off into the night for the billionth time.
No matter what your reason for spending this holiday season alone, some basic points to remember (true for Christmas, Hanukkah, and any other holidays that you find challenging):
1. It’s just another day.
Regardless of whatever meaning society places on this day, you can choose to give it as much or as little meaning as you like. You can choose to not celebrate this year, or ever. You can also choose to tell people as much or as little about your holiday plans as you choose. Build a world out that works for you, wherever you are in your journey.
2. If you miss family connection, seek out service opportunities to give back.
Many local food banks and homeless shelters will have volunteer opportunities around the holidays. This is a perfect way to fight the woe-is-me feeling that might come up if you sit around all by yourself on Christmas Day. Go be of service, give back, and get thanks in return. Most of these service opportunities have no qualifications. They’ll just be happy you’ve shown up to help. You’ll also create new connections.
3. Reach out, with no expectations.
If you are estranged from family members, try reaching out the day before Christmas to take the pressure off hearing back on the actual holiday. If you don’t hear back (this is the hard part), let it go. Accept that you’ve done your part by reaching out. If you need to do more, write a letter that you don’t send.
4. Movies are your best friend.
If you have a lot of time to fill on a holiday and everything is closed, movie theatres will be your best friend! Especially if you rarely indulge in stuff like going to see a movie at the theatre (who does that anymore?), plan to see a movie on Christmas. It takes up time and gets you out of the house. If you can’t afford a movie out, see what’s playing on TV. Ditch the holiday-themed stuff, and watch a thriller, action, or romance that you love.
5. Take the time to take care of yourself.
Especially if you’re still using, a holiday alone can be an alarm bell of how far you’ve drifted from family, friends, and the rest of the world. Take the time to check-in. Have you eaten a regular meal today? Have you had a few glasses of water? When was the last time you slept?
If you’re on the reverse side of this, and you’re a family member missing a loved one due to their addiction, this can also be physically and mentally exhausting. What are you doing to handle the stress? Try tuning in to yourself, and sitting for a 5 minute meditation.
The holidays are the most wonderful time of year for a lot of people. Today, I’m far from the girl who ran towards drugs and away from the rest of the world. My relationships are mended, and I’m a (mostly) functional person. But I’ll never forget that the holidays can be just another day to come down off drugs alone in a cheap motel room. Sometimes, a holiday is just another day to get by. And that’s good enough.
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As Workit Health's Community Lead, Kali Lux leans in to the culture gap between addiction, recovery, and medicine. She's interested in finding solutions that work for substance users better than drinking or drugging does, and believes Workit is one of them. She's written extensively on her own experience through addiction into long-term recovery. Connect with her on Twitter @kalireadsbooks.