Dealing with the holiday “blues” in 12 step programs

If you’re in a 12 step program and are practising its principles, how can you cope with triggers of depression during the holidays? Fran Simone has some ideas here.

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Overcoming the holiday blues

My husband, Terry, died on Christmas Day. A suicide related to alcohol abuse. Now, many years later, as the holiday season approaches with its Black Friday sales, Salvation Army bell ringers, Christmas concerts, Santas at the mall, and TV ads depicting families frolicking in the snow on the way to Grandma’s, I need to be extra vigilant to avoid depression or relive that tragic day.

And I’m not alone. Others in my twelve-step fellowship for families struggle with holiday blues and burnout. In fact, ‘the holidays’ is a hot topic during our December meetings. We share our fears and concerns, as well as survival strategies to handle situations that may occur and painful memories that may surface. So, how can you cope with the holidays and possible triggers of depression?  More here for those who are working the 12 steps and applying them to real life, with a section for your questions or comments at the end.

How to deal with the holiday blues in recovery

1. Keep it simple.  

Don’t get caught up in the rush to get everything done by Christmas Day. Bake if you like to bake, shop if you like to shop, decorate if you like to decorate. The operative phrase here is “if you like.” Hit the brakes on overdoing, over-scheduling, and over projecting worst case scenarios. Remember “no expectations, no resentments.” Consider ways to lighten the holiday load. Does it really matter if you fail to string outdoor lights on every surface in your front yard? Does it really matter if you purchase cookies, cakes and pies instead of baking them yourself?

2. Prepare for difficult situations.

Prepare for potentially troublesome situations if a loved one starts to act out at a holiday gathering. You can walk away, take deep breaths, recite the serenity prayer silently, or call a trusted friend or your sponsor (if they are available). Remember you have choices. Choose to not play your loved one’s games. Remain calm. Rest easy on the sidelines.

3. Own your choices.

And then there’s the Christmas tree. At a recent meeting, opinions varied on whether or not to put up a tree. One member decided to forgo this time honored ritual. “We learn in the program that we have choices. And this year I choose to not purchase and decorate a tree.” Heads nodded in agreement.

4. Easy does it.

Another bit of shared wisdom from 12 step support groups is that it’s okay to take care of ourselves. In fact, it’s an essential part of our recovery and represents a significant change in our attitudes and behaviors. Instead of worrying about, obsessing over, and trying to fix our loved ones, we learn to keep the focus on ourselves. During the holiday season this means trying to maintain a healthy routine: get regular exercise, enough sleep and enjoy holiday treats but don’t over indulge. It’s also helpful to attend meetings, read program literature, pray and meditate. Keep the spotlight on yourself and dim it down on your loved one.

Remember: The season doesn’t need to drag you down

I’ll leave you with another thought. Marquita, the new priest at my church, will conduct a service of solace on December 23rd. The flyer reads, “A Christmas service for people for whom Christmas will not be a happy time.” Although the holidays may not be a happy, the season need not drag you down. Just keep it simple and go easy on yourself and your loved ones.

About the author
Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus from Marshall University, South Charleston Campus in West Virginia. Recently her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published by Central Recovery Press. She can be reached through the Dark Wine Waters website or at darkwinewaters [at] gmail.
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