It’s been on my mind that the holidays are always a tricky time for people struggling with addiction. It can be a time when we see clearly how our lives don’t match up to what we want them to be. We are so often alone or estranged from loved ones or struggling hard or have mental health issues in addiction. This year, with the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems really quite overwhelming, first to figure out what to do and what the right thing to do is (how best to isolate!), and then to get through that intact!
People in addiction recovery may feel particularly isolated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
So how do we get through Covid-19 without losing our minds?! You’re not alone if you feel on edge or like depression is threatening.
All kinds of people are discussing the various aspects of Covid-19 and their impacts -- the lack of structure, financial loss, children at home all day, every day, trying to teach said children, trying to work (hopefully), if one still has a job, cabin fever, free-floating fears, extra challenges in everything we do.
Thankfully, I have truly no complaints worth mentioning, but there’s really no avoiding the topic or the challenges to some degree. I just watched a clip with John Mullaney today where he said his therapist advised him that he “didn’t have much hope for him being able to thrive without structure. (Funny long clip, for fans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_SGiyscQXU)
For those of us with drinking or drug or other issues, this is a time when we’ve been cast into isolation -- often a recipe for disaster, for those already so inclined.
It’s easy to drink, to fall into bad habits, to pop an extra pill when nobody’s looking and nobody presumably would care! There’s often a feeling of “getting away with” something when we indulge or over-indulge in something we know isn’t good for us.
It’s also easier to procrastinate or to let little bad habits build into bigger ones. And it’s easier to relax our internal rules about that when so many things feel uncertain.
Now, there can be a flip side! Many people have made great use of this strange period of time. They’ve picked up new hobbies, tackled long-neglected house repairs, explored decorating and meditation and healthful eating, with food cooked from scratch (that one was a bit of a shocker to me).
In terms of having to slow down, be a little more resourceful, and to make changes that we normally put off due to busy-ness, gave some people a chance to look at life with a slightly different perspective. Being in close quarters with our spouses and family can spotlight good and bad behaviors and lend pressure and/or motivation.
I do know a lot of people who’ve quit or cut way back on their drinking or eating or other bad habits and seem to have used the overall sense of flux as a catalyst to make personal changes and to actively ward off poor habits with bad results.
It may be easier to concentrate on personal change when there aren’t so many demands on our time and attention, and we’re more or less forced to stay in one place, or at least pretty close to home.
But then here come the holidays!!!!
People in addiction recovery may feel especially isolated during the 2020 Holidays, too.
I am a big fan of the holidays, but I will say, my heart sinks a bit this year, when I see those, words, “Happy Holidays,” winking and blinking around at me! Especially, when I think of how many people are in such desperate straits this year. So many are cut off from their families, living far away, unable to travel, in nursing homes, young people, everyone, really, disconnected from people and traditions. I suspect even those of us who didn’t always have WONDERFUL holidays will remember those through a little more of a happy haze this year.
So what to DO? That’s one of my go to questions. If we can’t get out and visit people or congregate, what are ways we can celebrate this season?
Maybe start by asking what does the season mean to you. How does it usually go with family? Sometimes being able to opt out can be refreshing and strengthening!
Look for ways to do things remotely that are little and fun, whether that’s sending a note to someone, or shoveling their walk, maybe, or sending an old picture to someone you love. We have a little more time than usual (some of us). Make a yummy treat and leave a little plate on your neighbor’s porch. Or make a cute handmade gift if you’re crafty. Or … Give IOU’s if you want. Consider charities. I’m thinking about how I can maybe drop things off for various people, and then do a Zoom call to see them open it?
This is hard for some of us! I miss just being around other people, and as a former New Yorker, I love crowds and busy streets and all of that. This, for me, may be something I just have to forego this year. I get a little bit of a sense of company with social gatherings online with various people, keeping busy with work that includes chatting a bit, and try to enjoy the flipside. It is peaceful to stroll around when there aren’t a lot of people around.
Again, I’m looking forward to being able to expand my circles reasonably soon. I feel like I can wait this out for the long-term rewards of seeing everyone happy and healthy, even though it is very, very difficult sometimes. I’ve had a few moments that felt somewhat heart-wrenching with not being able to do some of the things I enjoy and that are really meaningful to me.
If you’re with family, hunker down. Think about what the season means to you and share stories, traditions, memories. Enjoy. I think we can look forward to next year. I’m going to until I hear otherwise, in any case. That’s not insurmountable!
Look for the hard spots. If particular days or moments are going to be difficult (Christmas Eve may be for me, for instance), think about how to mitigate that -- in advance. It’s when we leave things to chance that we can get into trouble.
So I’m going to have some kind of food that’s a treat for myself -- maybe some crab meat or a tiny shrimp platter. I’ll make sure I have coffee and some seltzer and maybe a spicy tea or something with cinnamon, and I’ll cook some kind of small festive (easy) meal for myself.
So what can you do for yourself for moments that might be dicey? If trying to enjoy things when they feel all wrong feels impossible, are there little ways you can distract yourself? Is there a movie you could watch (nothing melancholy), or maybe arrange for an order-in dinner -- some of the restaurants are really outdoing themselves. What are your normal go-to strategies when you’re feeling out of sorts or at loose ends?
I know this year is going to be a tough one. I hope all stay well and don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Even if that doesn’t always come back at you the way you hope it will, keep trying. It’s important. This is your life!