There are special groups for it; there have been songs written about it. The holiday blues—that feeling of sadness, loneliness, and even despair that so many people experience from Thanksgiving to New Year. The fact is that although people in recovery may feel holiday season depression acutely, even folks who are not suffering from addiction can go through very similar experiences.
Our culture has a way of building up expectations about many things, but expectations regarding the holiday season are beyond all. Around November 1st, advertisers in social media, television, radio, brick-and-mortar stores, etc., ramp up telling us how we should feel, what we should do, and what to expect regarding the holiday season. Whether it’s what to buy, what to eat, what to wear, whom to visit, or how to feel, we are being told that unless we react or respond a certain way, we have missed “the true meaning of Christmas.” The reality is that although the holidays can be lots of fun and can stir positive emotions, rarely do our experiences live up to those depicted in holiday movies, music, commercials, or books. We become frustrated and sad when we think that everyone except us is having a wonderful holiday season. The irony is that nothing could be further from the truth.
The holiday season can be very special, but what makes it truly unique is determined by each individual person or family -- and “family” does not have to be restricted to people we are related to by birth or marriage. For many people, the holiday season is special because it contains particular traditions that are experienced only during that season. If we had good childhood experiences during the holidays, we automatically have a feeling of nostalgia about them when we become adults. We spend a good portion of our adulthood trying to recreate the feelings we had as children. Though from time to time, we may get close to those feelings, the fact is we are no longer children. The holidays then fall short for us as adults. Sadness and disappointment are sure to set in.
For those in recovery, there is the additional stress of wanting to be “social,” even as they seek to avoid drugs and alcohol. Thankfully, there are AA halls and other recovery organizations that offer holiday meals and social experiences for those who need to be away from certain situations in order to maintain sobriety.
So much of the holiday season involves being with special people, and often we find those special people absent from our celebrations for one reason or another. Some people find that the best way to combat the sadness that comes from this absence is to provide help to others—spending time with the elderly in nursing homes, volunteering at a soup kitchen, giving toys to children in need, etc. What often emerges from these situations are new holiday traditions that move us from focusing on our own needs to focusing on the needs of others. When we are focused on helping others, we are much less likely to feel sad or lonely. An additional benefit is the creation of new healthy relationships that can last a lifetime. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the holiday season can cause severe depression and anxiety for some. In those instances, it is imperative that the person seek professional help to avoid any life-threatening situations. If you or someone you know is battling severe depression, please reach out for help. The National Suicide Lifeline is 988. Callers will be connected immediately with mental health professionals who can provide assistance.
I pray for a holiday season filled with peace and enjoyment for all of you, but keep in mind that real life is not a Hallmark movie. We need to keep the holiday season in perspective and use the time to honor God and one another in whatever way we celebrate. May God walk the way with you now and in the days to come.