Some people find the holidays a difficult time of year. When someone is alone and lonely, it’s challenging to be bombarded with messages of cheer and joy. It appears you’re on the outside watching everyone else have a good ole time. Everywhere you turn, it seems children are bouncing up and down with glee, lovers selecting romantic gifts, families sharing food and drink at special gatherings. You might struggle between feeling resentful that you’re not sharing that joy and then guilty for feeling envious.
I remember the first Christmas that I was all alone. As the holidays closed in I didn’t expect to feel sad, I’d spent an enjoyable Thanksgiving with friends. But as Christmas seemed to arrive without warning, I found myself at a loss for what to do. This was going to be anything but a “holly, jolly, Christmas.” I was newly divorced, my folks were out of town, and an only child, there were no siblings to be with. In addition, a friend canceled our plans the day before, so I sat alone on Christmas Eve in an empty house, wondering how I’d gotten here.
Christmas had always been a huge event in my life, orchestrated by my loving grandmother. We always made cookies and our own beaded ornaments. Our tree was a sight to behold. It was as tall as the ceiling and decorated with hundreds of blinking lights, candy canes, lots of tinsel, and ornaments of all sizes. My grandmother’s homemade red tree skirt was invisible beneath the abundance of packages. She put her heart and soul into making the holidays special for everyone, and Christmas dinner was no exception. She always included a few people who didn’t have family, and everyone at the table would dive into the golden-brown turkey with homemade stuffing and all the trimmings. After the main course, we’d all feel like over-stuffed turkeys but still managed to squeeze in a few more bites of her homemade pies. The munching went on until bedtime.
Now, my grandmother was gone. Flooded with memories of holiday experiences that I thought would never end, I felt numb as the contrast between then and now struck me. There were no decorations, children’s laughter, mouth-watering aromas emitting from the kitchen. Faced with the stark reality of floating in an abyss of memories I didn’t want to have, I fixed a strong drink and went to bed. I awoke to gray skies and silence, and I couldn’t wait for the holidays to end.
My first sober Christmas was very similar but very different. I was once again alone, but I decided not to be lonely. Instead of missing what I didn’t have, I decided to be the provider of warmth and joy like my grandmother had been to so many of us.
I went to a club where twenty-four consecutive hourly recovery meetings were starting at noon on Christmas Eve. I chatted with a few people who were also without family. When I got home, I read spirituality books in a candle lighted room with soft Christmas music in the background. The warm glow of the pine-scented candles and the inspirational stories of Og Mandino and Herman Hess lifted me into a true holiday spirit.
The next day I went to another recovery meeting then prepared Christmas dinner for some of those new friends (also alone) and my small family. After the evening was over, I felt full of love and light. I went to sleep in peace, free from the ghosts of the past.
The best cure for the holiday blues is to be the light that you want. Rather than feeling alone, you can reach out to other people and plan to spend time together, attend holiday events, do volunteer work, or plan meals together. You can decorate your home the way that makes you feel good. It could be something as simple as making yourself a holiday floral arrangement and place it on your front door, so that you see it every time you come home. Or you could make your own Christmas cards with a handwritten note about what the recipient means to you. There are lots of ways to show love.
It’s been many decades since my grandmother passed. I still miss her. But memories of her are alive and well, and I can bring them to life every year when I recreate the gifts she taught me. She wasn’t thinking about herself during the holidays. Her only plans were to provide joy-filled experiences for others. That was the most important take-away from all the memories. Once I shifted from receiver to giver, I was able to be the light I longed for, and the blues simply slipped away.
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Donna Marks believes that the models for diagnosis, treatment, and addiction have failed. Her mission is to help save at least one million lives by 2030, through education and prevention. She has been an author, consultant, educator, public speaker, licensed psychotherapist, and addictions counselor in private practice in Palm Beach, Florida for more than thirty years. In 1989, Dr. Marks developed a chemical dependency treatment program at Palm Beach Community College, that has since grown into a four-year degree program, and for which she was granted an Award of Appreciation. She became licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987. In 1989, she earned a Doctorate Degree in Adult Education, then became a Certified Addictions Professional, Certified Gestalt Therapist, Certified Psychoanalyst, Hypnotherapist, and Certified Sex Therapist.
Dr. Marks is the author of the 22-award winning book, Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Cure.
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