TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - Candy canes, cozy slippers, festive lights, family peace, marital joy, and grateful children.
Or ... not.
The holidays are stressful. There are the challenges of too much family, not enough family, not enough money, continual exposure to food and alcohol, and perhaps worst of all, the gap between our actual life and our fantasy life.
As if gazing into the perfect happy scene within a snow-globe, we might fall into a trance of how our life should be. We might feel torn apart by nostalgia and grief over the good times and good people of the past, and racked with guilt and inadequacy for failing to create a more wonderful life for ourselves. We might feel scared about our dissatisfaction and hypnotized by the promise of fulfillment just beyond the hard glass.
Addiction and codependency thrive
Addictive and codependent behaviors thrive during this season of fantasy. We use our drugs and habits to escape the pain, while imagining how we will miraculously make changes, always tomorrow, or next week, or next year. We frantically try to keep our idea of the all-good holiday alive through our codependent behaviors, imagining we have the power to make sure everyone else happy and no one gets upset, while suppressing our own feelings of anger and disappointment.
So what should we do about our addictive and/or codependent behaviors during the holidays? Should we just give up and wait until Jan. 1? Or is there hope to make progress now?
One option is to use the holiday season to take an honest and compassionate look at our current behaviors. Instead of using up all of our mental energy imagining how our life used to be better, or how our life should be different, or how we need to change, we can turn our minds and eyes toward simply observing present reality.
We can watch our relationships with alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, prescription and non-prescription drugs, gambling, pornography, video games, television or Internet videos, social media, food, exercise, work, and shopping. We can ask ourselves: How much are we using? How much of our time does it consume? How much money are we spending on our habits? How long have we been using? Is it increasing, decreasing, or remaining constant?
We can watch our relationships with our loved ones. We can ask ourselves: How much of our energy is being devoted to worrying about or trying to control other people's addictive behaviors? How much are we being controlled by our fear of other people's reactions to our setting boundaries or limits with them?
Ask yourself why
Then we can ask ourselves, why are we doing this? What purpose does it serve in our lives? What immediate rewards do we attain? In what ways are our behaviors fulfilling our needs? Are there feelings of shame, anger, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or depression tangled up in our habits? How do these feelings lead to our behaviors? How do these feelings result from our behaviors?
How are our habits affecting our physical health? How are our behaviors affecting our relationships with other people? How are our drugs, habits, or relationship patterns affecting our work life? What are the short-term and long-term benefits and costs?
As we watch and explore our behaviors in an open and neutral manner, we set the stage for our growth toward increased health. We emerge into the New Year with information about ourselves that we need in order to develop a plan of action, if we so choose, toward change.
And, most importantly, by being more honest with ourselves and more present in the life we are living, we have broken the paralyzing spell of fantasy, and begun actually moving toward a better life.
- Danielle B. Grossman, California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializes in relationships, loss, anxiety, codependence, and addiction. She works in private practice and consults by phone. Contact her at 530-470-2233 or www.truckeecounseling.com