The year 2020 has been an unprecedented emotional rollercoaster. We can only expect that the holiday season will follow the same formula, especially for folks in recovery. Families that are already divided over the election and proper mask-wearing protocol might also become divided on how to celebrate the holidays. To de-stress during this highly stressful time, we must implement some boundaries. And to do that, we have to figure out what those boundaries are. The more you get to know yourself, the better you’ll be in relationships. 

I hear this idea a lot lately since implementing Al-Anon meetings into my recovery. Al-Anon is a support group for people who love folks with substance use disorder or mental health issues. As someone with loved ones either in recovery or active in their self-destructive behaviors, I often feel like it’s my responsibility to fix them. This type of codependency leads to people-pleasing, even at the risk of my own mental health

Support groups are a daily reminder that I can only control myself and how I react. I plan to use this reminder a lot throughout this holiday season when it comes to establishing boundaries and practicing self-care in order to prioritize my recovery.

Here are a few tips to help you get through what might be your most difficult holiday season so far:

Create Boundaries for Virtual Events

If you don’t already have Zoom fatigue from the pandemic, you’ll likely get it from an influx of holiday e-party invites. Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when *everyone* was inviting you to virtual events? Whether the invites were from actual people you know or the livestream of a Melrose Place reunion, there was this pressure to attend everything. The rationale being, Well, I’m not doing anything anyway. I might as well attend XYZ. While it’s technologically impressive that virtual events exist, they’re also exhausting.

“Ask yourself if you’re saying yes out of obligation or if you actually want to attend,” recommends Keegan Herring, LPC and mindfulness-based therapist, “You have to say yes to yourself first. As we navigate virtual holiday events, get perspective on how to find balance between your mental health with work-from-home life. When you’re in recovery, that gives you so much self-awareness that you can lean into during this holiday season.”

You may find yourself invited to lots of Zoom holiday events under the expectation that, since it’s all virtual this year, you can attend multiple parties. While that’s physically possible, ask yourself how you want to spend your time. Maybe you allow yourself to attend one event per week. Maybe you only attend family events. Figure out what works best for you and communicate with loved ones. You can find some great “Sorry; I can’t make it” conversation starters here.

Talk Politics ONLY If You Feel Up For It*

If sobriety and Al-Anon have taught me one lesson, that lesson is to accept the things (read: people) I cannot change. This sentiment echoes in my head regularly, especially with potentially triggering political conversations.

If politics comes up while you’re passing the green beans, you have a few options: (1) Take a deep breath then fill your mouth with green beans until the conversation changes, (2) Take a deep breath then excuse yourself from the table to regroup, or (3) Take a deep breath and speak your mind. (Notice how each step begins with breathing!) If you choose the latter, know who you’re talking to. Some of your family members might prefer to hear facts and statistics, while some resonate with more emotional appeal. You can’t expect to change anyone’s mind but you may be able to teach them something new — whether they admit it or not. Listen to their side, too. There may be more common ground than you realize.

*This section is written with allies in mind. If you’re an ally in a place of privilege — i.e., a straight, cisgender person with an LGBTQIA+ family member or a white person with a POC partner(s), consider speaking up when someone brings injustice to the table. There is no reason that a person in a marginalized community should have to defend their own existence. 

Utilize Mental Health Resources

This time of year may warrant additional peer support meetings. If you’ve never attended a support group, now is an excellent time as digital options become increasingly ubiquitous. Remote meetings make recovery even more accessible than before. There’s even a meeting for essential hospitality workers!

If you’re not a meetings person, The Temper publishes other articles that provide helpful insight. A few of my favorites are How to Cope If You’re Spending the Holidays Alone and 9 Strategies for Surviving Family During the Holidays. Maybe you need a podcast to get you in the right headspace on that drive to your family’s house. Episodes like Seltzer Squad’s Eat, DON’T Drink, and Be Merry and Recovery Rocks’ Sober During the Holidays…During a Pandemic may do the trick. Laura Ward also has a great resource list called Sober for the Holidays.

Lean Into Your Comfort Zone

Comfort zones often get a bad rep, but I’m a firm believer in celebrating the beauty that can come from feeling safe — especially for people in recovery and those who’ve experienced trauma (or both!). Ask yourself what makes you feel comfortable and lean into those tools. Maybe it’s ordering pizza while watching reruns of The Office. Perhaps it’s escaping into a novel while wearing your favorite robe. Whatever it is, honor it! Know that these places can provide respite when feeling overwhelmed by family drama or spending the holidays alone while social distancing.

Society makes us think that downtime equates to laziness; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rest is productive, y’all! According to the Cleveland Clinic, “When you don’t give your mind a chance to pause and refresh, it doesn’t work as efficiently. You might also be more likely to experience burnout and the health problems that go hand-in-hand with chronic stress.”

When the thought of drinking again comes up, it’s common to hear the advice, “play the tape to the end” from someone in recovery. This means to visualize yourself having that drink, then seeing what happens next. Repeat until you’re at the end of the tape. You’ll most likely end up right where you were before you got sober. You can apply that same advice to this unprecedented holiday season. If you don’t know whether or not to attend an event or if you should talk politics with your family, play the tape to the end. Keep in mind that above all else, you have resources to lean into and a virtual community that supports your boundaries even when your loved ones don’t really understand them.