Today marks the last day of school for my kids before the holiday kick off. When they walk out of the school doors today they will be in full on holiday mode. They have the entire week off for Thanksgiving, Advent begins the following Sunday, and then Christmas, quickly followed by New Year and Epiphany. It’s one great big bundle of celebration and I love it. I love the food. I love the lights. I love the holiness of the days. I. Love. This. Time. Of. Year.
But with all the excitement comes great expectations. Expectations that I build in my mind. Expectations my family has built into their minds. Expectations from every place, everywhere, in every one. I want the table to be set just right. I want the ribbon to match the paper. I want the lights to twinkle at just the right speed…not too fast, this isn’t a disco, but not too slow. I like the house to smell a certain way. My kids want me to bake their favorite cookie. I want them to help me decorate a gingerbread house.
My Expectations are fine if they are reasonable. The problem that sneaks in with expectations is when I have them and don’t let anyone know what they are. The problem is when I expect too much from people, places, and events. When I drop the ball on communication expectations can be let down quickly.
Part of working a healthy recovery program is being prepared for situations. Every year I read everything I can get my hands on that deals with preparing you heart and mind for the holidays. This year I decided to wrap up some of my favorite tips and strategies for surviving the holidays without punching someone in the throat. “Wow!” you may think, “that escalated quickly!” I realize jumping from handling appropriate expectations to punching someone may seem like a far leap. Clearly then, you have not spent a Thanksgiving with me.
“But I’m not in recovery,” you may now be thinking. Read on anyway. Everyone needs some recovery at Christmastime. We all need a little help in coping.
- Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. One on the key pieces of recovery is to have an “attitude of gratitude” and while it may sound hokey, it helps. I promise. When you start to feel like a white pin standing at the end of an alley and life is rolling at you full speed, spinning hard and fast, ready to knock you down….stop. Take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each breath you exhale whisper one thing you are thankful for. Aim for at least three things but more is certainly a good deal. It turns your focus from what you don’t have to what you do. And you have a lot.
- Shut down Facebook or the other places that tempt you to compare your everyday life to someone else’s online presence. This is the time of year we Instagram our cookies and our pies and our shiny new wreath. It’s okay. They are beautiful and we love them and we want to share them. We all do it. But realize that those family pictures are staged. Know that woman didn’t wake up looking like that and her kids have just as many boogers as yours. No ones life looks (at least not every moment of every day) like the Christmas card they send you. No pie started out pretty. Everyone makes a mess wrapping presents. No picture is as perfect as it seems.
- Serve. Serve others. Not in a way that makes you crazy because you are serving hot cider and cocoa at your Pinterest worthy cocoa bar. I mean seek out a place or a group of people in need. Adopt a family or an individual from an angel tree. One of the best ways to take the focus off your own worries or struggles is to check out the path someone else is walking today. Studies have shown over and over again that kids have a healthier self focus when the focus is turned outward. Put some money in the red bucket. Donate time at a shelter or soup kitchen. Serving and giving changes your outlook on more than the holidays; it changes your outlook on life.
- Difficult feelings will arise. It’s almost a guarantee. You will miss your loved one. Someone will be insensitive. Sit in the discomfort for just a moment and ask yourself what you’re really feeling. Are you sad? Are you angry? Are you hurt? Confused? Name the emotion. Claim the feeling. Know that feelings aren’t facts, they’re feelings. Talk to someone you trust; someone who is safe. This isn’t the time to share with your sister who judges your every move. Talk to a pastor, a counselor, a sponsor, or someone who will speak gentle truth in love. This is when we are tempted to drink, eat, shop, watch….or whatever your coping mechanism is. We want to bury the uncomfortable and pretend it’s not there. It is. Burying it with eggnog does not make it go away. And burying those feelings day after day means that they will pop up when you least expect them; when it’s very inconvenient. It will probably look like you punching your mother-in-law in the throat because she asked where you keep your Windex. This is another time you may want to try the deep breathing technique. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each exhalation whisper a Godly truth. Whisper something that is the opposite of the uncomfortable feeling you”re fighting. “I am a child of God.” “God loves me unconditionally.” “God gave his Son for ME!”
- Self care is important now more than ever. Sleep is necessary. Lots of water is so healthy. There are sweets everywhere. Have a bite…not all the bites. But don’t get hangry (so hungry you are angry). No one makes smart choices or stays rational when they’re hangry. Those Snickers commercials are funny because they’re true. Make sure to get enough protein. And exercise. Go for a walk, take a jog, ride a bike. Exercise is key when you want to punch someone in the throat. Take a breath, clench your fist, and walk out the door. Going for a walk or jog or ride is a great time to pray. Tell God your frustrations and ask him to show you your part of the situation. With each step you take you push the negative energy out and let God scoop it up. He’s glad to take it from you. He wants to take it from you. You will be better equipped to deal with difficult people and hard situations if you are caring for the physical aspects of your body.
- Take conscious and intentional steps to focus your heart on the reason for the season. God loved us so much that he gave his one and only son that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life (john 3:16). That’s it. God loves you. He loves you so much that he gave the life of his son for you. He wants a relationship with you in the deepest, most honest, and most vulnerable ways. We wants to help you bake a turkey. He’ll sit with you while you wrap gifts. He’ll throw on his jogging shoes and hit the trails with you. Talk to him. He loves that. He loves you.
So here’s to great turkey, perfectly sweet sugar cookies, deep breathing, and no punching of anyone’s throat.