How Do I Handle Grief This Holiday Season as I Navigate My Recovery Journey?

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The holiday season is often viewed as a time that is supposed to be filled with joy and celebration. But this is not always the case for everyone, especially for those who may be mourning the loss of loved ones. This time of year can be quite melancholy and even a little depressing for someone. Perhaps you will be navigating grief this holiday season while also trying to make sure that you remain firmly on your path of recovery.

Trying to navigate grief and substance use recovery at the same time can be challenging and certainly takes dedication and effort. Some people may feel tempted to turn back to substance use this time of year as a way of coping with the grief they are experiencing. This can only make matters worse and lead to additional mental health problems like anxiety, guilt, shame, and depression. The key to navigating recovery and grief this holiday season is to practice healthy and effective coping mechanisms.

You don't have to try to ignore your grief this holiday season or push it aside. But there are positive ways of processing and understanding it that can be very beneficial. It is possible to be experiencing grief and still enjoy the upcoming holiday season. If you are preparing to navigate recovery and grief this holiday season, our team at Pathways Recovery Center can help guide you.

How Do I Prepare for and Navigate Grief This Holiday Season?

If this is the first holiday season that you will be spending since the loss of a loved one you may not know what to expect. Maybe you are full of anxiety waiting for your grief to come and overpower you. Through therapy and other treatment methods, you can reach a point where you are no longer dreading or fearing your grief this holiday season.

As those who have experienced grief before know well, it is an ever-changing process. You might have a really good day followed by a very bad one when you least expect it. Perhaps you think you've reached a point where you have begun to heal, only to feel as if you have lost all the progress that you have made. Part of the grieving process is to come to accept the way you feel and not try to force yourself to feel differently.

During this time of year especially, you may feel pressure to put on a brave face and act happy and cheerful for the people around you. You may feel that if you let others know how you are truly feeling inside it might kill the mood or ruin the excitement for them. In reality, it can be quite difficult to pretend to be happy when you are really not. While you might feel as if you have been convincing, those close to you can likely see through the facade more clearly than you may realize.

It is not an act of selfishness to embrace how you truly feel this holiday season, no matter what emotions you may be experiencing. If anything, trying to suppress how you truly feel can be even more exhausting and draining. As you prepare to navigate grief this holiday season, don't hold yourself to any firm sort of expectations. Rather, accept your emotions as they come and be patient with yourself.

This time of year in particular, it can be very helpful to work with a therapist as you navigate your grief. They can help you work through the different complex emotions that you are experiencing and have a better understanding of why you may feel a certain way. Your therapist can also offer you guidance as to how to process and cope with these emotions in a healthy and effective way. Instead of waiting for your grief to come, be prepared by talking with your therapist even before the holiday season begins.

How Do I Simultaneously Navigate My Recovery and My Grief This Holiday Season?

The holiday season can be a stressful time for many people. This is in part due to an increase in socialization during this season, as well as visiting with friends and relatives that you may only see a couple of times a year. For those in recovery, this time of year can be particularly challenging, as this is a season where substance use at social gatherings is typically more present. Trying to navigate grief and recovery during the holiday season simultaneously can be difficult.

We know that in recovery it is important to put in the work and dedication all the time, not just when you feel like it. This holiday season, it is particularly important that you stick to your treatment plan and reach out for help when necessary. Make sure that you are regularly attending 12-Step support group meetings and consider even including some extra ones in your schedule if necessary. This can help to ensure that you are keeping your recovery at the forefront of your mind.

Consider opening up to your support group about where you are in your grieving process this holiday season. You may be surprised to learn that others may be going through something very similar. Not only may others be able to provide you with advice, but discussing your emotions can help you process your feelings better. Discussing how you feel instead of keeping your emotions hidden inside can be very therapeutic and comforting.

While you may already be attending 12-Step support group meetings for your recovery, did you know that there are also support group meetings for those who are grieving as well? The grieving process can feel very isolating, especially if this is the first time you have lost someone close to you. It can help to know that you are not alone and that there are a lot of other people out there who are going through the same thing you are. You should be able to find grief support meetings local to you with a quick internet search.

At these meetings, you will find people who are at many different stages when it comes to their grief. Some of them may have lost parents, grandparents, children, or close friends. There may be people who experienced loss years ago while others may have lost their loved one more recently. This environment can provide you with an excellent setting to openly discuss your grief and how you feel about going through your first holiday season without your loved one.

What Role Should Support Play in Navigating Grief This Holiday Season?

We know that support plays a major role in the recovery journey, but it also plays a critical role in the grieving process as well. While you may feel tempted to keep what you are feeling to yourself, it is important to let those close to you in. There is no reason to try to go through this process alone when you can share the burden with someone who cares about you.

Consider the people who have also been affected by the loss you have experienced. Reach out to them and offer them a listening ear. Sometimes talking about how you feel with someone who truly understands can make all the difference. It can also help to share happy and positive memories from the past that you have with the person you lost. This can help you to find joy and gratitude even among the sadness you may be experiencing.

During this holiday season make sure that you surround yourself with people who truly support you and your recovery journey. These should be people who will lift you up when you feel down and will encourage you to keep moving forward. This group of people may include friends, family members, members of your support group, your sponsor, and even your therapist. Just as support plays a crucial role in this journey, make sure to distance yourself from anyone who may put your sobriety in jeopardy.

What If I Feel Tempted to Return to Substance Use While Navigating Grief This Holiday Season?

No matter how much you prepare or how dedicated you are to your recovery journey, there is always the possibility that you may find yourself tempted to turn back to substance use. Maybe you are at a social gathering where you are offered a drink and are tempted to accept. Or maybe you are looking for a quick fix to find relief from grief and are considering drugs or alcohol to cope. It is important to anticipate this possibility and know how you are going to respond to it if you do experience it.

The first thing you should do if you experience this temptation is to reach out for help right away. Don't wait until you are considering giving in to the temptation to take action. Contact your sponsor or therapist or reach out to a trusted family member or friend. They can help talk you down and remind you why you chose to begin your recovery journey in the first place.

Sometimes distraction can also be a useful tool during times of temptation. If you are experiencing thoughts of temptation, sitting around alone and dwelling on it is not productive. Instead, make yourself busy doing something positive that will take your mind off of it.

Consider the following examples:

  • Go out and spend some quality time with family members or friends
  • Tidy up your home or do household tasks that you have been putting off
  • Immerse yourself in a good book
  • Watch a movie or television show
  • Take a walk with your dog
  • Go to the gym and get a workout in

Before you know it, your feelings of temptation may quickly pass away.

If you know you will be traveling this holiday season, it is important to make sure to plan ahead. Look online to find support group meetings near where you will be staying. Make a plan for how you will get there if you find yourself in a situation where you need support. If there are not any meetings being held locally where you will be staying, consider finding a virtual one.

How Can I Enjoy This Holiday Season Without Trying to Ignore My Grief?

If this is your first holiday season since losing a loved one, it is normal to experience some conflicting emotions. For example, perhaps you may find yourself laughing and having a good time only to then feel guilty. Maybe you feel that it is not fair for you to be enjoying yourself when your loved one is not present. No matter what you are feeling, your emotions are valid, and you don't have to beat yourself up because of them.

There are still many ways that you can enjoy this holiday season with loved ones who are present without ignoring those who are no longer with you. Consider recognizing your loved one who has passed this holiday season by doing activities that honor them. This can make it feel as if they are still a part of the festivities even if they are not here physically. It is also a great way to come together with those who matter most to you and bond over your shared love of the person you lost.

Consider what holiday traditions you used to enjoy with your loved ones before they passed. Was there something special that they liked to do to get into the holiday spirit? It might feel a little strange to do these activities without them, but it can also be very fulfilling and rewarding. This is a great way to keep their tradition and spirit alive.

For example, maybe your loved one used to like to make certain recipes to share with everyone over the holidays. Consider pulling out their old recipe book and trying some out yourself this year. The process of cooking or baking a special recipe can be a great stress relief and a wonderful way to honor your loved one. Don't forget to share your final product with others who would appreciate the nostalgic dish.

It might also help to flip through photo albums or watch old home videos of past Christmases that you spent with your loved ones who are no longer here. Looking back on these memories may bring you a sense of peace and joy. No matter how much time passes, you can be assured that you will always have these happy memories to look back on.

What Is the Importance of Prioritizing Self-Care While I Navigate Grief This Holiday Season?

Prioritizing self-care on a regular basis is crucial for your overall mental health and well-being, especially in recovery. It is especially important during this busy time of year while you are navigating both grief and your sobriety. Make sure that you are doing everything necessary to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. Check in with yourself frequently to see how you are feeling.

Remember not to overlook the basics. Be sure that you are getting enough quality sleep each night and eating nutritious meals that will fuel your body. Make sure to fit in some form of exercise every day, even if it is only for 30 minutes or so. Exercise can relieve stress and help prepare you to tackle anything that may come your way throughout the day.

The following are some great ways to practice self-care:

  • Listen to calming music
  • Spend some peaceful alone time
  • Practice yoga or some other form of meditation
  • Do some journaling
  • Take a walk out in nature
  • Express yourself through some form of art

If you are navigating recovery and grief this holiday season, our team at Pathways Recovery Center can help guide you.

Recovery is not always an easy journey. You must continue to put in the work and the dedication every single day, no matter what challenges you may come across along the way. When you prioritize your recovery, you will see your dedication pay off as you enjoy the many benefits associated with sobriety. If you or someone you know is currently struggling with addiction, you don't have to go through this process alone. There is help available, and you can achieve long-term sobriety. Don't wait; reach out to our team at Pathways Recovery Center today. We can work with you as you take this very brave step forward. Give us a call at (888) 771-0966 today to learn more. 

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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