Staying Sober: Handling the Stress of the Holidays

HopeXchange is proud to welcome another distinguished guest post! Constance Ray co-created RecoveryWell to provide a safe place for people to share their addiction stories so that others can learn from them and benefit in their own lives. In this article, amidst the holiday festivities, while a relapse is attempting to steal one’s joy here are some ways to conquer it. Wishing everyone a joyful time this holiday season.

Photo via Pixabay by Geralt.

Big family celebrations, colorfully-lit trees, and exchanging gifts are some of the things that make the holiday season special for many people.  Recovering addicts may view the holiday a little differently, with stress and trepidation.

Chaotic parties and family events, coupled with a feeling of loneliness, can all be triggers for a temptation to relapse. Making a plan to neutralize these situations can help you make it through the holidays without having a meltdown or risking your sobriety.

Starting with a Plan of Action

Start every single day with a plan of action.  Look in your mirror and tell yourself how good it feels to be sober and in charge of your life.  Keep notes and positive sayings on your mirror for reinforcement of your daily goals.

Set a routine for yourself as much as possible during the holiday season.  Maintaining recovery depends on getting good rest, eating healthy foods, and getting exercise in your schedule whenever possible.  Placing your health as a top priority will aid in recovery by keeping blood sugar levels in check, curbing irritability, and keeping cravings low.

Knowing your triggers and assessing possible stressors can help you make a plan for the day’s events.  Don’t be afraid to decline certain parties or get-togethers that may present too many issues for you.  Try bringing a close friend or family member with you to events you do attend to support your sobriety.

Being sober will not always guarantee life will go as planned.  The holidays are not the same for everyone, so be realistic with your expectations.  Your joy can come from different places and moments if you look for it.

Dealing with Holiday Parties

Take control of how you navigate holiday parties and events. Driving yourself to holiday events is one way to have an easy way to leave whenever you feel necessary.  Knowing some people or situations might set off your triggers might be a good reason to arrive early and have the option to leave earlier.  When people do not respect your boundaries, feel free to leave the area or the party.

If you’re a recovering alcoholic, being handed drinks or desserts with alcohol in them could trigger relapse.  Plan some drinks and snacks to bring along to parties, or serve yourself before the host does to avoid the possibility of being handed things you might have to politely decline.

Board games, movies, or playing outside in the snow might be better options to suggest to family members instead of sitting around talking and pouring drinks.  Staying active will curb cravings and alleviate stressful conversations or situations.

Ways to Handle Stress and Temptations

When things are getting too stressful, take some time to walk away and breathe.  Clear your mind of thoughts of substance abuse and focus on all the steps you’ve made toward sobriety so far.  Think about things you can be grateful for in your life, instead the possibility of relapse.

Call on your support system, whenever necessary.  A trusted friend, family member, or sponsor that can be available when you need to talk is invaluable.  Get through the holiday season by attending some extra AA or NA meetings.  You can find meetings to attend in almost any city while traveling to bolster your sobriety resolve during the holidays.

Ask What You Can Do

Sometimes we get so focused on our own problems that we forget there are others dealing with the same problems or worse.  Finding ways to help support other recovering addicts at events, volunteering at homeless shelters, or asking an older neighbor if they need help with errands during the holidays, can bring joy into your life as much as it will bring into theirs.  Actively engaging in a positive, meaningful lifestyle, will make you stronger and more confident in your sobriety, and get you through the holidays stress free.

Peace of Mind: Four Ways to Battle Depression

We are pleased to welcome guest poster Jennifer McGregor to the HopeXchange blog! She is a medical student who has seen the impact that mental health has on our overall well-being. She believes we should all embrace our emotional health in the same we do our physical health.

Peace of Mind: Four Ways to Battle Depression

Counseling is one of the best ways to battle depression and suicidal thoughts. The expertise of a trained psychologist can guide a person from the hopelessness of depression and help them to reclaim their life. Though talk therapy represents the standard concept of therapy, it can be expensive and may not work for some.

Talk therapy is usually a component in many treatments, but using a different format as the main focus can be very beneficial for some people. Keep in mind that “therapy” may sound intimidating, but in reality it is simply the word used to describe any process that can provide insight and promote healing. The following routes do not necessarily require the guidance of a mental health professional (though it may be helpful), and anyone struggling with anxiety or depression may find these methods to be beneficial:

Exercise Therapy

Exercise is a critical component to recovering from many mental illnesses. Physical activity keeps our bodies healthy while providing mood-boosting endorphins to our brains. Exercise therapy is a treatment method that prescribes different forms of exercise to keep mood elevated and battle depression. The self-esteem boost that comes with regular exercise can also be hugely beneficial in combating suicidal thoughts.

Dog Therapy

Dogs have been shown to be excellent mental and physical health caretakers. Their need for food, water, exercise, and love ensure that their owners have a reason to get up every morning, a reason to get out of the house, and someone to offer unconditional love and comfort for when they are feeling down. Dogs are also highly attuned to their owners’ emotions and will usually be the first to provide comfort on a bad day.

Some therapy groups will bring in dogs to comfort the patients while simultaneously making it easier to reveal personal information.

Phone Therapy

Many people lead lives far too busy to attend therapy sessions, or they may even be embarrassed to tell loved ones where they are going each week. A good alternative might be phone therapy. These sessions are conducted over the phone with a trained counselor, providing essentially the same service as if you were to attend a physical session. Using phone therapy is a good option for people who may have difficulty getting to an office for treatment.

There are also options such as video chat sessions and text chat sessions. Text chat can be great for those who struggle with verbal communication while video chat is ideal for someone who wants a face- to-face experience but is unable to make the trip.

Meditation as a Therapy Supplement

Meditation alone cannot be used as a complete treatment plan, but numerous studies have shown that meditation is a very effective supplement. Its effects may even match medication therapy. The act of meditating works to silence the mind and embrace feelings of peace. It only makes sense that this would be very effective against something like depression or addiction. It is best to utilize this technique alongside talk or group therapy.

Finding therapy for your depression and suicidal thoughts is the first step to recovery. When people suffering from depression do not receive treatment, things can only get worse. Whether you decide to stick with traditional talk therapy or test an alternative route such as meditation or phone therapy, what’s important is the fact that you are seeking help. Once you have taken that first leap, it will only be a matter of time before you start feeling good again.

Jennifer is passionate about expanding access to trustworthy health and medical resources and helping others stay up-to-date on the latest developments in general wellness.

Image via Pixabay

The Real Boogey Man: Hiding Your Grief and Pain

The past few months have been trying ones for me. On top of the “normal” stresses of life with a family and career came devastating news at home and at work. Three of my co-workers’ wives were struck were serious illnesses within weeks of one another. At the same time, my beloved Mom was diagnosed with a traumatic illness of her own. But it didn’t stop there, my dear friend and neighbor was then taken to the hospital by the rescue squad, finding out that she needed major surgery.

The weight of all of these tragic events has been pressing on me. A few times I found myself sneaking to the ladies room at work, afraid I may cry some very public tears. While I found the distraction of work to be a blessing, it sometimes wasn’t enough to keep the worry and pain from creeping in. I realized I was going to have to deal with everything that was happening, because trying to hold it all in definitely wasn’t working.

The grief of loss is exactly the same. Sometimes we try to fool ourselves into thinking that we are okay and we quickly move on so we won’t have to feel the pain. Only to find that it is simply hiding, ready to attack later on. Like the “boogey man” who haunts our dreams, grief patiently waits for the right time to strike, and then takes us by surprise.

The more I realized that I wasn’t dealing with my feelings, the more I started to feel them. As difficult as this was, it actually made me feel a little better. At least I wasn’t looking for ways to stuff down my feelings, leaving me in a better place to deal with my swirling emotions. When I started feeling vulnerable, I reached out for help. For me, my help comes from my faith. The more I started to rely on my faith, the better I began to feel.

I still have a lot of difficult times ahead. While some of my friends and family are getting better, others have life-changing decisions to make. I don’t know what the future will hold, but at least I’ve stopped the boogey man from chasing me. I’ve realized that I cannot make it through this on my own and I’ve asked for help. Don’t be scared by your grief and pain any longer- reach out for the help you need.

A Time to Remember: Honoring Your Baby

 

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is a great time to remember and memorialize your baby. Here are some tips we share each year at this time, adapted from the book Hope is Like the Sun: Finding Hope and Healing After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death.

There are countless ways to remember and honor your baby. No matter how much time has passed since your miscarriage, it is never too late to memorialize your child.

You can find comfort and healing by incorporating your baby’s memory into your life. Here are some suggestions:

– Create a memory box. Include any mementos you may have from your baby. A positive pregnancy test, a toy, stuffed animal or outfit you bought for the baby (if you do not have one, then buy one). Anything you may have that reminds you of your pregnancy or your baby can be included, even if you just have a few things.

– Make a donation in your baby’s name. Publicly acknowledge your child by making a charitable donation, or give something to a needy child that is the same age your child would have been now. Also consider submitting an article or poem about your baby to a newspaper or magazine.

– Make something for the baby such as a quilt, a painting, a cross stitch, an outfit, a piece of pottery or furniture.

– Buy a piece of jewelry that symbolizes your baby. Your baby’s birthstone, or an engraved necklace with your baby’s name can be good choices.

– Plant a tree or garden in memory of your baby. You may even choose a houseplant or indoor tree. Decorate the tree at special times of the year to remember your baby.

– Add your baby to the family tree. If you named your baby, add him or her permanently to the family by including the baby in your family tree.

– Donate baby items that you may have bought or received to a worthy charity. You may also do this in your baby’s name.

– Have a celebration each year on your baby’s birthday or due date.

– Include your baby in the hospital’s Remembrance Book. Most hospitals have a remembrance book, and even if your baby did not die in a hospital, you can contact the Chaplin at your local hospital.

– Add your baby to the HOPE Canvas. Create a “virtual” square in honor of your baby and add it to the HOPE Canvas. Share it with your friends and family to remember your baby. Find out more information on The HOPE Canvas page.

– Light a candle for the baby every evening until you feel you do not need to anymore. After that, burn it once a month, on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, or on special anniversaries.

Remembering your baby is a very personal thing. There is no right or wrong way to honor your child. Taking the time to memorialize your baby will bring you closure and comfort as your move through your grief, and work toward recovery.

Soup, Sandwiches and Humble Pie

Volunteer

Last week my family volunteered at a men’s homeless shelter, serving soup and sandwiches on a gray and rainy Sunday afternoon. I thought it would be a good experience for my teenage daughter who is enamored with $100 Nikes, Beats and iPhones. What I wasn’t expecting, was how that lunch would affect me.

As the men worked their way across the line, picking up soup and choosing a ham or PB & J sandwich- I noticed they were from all walks of life. There were young men, men in wheel chairs, older men- well dressed with slicked back hair. Some were dressed in their work clothes, coming over for lunch before their shift started. As I handed them a sandwich and chatted briefly with each one, I knew that every one of them had a story…and I wanted to hear it.

One by one, the men filed by, picking up their lunch and warmly greeting us. Some of them didn’t even choose what kind of sandwich they wanted- they were just overjoyed to have a meal. Every man thanked us, and many said, “God bless you,” as they reached the end of the line with their warm soup and saran-wrapped sandwich. One man said a long blessing over his lunch, visibly thankful for his food. I couldn’t get over how grateful they were for this simple lunch. It was humbling. I suddenly felt guilty and ungrateful for my complaints about the little inconveniences of life. These men didn’t know where their next meal was coming from and I grumble when the cappuccino machine at work is out of service.

I looked out over the men as they ate and wondered what circumstances had brought them there. These people were no different than my family and me. So why were they in line at a homeless shelter and why were we on the other side of the glass, serving them?

When lunch was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about the men at the shelter. As I laid down that night to go to sleep, I’m not sure why, but I started to cry. I thought serving lunch to a group of homeless men would be a nice thing to do- I had no idea what it would do for me. It was a vivid reminder that we should truly appreciate everything we have, everyone we love and everyone who loves us. Deciding if we will focus on what we have, or fixate on what we don’t have is a choice. Choose to be grateful today.

Questions Without Answers: Why Me? Why God?

questions21Why Me?

Facing a major loss usually causes us to confront or even reconsider our basic beliefs about God, religion, death, and the afterlife. Some may turn to God for strength and comfort, while others find themselves questioning the religious beliefs they have known all of their lives.

Even those who have no religious upbringing may feel angry with God, or abandoned. Everyone responds to loss differently, but it almost always forces us to confront questions we may have been avoiding…about death…about God…about ourselves.

9/11: The Worst Kind of Loss

9-11_Pic-300x200We can all remember exactly what we were doing when the attacks began on 9/11. It was a day that will be forever etched in our memories. For some, the day marked the tragic death of a loved one- a mother, brother, son, co-worker, granddaughter, spouse or friend. An unimaginable loss.

Death is an unfortunate part of life, but when it comes as a result of a tragedy, it seems even harder to bear. My family has suffered many losses since that day on September 11th, 2001. My beloved father-in-law passed away after a good long life, and a daily battle to breathe was ended. My young brother-in-law who fought for his country, fought his last gruesome battle with cancer and finally ended his painful journey. Both of these fine men are in a better place, and while we struggle to fill the holes in our hearts, we have peace.

Can You Be 100% Sure You are Going to Heaven When You Die

The losses that haunt us, are the ones we don’t see coming. My husband’s best friend, an active guy and avid golfer, who died in his driveway of a massive heart attack. He was 41 years old. My excited family member who went to the hospital to have twin daughters, and brought home only one baby girl. The year before 9/11, I lost a baby of my own to miscarriage, before ever having a chance to be born.

When tragedy strikes and takes a loved one away from us, we feel a different kind of pain. The peace that can come from knowing that a painful illness has ended, or appreciating a long, full life isn’t there to comfort us. The chance to say goodbye is taken away. And these are the ghosts that haunt our sleep and make it difficult to heal.

Help with Overcoming Grief and Loneliness

So what can we do if we’ve suffered this kind of tragic loss? The kind that rained down on so many families on 9/11. There is never a magic formula to healing- it is such a personal and difficult journey. However, you must always begin with grieving. You have to feel the pain to move past it- really feel it. You can shove it down, avoid it, but it will be there-lurking and waiting to reveal itself. Grieve. When you’ve felt the pain you can begin the long process of healing. And it is there you have a decision to make. Will you live in the past, holding on to the pain of your loss, covered in the death of your loved one? Or will you move ahead, making a new kind of life, and finding a different happiness? A monumental choice to make.

On this 14th anniversary of 9/11, a date that marks so much pain and suffering, a monument now stands in place of the Twin Towers. The damage to the Pentagon has been repaired, and the pieces of the plane in Pennsylvania have been gathered. If you are grieving a loss today, will you pick up the pieces and move on? You are the living, so choose life.

When Your Sky is Dark, Keep Looking Up

see-the-stars-1502227Last night was the arrival of the Perseid meteor shower. I am always intrigued by space and the heavens, so I stood out in my front yard at 11pm last night, hoping to see something special.  As soon as I picked a spot away from the porch lights I saw a blazing  “shooting star” directly in front of me. It was big and shimmering- bright and slightly orange falling across my neighborhood sky. It was so exciting that I immediately wanted to see another one. I stood in the yard for almost an hour, spotting some small streaks and momentary bursts of white trailing shimmer, but nothing like the beautiful burst I had seen in the beginning.

After going back inside, the lure of seeing another meteor like the first one took me back outside. As I stood gazing at the sky, now getting a crook in my neck, I had a strange thought. The amazing star I saw streaking across the sky when I first came outside reminded me of my first pregnancy. It was joyful and mesmerizing- a new experience that was exciting and big. Until it ended. Until I found weeks and months after it all began that my baby’s heart never started beating. My incredibly beautiful star had gone out. The shimmer was gone.

I waited to try again, prolonging the possibility of that 2nd shimmering star.  Anxious, afraid, unknowing. And when I finally did become pregnant again, the star wasn’t as bright as the first one. Fear creeped in and my blazing light was a smaller streak now. But I still had hope.

When I stood in the yard for the 2nd time last night, not one streak appeared. I didn’t want to give up to easily- I really wanted to see one more. Finally, I decided I had to go in- my eyelids were giving out- it was well after midnight now. As I slowly worked my way back to the front door one more star trailed above my head with a white shimmer. I smiled. It was just like the hope I had to try one more time…wait a little longer…have some faith. And just like the final star that streaked above as I was giving up, my healthy baby girl arrived- shiny and perfect. And it was even more unbelievable another star appeared and my 2nd baby girl brightened our world.

Last night was such a great reminder that we all need hope. Whether you are waiting to see a shooting star or to find love, or to stop hurting or to have a baby. We have to keep our hope alive, so remember to look up.

 

Mark Zuckerberg Shares Pain of Miscarriages on Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg Shares Miscarriages on Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg Shares Miscarriages on Facebook

Using Facebook to share the joys of life is common in our “virtual” world. What is not so common is an honest post that shares your pain. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook creator and founder, did just that recently when he announced the joy of his wife’s pregnancy and then shared the pain of the couple’s multiple miscarriages.

See the story: Mark Zuckerberg Shares Pain of Miscarriage