As the holidays approach, I’ve been taking a closer look at grief and how it works in my life and in my recovery. In American culture, most people try not to think about grief, and yet, grieving can be a valuable way to say goodbye while moving forward. If you don’t grieve, it can actually be an obstacle to celebrating. And the holiday season is really about connection and the celebration of life.
There is a myth that we’re supposed to get over loss; actually, it’s not about getting over it, it’s learning to live with it. And loss is a vital aspect of being human. So here are seven keys to grieving loss this holiday season and beyond:
1. Forget about the Hallmark Card family. It’s doubtful that any of us grew up with this type of warm, fuzzy holiday experience anyway. So if you haven’t said goodbye to this fantasy, now is the time.
Action Step: Be clear with yourself that you can never go back and re-do your childhood. That was then and this is now. Create a dialogue with your sponsor or therapist about moving from fantasy to reality and open up honest conversations about it. Now it’s time to embrace your family of choice—a real, imperfect group of dependable people. So identify the emotionally reliable people in your life whether they are blood relatives, trusted friends or people in program. Distinguish between those who nourish you and those who deplete you. Know that your family of choice will never feel quite like the Hallmark family, but it may surprise you and be even better.
2. During the holidays, the absence of loved ones can be more pronounced. The loss may have been to death, a break-up or possibly an estrangement, and these losses tend to be felt more during the holidays. Maybe the loss is related to family or friends who are still active in their addiction. Don’t ignore the empty chair at the dinner table. It’s a reminder that part of celebrations is also about losses.
Action Step: Acknowledge who is missing from the table and share your feelings about their absence. If the missing person is deceased, honor their memory with a story about how they touched your life or light a candle of remembrance. If the loss is related to a break-up or someone who abandoned you, it’s essential to feel the hurt and resentment because you don’t want to bypass your feelings. But it’s also time to express gratitude for what they may have brought to your life. And if someone is still in their addiction, hold them in your heart with lovingkindness.
3. When asked about losses related to addiction, those I interviewed in my recent book all shared about the loss of time. In the context of the upcoming holidays, I want to acknowledge that many of you were absent for the holidays in the past or were so distracted that it was nearly impossible to be present.
Action Step: Notice the loss of time from your past and consider ways to re-claim those missed opportunities. For example, if a nephew was born during the time of your addiction, how can you show up more fully for them now? Take stock of what you missed and become more mindful of the presence you bring to your loved ones today. Express gratitude for your loving relationships today and decide how you choose to become a more active participant in this year’s holiday festivities.
Stay tuned for the rest of this article next week