How to Get Through a Difficult Holiday Season

Editorial Team
Difficult holiday

What advice would you give someone experiencing the holidays for the first time in recovery? 

Christine: “Voice your triggers and what support you need. If you feel like your usual celebration could put your recovery in jeopardy – it probably will. You may need to celebrate with a smaller crowd/different day/location and that's okay! At the end of the day, the holidays are a season, not just one day. Find another way to celebrate that best supports you and your goals. Your loved ones and friends who truly care about you will be more than willing to accommodate.

What are some ways to honor a loved one during the holidays?

Kim: “I make small gift bags for people in a recovery center my son once went through. By giving through him, I include him. And my other son and I choose a nonprofit each year to make a donation in an amount that represents what I might have spent on Christmas gifts for my angel son. Helping others in honor of my son makes his life continue to make a difference, and it helps me in my new reality.”

Samantha: “Buy a special ornament or an extra stocking and write letters and/or notes to your loved one. Keep them up to date on what's going on. I love the paper lanterns, too. Just keep their memory alive, but not at the expense of your future. I had a really hard time with survivors’ guilt, but once I realized that I am here for a reason and I made up my mind to do anything I could to prevent people from losing their lives to addiction, and that's exactly what I intend on doing.”

Melanie: “Celebrating the holidays without your loved one never gets easy, but creating new traditions to honor the loss, and remember their presence has helped my family cope with the loss of my older brother, Steven. Every holiday since he passed, we make sure we visit the grave, pray for him and with him, and then we also put a plate of all his favorite foods to the side. Sometimes we state a favorite memory we had of him or tell his daughter a new story about him.”

Kelly: “During holidays, I light a memorial candle to honor my son's memory.  Our family talks about him and tells stories of him at the holidays.  We make his favorite foods.  I make a holiday bouquet for his grave.  I pray that God has him wrapped in His arms.  I framed his artwork as a gift.”

Christine: “Through food. My brother loved his Spanish heritage – he’s technically my half brother, so I don’t have any Spanish roots in me – so we always attempt a Spanish dish Christmas Eve to remember him and my step father who is no longer with us.” 

How can other people support a grieving person/family during the holidays? 

Christine: “There’s always a question of ‘what do I say to someone who is grieving?’ And honestly, the answer isn’t as complex as people tend to make it seem. Supporting grief doesn’t mean you have to have a lavish gift or poetic passage to send to your friend or family member. A simple ‘I’m thinking of you, this must be hard’ goes so far. I can remember having a terrible day right around the holidays just a few months after my brother passed away, and that one quick text I received from a friend made all the difference. You may not be able to relate, but to the griever, knowing they’re not alone is so comforting.” 

What advice would you share with someone who is about to enter the holiday season after losing a loved one? 

Kim: “First, be very kind and patient with yourself. This is very hard stuff. For your traditions, change them up enough so it isn’t just “What It Used to Be” minus him/her. And find a way to include your loved one’s memory. I still hang my son’s stocking every year, as well as his kindergarten Christmas ornament (plus others he liked) on the tree. It’s still sad but it helps.”

Samantha: “Energy never dies. We are more than just our physical bodies. Your loved one will forever be with you on heart, mind and spirit. We have all lost so many, but we are here for a reason. Let's make it count for something. Let's not let their lives be lost in vain.  Let’s be the change we are chasing because change is not only possible, it's inevitable.”

Melanie: “I had to learn that the person I lost wouldn't want my world to be filled with sadness and pain. My brother loved the holidays, so I try to remember to not only live my life to the fullest but to live a little extra for him. The first holiday season is hard, but look around at your loved ones coming together and embrace that moment.”

Kelly: “Be kind to yourself after the loss of your loved one.  Bow out gracefully of celebrations and traditions if you want to.  Commemorate your lost loved one.”

Christine: “Talk about them – keep their memories alive. It’s okay if it invokes crying because hopefully bringing up those memories will also let you laugh and help you to remember them as the beautiful person they were outside of their addiction.”