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Healing through the Holidays

Marta Mrotek
| November 23, 2015

November marks the beginning of the gratitude season but for me it is the most difficult time of the year to feel grateful. Many of us have dates that loom, cycling through the calendar with triggers and reminders of painful events. Often the struggles that we face throughout the year are magnified with the festive atmosphere and the string of celebrations that accompany the holiday season. I know I’m not alone in this. Heads always nod in agreement when we broach the topic. The losses we have suffered and the challenges that we have faced can put a damper on the holiday glow. As a matter of fact, that glow might be extinguished completely and we may find ourselves in a very dark place. All of the lights can start to get a little garish, the preparations start to feel a little trite and celebration of any kind can feel impossible when we’re still working our way through the healing process. It’s not uncommon to feel even more isolated during the most social time of the year.

There are many quotes about healing that address the subject of light, but the most helpful when I’m finding it hard to celebrate are those that remind me of my responsibility for increasing the Light in my life. They can all be boiled down into this one sentence quite nicely, “When you intensify the Light the darkness must fade.” It only makes sense that this very simple fact about light and dark in the outer, physical world would also apply to the spiritual world within. Notice I didn’t say this was my favorite reminder, I said it was the most helpful. At first that sentence can almost feel like an insult. In dark times it can be very difficult to see our part in creating the misery of the present moment. Often the events and circumstances that led to this point were outside of our control completely. Even if we ourselves are solely responsible for the pain in our lives, the idea of increasing the Light can be a tall order.

Gratitude challenges, lists and journals are everywhere this time of year for a good reason. These are powerful practices that get attention because they work. Getting serious about gratitude can go a long way in alleviating the complacency and self-pity that intensifies the darkness. Most tendencies toward isolation, lack of motivation, resentment, negative thinking, fear and anxiety stem from putting attention on what’s missing or what’s wrong. If we want the inner darkness to fade we will have to get intentional about increasing the Light. The following exercises are useful for creating healthy celebrations and finding the willingness to further the recovery process through the holiday season. The difficulty level will vary greatly depending on your current state, so give yourself the time and the permission to feel whatever comes up.

Using Gratitude to Create Celebrations that Heal:

Celebrate the present. First we will have to try and shine a light on what we have right now. We can’t really expect to grow the Light inside if we can’t recognize and appreciate what we already have. Make a list of what’s good in your life today. Include every person, every situation, every positive quality and characteristic that you possess, even material things that cross your mind as blessings. If you find this assignment difficult and you can’t think of anything or anyone to be grateful for, use that dark thought process as a tool for just a moment. If there is something that you are even remotely afraid of losing you have an item for your gratitude list. Now let go of any fear and give yourself some time to feel grateful. Use that feeling to come up with a few ways to celebrate what you’ve got, especially the relationships. Those celebrations can be big or small, as simple as a note or as elaborate as Thanksgiving dinner, but they should be a genuine expression of appreciation.

Celebrate the path. This second list might be emotional, but the benefits can be profound. While I do believe that peace exists only in the present moment I also hold strong beliefs about the need to face and feel what’s true. Denial is poison and loss of any kind must be felt consciously so the truth cannot be pushed down or ignored. We can honor all that we’ve been through and the progress that we have made by making a list of people and experiences that we have mourned. I’m not asking you dig around in your mind to dredge up uncomfortable memories. Just acknowledge whatever automatically comes to the surface. Give yourself permission to celebrate your path, including all of the relationships, communities and experiences that you are grateful for even if that means feeling the pain of their absence. Those bittersweet memories are part of being human and part of the price we are willing to pay for loving and living fully. Only in the recognition of what we’ve had and where we’ve been can we truly appreciate and celebrate the present.

Celebrate the differences. Depending on what you are recovering from and the amount of healing that you’ve done this might be even more challenging, but it is a valuable practice. If you are willing to go a little further see if you can make a list of what’s different in your life today. Be sure to list activities, fellowships, support groups and other communities that have supported you on your journey. Maybe you have more knowledge, wisdom or empathy to share with others who are still suffering. Sometimes the differences are positive and easy to recognize, but in some circumstances every difference can be agonizing. You might look at the first list you made above and notice if anything is on that list because of a change in your life. This exercise can provide options for creating new experiences, new traditions and maybe even some unexpected reasons to celebrate.

Now see if you can incorporate what you’ve learned from all three lists as you make your plans for the holidays. Fellowship, relationships and a sense of community can all play important roles in recovery. Keep in mind that certain events may hold difficult memories and triggers that are harmful. You are the only one who knows what should be avoided and what holds an opportunity to heal. We are all learning to live in the present and a big part of that is accepting the fact that life is always changing. We don’t honor the past, our loved ones or ourselves by living in the dark. We can’t expect to increase the Light inside if we’re minimizing today’s blessings. The impermanence of the present makes each moment more valuable and teaches us to celebrate what we have right now. Here’s to finding peace, fellowship and healing through the holiday season.

You can help BREAK THE STIGMA by sharing your story directly with Heroes in Recovery and letting them know that Marta sent you. OR you can contact me through email [marta@heroesinrecovery.com] with your information and I can help you through the process.

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