Managing Past Trauma and the Holidays

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The holidays often promise to bring joy and special moments of togetherness and celebration. But some people associate the holidays with trauma. It can feel impossible to bear all of the holiday excitement when you’re still battling pain from your past. If you are in addiction recovery and fearful that the holidays might trigger past traumas and lead to a relapse, know that you are not alone. With some preparation, you can help ensure that your holiday season is calm and that you feel safe.

What is Trauma?

If you are in addiction recovery, you probably already know that there’s a strong link between trauma and addiction. You know that trauma is an emotional response the brain has to a difficult event or experience. Ultimately, the traumatic experience triggers a sense of overwhelming fear in certain situations. It can be felt in the following ways:

  • Physical experiences: Being around a person or location that’s related to the traumatic event can make you feel ill, including headaches and nausea.
  • Flashbacks: These are intense moments when you relive memories of the traumatic experience as if it is happening right now.
  • Emotional responses: This can include feelings of anxiousness and panic, and for some people, it can lead to a need to escape.
  • Strained relationships: The trauma will impact relationships over time, whether with those involved or with those who may not have helped you avoid the outcome.

If your traumatic experience is connected to the holidays, it will make every holiday season a challenge, especially if the people involved in your trauma are family members you will see during this time.

What Do You Do: An Action Plan for Dealing with Trauma on the Holidays

As you prepare for your future experiences on the holidays, there are a few specific things you can do to help you get through this difficult time.

Identify Triggers for Trauma

The first step is to know what your triggers are – what experiences, people, memories, or other things bring up the feelings you hope to avoid. During the holidays, it could be a family tradition, a smell, certain decorations, or particular events or people that make you feel unsafe.

Recognize that you can avoid trauma triggers. It is perfectly acceptable for you to not attend events that are problematic for you, just as it’s acceptable to forego traditions that do not feel positive to you.

Practice Self-Care

Be your own best ally as you prepare yourself for these more emotionally charged times.

  • Take time to be alone if you need it.
  • Find a way to relax every day.
  • Practice meditation on a daily basis.
  • Meet more often with your therapist, and attend recovery support groups regularly.
  • Engage in activities you love, even if they have nothing to do with the holidays.
  • Take time for holistic care – this might mean getting a massage, creating art, taking a hike–whatever soothes your body, mind, and spirit.

When you do things that bring you happiness, that will counteract the negative emotions that trauma creates. If you are feeling overwhelmed, step away for the day, call a good friend, or do something else that helps you feel good.

Establish Boundaries

One of the hardest things to remember or believe is that you’re allowed to say “no.” Establish boundaries now, towards the start of the holiday season, and then stick to them throughout. Boundaries may include:

  • Eliminating the risk that you’ll be around people who have caused you harm. You don’t have to go to your parent’s home if they are inviting someone who you feel unsafe with.
  • Identify the people who you really want to be around, those who are supportive of you and your recovery. Avoid those who do not support you.
  • If you cannot continue on with family traditions, be upfront about this early on. Let your loved ones know what’s happening and find a new way to spend time with them.

If you feel unsafe or at risk, speak up. Let others know how you feel so you can get the support they can offer to you.

The key to managing holiday trauma is to have help. You’re not in this alone, and you do not have to apologize for or feel badly about your emotions during this time. Focus on your sobriety and your emotional well-being.

At The Ranch at Dove Tree in Lubbock, TX, we’re here to help you get through the hard time by creating a path for you toward your future. Contact us for treatment options.

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