If you feel like you have taken it too far over Christmas and its been building up all year, could it be time to reach out for some professional help?

The way people celebrate the holidays will differ according to culture, age, social class, and many other aspects. However, a common denominator in most celebrations is alcohol, rich food (and a lot of it) and for some, drugs. Essentially, indulging in activities we know are not good for us, but make us feel good in the short term. To live hedonistically in the context of a celebration is to be expected, and often the indulgence is over after a few days and normality is restored. For some, the festive season celebrations are used as a form of escapism, or a way of channeling weeks, or possibly months of strains and tensions.

It can be difficult to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable holiday consumption, because celebration causes the lines to become blurred; for example, drinking alcohol at breakfast would be widely considered the behavior of someone with alcoholism. But over the holiday period, in some families, its considered perfectly normal, and concern might go out to those who arent drinking a mimosa before 10am. How can we identify whether we are disguising self-medicating with celebrating?

A factor that contributes to excessive consumption over the holiday period is that notion that in January we can turn the franchise around, go to the gym five nights a week and detox” our bodies. It may not be perfect logic, but the idea of excess before abstinence appeals to many people who believe that this creates balance. However, for some, there might be more going on under the surface; the overuse of the expression well it is Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza after all” is used to assure oneself that the choices being made are temporary, manageable and acceptable. The reality may be that the indulgence is a necessity, rather than a choice, to cope with something that is being emotionally carried and it is being exacerbated by the heightened atmosphere of the holidays.

It may be that drinking or drug use has been slowly escalating over a period before the holidays and is being enabled to increase and intensify in celebrations. Facing the new year might feel daunting, especially without the crutches of indulgence and the guise of acceptability. After weeks of being encouraged to consume as much as possible, Januarys expectations are an annual shock to the system and can leave some people feeling unsure which direction to turn.

The following factors may be warning signs that your consumption over the holidays might have more attached to it than simply celebration.

  1. If you are beginning to lose count of how much you are drinking/eating/taking, and prefer to not be aware to avoid the realization of the extent you are consuming
  2. If you are not able to imagine going to a social occasion without drinking, or actively avoid events that are not serving alcohol in order to attend those that will have your substance of choice
  3. If you notice your personality changes when you are under the influence; either going from being stressed and irritable when sober to being hyper-actively joyous when intoxicated, or becoming hostile and aggressive when under the influence and becoming increasingly volatile the more you consume

If you feel that you could benefit from some support in addressing a habit that has become unmanageable and you feel ashamed to discuss this with family or friends, fearing judgement and further issues if you relapse, there are professionals out there that can help.

Professionals are able to provide a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about your experiences, to enable you to start to understand what might be beneath the unhelpful coping mechanisms in order to begin to build new, positive ones. The key message is that change is possible, it requires effort, but it is achievable.

There are a few helpful hints that can work well alongside professional help, such as:

  1. Establish a routine that includes exercise, cooking or any other practical activities that dont include alcohol, that you enjoy and that bring about positive outcomes
  2. Keep a journal so that you can monitor your feelings and progress as you begin the process of change, keeping in mind that the process of change is never a straightforward ascent, but often more of a rollercoaster
  3. Remember to avoid using alcohol or drugs when you are HALT” – hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Using will simply amplify those feelings and it will feel much easier to binge to mask these emotions[1]

It is also worth remembering that feelings of shame and embarrassment around any kind of emotional struggles only prevents recovery. Statistics show that many of us will, at some point, require professional support in some capacity. Feelings of loneliness and shame are normal, but in order to move forward it is necessary to put your health and wellbeing above what you fear people might think. Make yourself the priority this new year, you might be someone elses inspiration next year.

Sources:

  1. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/12/26/how-to-know-when-holiday-drinking-is-a-problem (accessed 6th December 2019)