3 Tips to Help You Experience Joy This Holiday Season

Beverly A. Buncher, MA, PCC, BFRLC, CTPC

How you can truly enjoy the holiday season despite substance use disorder in the family

Are you sitting on pins and needles wondering which of your struggling loved ones will have a meltdown at Christmas dinner?

Do you spend so much time afraid of whether your son will make it through the holiday sober that you hardly think of anything else?

If you have a loved one struggling with a substance use or other use disorder, these questions may describe your inner world; one filled with worry, fear, and despair about what horrible things may happen this holiday season.

But how is it working for you to spend all of that time and energy being upset about things that have not, and may not happen?

Instead, this year you are invited to consider three ideas to help you calm your inner world down with the hope that when that happens, you will be able to enjoy some of that famous holiday cheer.

Tip One: Make Time to Build Your Reservoir of Inner Peace

The three main points of this tip are time, reservoir and peace. 

Let’s start with peace. Inner peace is something which if you cultivate and nurture, is yours and yours alone. It is not something you have because others have given it to you, therefore, they cannot take it away. Perhaps it is hard to imagine peace with so much chaos in your home.

That leads us to the importance of making time to be in a peaceful state of mind. This can be done through a daily meditation practice. There are many to choose from. For simplicity, let’s look at the breath. The breath, which is so central to life, can easily be hijacked and stopped in its tracks when we experience trauma.

For instance, an upsetting event happens, you breath in fast in surprise, and stop breathing altogether. Try it. Of course, the stopping doesn’t last long enough to kill us, just long enough to create a stress reaction known as flooding, where the blood rushes out of our brains and into our feet.

What is the antidote to this fight or flight reaction? A daily practice of structured breathing. One of my clients and students often use what is called 4-4-8. It goes like this: 

Breathe in deeply and softly to the count of 4. Hold it to the count of 4. Breathe out to the count of 8. Repeat this for 5 minutes, three times a day.

The result is a default habit of going to 4-4-8 in times of stress rather than going to that crash and burn stress reaction that is so common.

4-4-8 can also help when you have an “in the moment stress” event. Of course, it is much more effective when those spontaneous rescue uses are add-ons to a daily practice of 4-4-8 three times daily. That way, the body and mind is equipped to quickly relax. 

Finally, as you spend time learning new ways to peacefully and mindfully breathe, you will begin to build a reservoir of peace within yourself that will be there when you need it; and your default will turn to conscious breathing when stressful events occur.

Tip Two: Find things to do that you enjoy this holiday season and do them.

The holiday is as good a time as any to begin to find enjoyable things to do. What will it be for you? A museum visit? If preferable, find someone safe and fun to do it with. Make an inner commitment to have fun so you can keep your mind in the present and focused on the fun activity at the moment.

My favorite way to shift my perspective is what we call “Focus on the Task at Hand.” 

Here’s how it works:

  1. You are driving down the street. 
  2. As soon as you become aware of the obsessive thinking, look at your hands.
  3. See what you are doing and verbalize it to yourself as in “My hands are on the steering wheel. I am now turning the car to the right. My eyes are looking out onto the road. Now I am straightening the car as my turn is completed.” (etc., etc., etc.)

The reason behind this exercise is that the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. So, as your mind begins to focus on what you are doing with your hands and body in the moment, you’re worried thinking recedes into the background.

I was actually in the car driving on an icy road about 34 years ago. The car and road needed all of my attention, but my mind was caught in a loop of asking myself, “Should I stay? Should I go?” Suddenly, the ice got the better of me and I swerved and almost crashed. Just as I am asking you to, I looked at what my hands were doing and said, “I am now pulling the car back to driving straight down the road.” Within a few minutes, all was well, and my mind returned to the question, “Should I stay or should I go?”

So, I did it again, focusing on what I was doing in that moment. I just kept repeating the process. I remember that day on the road- during the school day and on my way home. I just kept bringing myself back to the task at hand.

Each time, I was able to stay in the moment for a longer period of time. I counted 67 times that day. The next day it was only 50. Within a week, the present moment was my default and the interfering thoughts were few and far between.

This practice alone saved me from not being present to my life and lowered my stress level.

Tip Three: Make it a practice to see your struggling loved one in a new light.

When I first started teaching family recovery courses, a participant’s daughter was in prison. She was preparing for her first visit to see her and was a nervous wreck.

“I have not seen my daughter for over a year,” the mom said. And we haven’t had a good relationship for over 9 years, since before she started using drugs. Since then, almost every conversation we have has centered around me trying to get her to stop and her telling me I’m crazy. What do I do? I have nothing to say.”

Here is what I asked her to do and what I’m asking you to do now:

Take out your journal and put your struggling child or spouse or sibling or friend’s name at the top of the page. 

Then, make a list of ALL the good, funny, happy, sweet, wonderful memories of them that you can think of. No sarcasm, please.

Spend the next 5-10-15 minutes just savoring the wonderful traits, actions, gestures and ways of being that you remember from before things got bad. Perhaps some of them are still there, but you have been ignoring them in service of “making him/her change.”

Let the change impulse go for a bit and just relax and bathe in the soothing, loving memories of this person who you love so much. Allow yourself to be in that reality, if only just for a bit and be sure to write the memories down, without any ‘yes but’s’ or ‘but that was then’ etc.

Here’s why:

How we view someone makes up much of how we experience them.

Doing just this one thing of making your list and sharing the happiness it brings can: enhance your holiday greatly, improve your relationship with your loved one, and perhaps even give your loved one the space to make a different decision of how they will live. But don’t go back to your old habits of negative talk with them. Just enjoy your loved one and the holiday in the moment.

And if you are wondering what happened to the client whose daughter was in jail, she took her list to the prison and spent one of the happiest hours of her life with her daughter. They laughed, they cried, they shared in ways they hadn’t in years.

When you drop the judgment and remember that under it all, this person is the person you love- See THAT person this holiday season. Breathe, stay present, and when you share memories, make them truly happy ones!

Be on your way to a lasting family recovery and healing

If you would like to experience more joy in your life by becoming your loved one’s best chance at recovery, we are inviting you to a one-year, comprehensive course called Be a Loving Mirror (BALM) Family Recovery Program. It is an online, on-demand learning experience that you can do on your own time. There are 6-8 online live classes, groups, and workshops available each week and a wealth of recordings and handouts. Program runs from December 17, 2019 until December 31, 2020. For more details, visit: https://balmfamilyrecovery.com/the-balm-comprehensive/ or Call (888) 998-2256.

 About the Author:

Beverly Buncher often referred to as the Foremost Family Recovery Life Coach in the Nation, is the author of the book BALM The Loving Path to Family Recovery and the Founder, Director, and CEO of the BALM Training Institute for Family Recovery Services and Coach Training. Utilizing techniques developed as a professional coach, teacher, educational administrator, and a person with 30 years of personal family recovery experience, Bev developed the Be A Loving Mirror Family Recovery Method. The BALM Program is designed to make the tools of family recovery accessible to all whose lives are affected by a loved one’s struggles with substance and other use disorders. You can reach her at bbuncher@familyrecoveryresources.com or

1-888-998-BALM. You may download her book here: https://balmfamilyrecovery.com/book/?source=3077