All Is Calm: 3 Ways to Navigate the Holiday Season with PTSD
By Patricia Moceo
SpouseLink Guest Blogger
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” The holidays are supposed to be filled with lots of family, tidings, and good cheer. For the addict, in recovery and struggling with PTSD, this time of year can be the opposite. Painful memories, unrealistic expectations, uncomfortable family gatherings, over-commitment, financial insecurities and even grief can cause emotional turmoil. Some of us return home, prematurely, to less-than-favorable situations filled with unresolved resentments and dysfunction. Away from our recovery safe haven, many of us are left vulnerable and unequipped to face the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
I was fortunate to have a huge family and sober support at home in South Florida, but not everyone is so lucky. For me, the holidays continue to be a stark reminder of the absence of my mother and the chaos created by my unrelenting addiction. The beauty of recovery is that I no longer have to live in the past, rather I am able to reflect, take action, and grow from every ounce of pain and discomfort I encounter.
1. Practice Acceptance and Breathe
When I look back at the last two years of my life and the lives of those that journey down the road of recovery, I see how much more pleasant the outcome is when I accept people, places, and things exactly as they are. My PTSD crops up most when I’m trying to play the director. For years I thought that if the people in my life would conduct themselves the way I saw fit, things would go much smoother. Perhaps everyone else was not the problem, but I was. Learning to practice acceptance in my daily affairs has only proven to be successful when it follows suite to surrender.
At least once a day, I encounter a situation that doesn’t align with my plan of action. The holidays are no exception. The hustle and bustle of spending time with family, rushing to get gifts, and unrealistic expectations are all perfect triggers for anxiety. When I refuse to accept things as they are, chaos ensues. From the loud obnoxious family members to the disgruntled holiday shoppers/drivers, there’s an overwhelming weight and stress lifted when I accept the outcome of any and all circumstances looming over me.
2. Practice Mindfulness and Be Present
“There’s no better time than the present.” It’s so easy to get caught up in holiday festivities. We often forget to be still and enjoy the moment. When someone would give the suggestion I meditate, I imagined Buddha in the Lotus Position entering into some hypnotic trance. I think it wouldn’t be a far off guess to suggest that this is the image comes to mind for most. Coming from the idea of this “punishing God”, that was the last avenue I wanted to venture down. Taking time to quiet the noise and calm the chaos, meditation has become a huge component of my daily routine.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the painful memories of the past and obsess over the anxieties of the future. Meditation has set the tone for being present and slowing down to think before I react. Before I make any major decision, I always take time to pray and wait quietly for a response. Thus far, I’ve found myself practicing patience, being mindful of how I may affect others, and avoiding an abundance of unnecessary pain.
3. Practice Discipline and Take Action
If anyone were to ask me the definition of discipline I would tell them it was synonymous with punishment. My sponsor suggested I look up the definition and find one that didn’t sound so harsh. My favorite definition is to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way. When anxieties rush in like a tidal wave, we can stick to the structured methods we’ve created and calm the raging seas in our mind. Whether it’s stepping outside to breathe, taking a moment to find gratitude, or simply just being present we get to find tools that work best for us.
For as long as I can remember, I indulged in the most unhealthy habits, which ultimately led to my own demise. It brought me great relief to hear that with discipline I could have control over my own actions. This shifted my hopeless thinking into practical and positive application. Today, I spend my time blogging about my experiences and pursuing healthy hobbies. I have created my own schedule and boundaries to reconstruct an entirely different perspective. Discipline requires action, therefore I’m forced to gracefully walk through the things I fear the most.
After demolishing my thinking and warped self image, grace found me. I fell in love with myself for the first time. Think of the concept of a flower blooming through concrete, that was me. I now have two years sober, and I live a life I never would have imagined. I have two beautiful children and we live five minutes from the beach. My relationships, with the people that mean the most have become the foundational support from which I get to chase after my dreams and unabashedly live life to the fullest.
I spend my days spreading awareness, on the disease of addiction and the recovery I found for my PTSD, through a recovery based web marketing company, founded by other addicts just like me. I meditate every morning and I’m able to sort through my emotions, pausing before responding. New hobbies and passions have surfaced and I no longer feel unworthy of true happiness.
The holidays can bring about an unpleasant nostalgia. Instead of isolating or succumbing to the incessant pull of PTSD, I challenge you to embrace the present moment and revel in the peace of this season.
About PTSD and SUD
Multiple studies show a strong correlation between PTSD and SUD (substance abuse disorder). More than 25% of Veterans who suffer from PTSD also have SUD. This number is far higher for war Veterans. A large portion who struggle with PTSD and alcohol/drug problems tend to binge use these substances. Binge using refers to when one uses a large amount of that substance over a short period of time. Binging can easily lead to daily use/abuse which will eventually lead to full dependence. It is common for Veterans to abuse substances as a response to memories of what they experienced while enlisted. This is even more common for those who spent time in combat. Nearly 33% of Veterans seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
When trying to find the right treatment center for Veterans there are certain things to keep an eye out for. As mentioned prior, dual diagnosis therapy is essential. Certain accreditations will help identify which treatment centers offer up the highest level of care. The Joint Commission is a nonprofit agency that puts their seal of approval on less than 15% of treatment centers. Look for their gold stamp (JCAHO) on treatment websites and pamphlets. Founded in 2014, DetoxLocal.com was created as a go-to resource for those struggling with addiction and substance abuse related disorders. Their goal is to offer their users the ability to find a detox center, without having to sift through sponsored listings.
Tricia Moceo is an Outreach Specialist for Recovery Local, a local addiction/recovery based marketing company. She advocates long-term sobriety by writing for websites like detoxlocal.com, providing resources to recovering addicts and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Tricia is a mother of two, actively involved in her local recovery community, and is passionate about helping other women find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.