Addiction and Christmas chaos: taming the madness this holiday season

Photo credit: Kozzi

Has anyone else noticed how early the Christmas chaos began this year?

Here in Vancouver, a number of people became so disgruntled by the early onset of Christmas music in some of the stores—in the middle of October—that they took to Facebook en masse and complained. One store in particular, Shoppers Drug Mart, appeased the naysayers by stopping that music, but only after they drew their line in the sand, assuring us that the carols would resume again at the end of October. And they did.


Even before Halloween came and went, I noticed that several of my clients were already becoming quite antsy about the upcoming holiday season—for a variety of reasons. People who struggle with addictive behaviors—anything from drugs and alcohol to eating disorders, gambling, sex addiction, or relationship addiction—wondered if they would be able to maintain their sobriety when they began to actually feel the loneliness, fear, and isolation that they had used these behaviors and substances to avoid experiencing.

Those who have problems with compulsive overspending worried that they would max out their credit cards in short order when they went online or to the mall to do their mandatory Christmas shopping, while anorexics and bulimics worried endlessly about the food they would be expected to consume during seasonal festivities.


As well, people who are loved ones of those struggling with addictions seemed to feel equally as pressured, although the source of the stress was a bit different for them. For example, they frequently found themselves overwhelmed with difficult decisions such as “Should I invite the addict in my life to our Christmas gathering?” and “What if I try to set some boundaries and my addicted loved one becomes angry with me?”

The fear of conflict and, even worse, of actual confrontation can quite often keep people stuck in dysfunctional relationships for a very long time.

And because many loved ones have a pattern of putting their own needs on the back burner and trying to make things go smoothly for everybody, they routinely find themselves mired in their own personal versions of perfectionism. The source of their stress becomes issues like “How can I make this season wonderful for everyone else?”  And, more often than not, that becomes their own addictive behavior.

Doe any of this sound familiar to you?


Whether you’re reading this as an addict longing to be clean and sober, or you’re already in recovery for your particular addiction(s), or you’re the loved one of someone addicted to a substance or behavior, here are some tips you can follow for making this season a little easier for yourself.

Tip #1 – Lower Your Standards

The Christmas holiday season has become a set-up for chaos. Think about it—jingly bells and familiar carols blaring weeks—sometimes months—before the actual day, decorations designed to entice you into ‘the spirit,’ plenty of well-marketed merchandise on hand so that you can oh-so-easily part with your money—not to mention all the ads on TV showing loving families that always seem to give each other the very best hugs and presents ever.

Is there no end to the commercialism and the rose-colored glasses we are expected to wear throughout November and December?

We are completely encouraged to believe that we can all have the perfect holiday if we only try hard enough, buy enough, and put up the very best Christmas lights of any house on the block. As I said, it’s a set-up.

In order to survive this season intact, the first thing you need to do is lower the bar and keep your expectations realistic—especially if you’re a perfectionist. Having your expectations up there in the stratosphere can only be a recipe for disappointment. Although it’s good to have a plan, it’s also important to understand and accept that your well-intentioned blueprint might end up changing. Try to relax and see if you can let life unfold as it’s going to. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to use your sense of humor—with yourself and with others—when some of your well-laid plans inevitably go awry.

Tip #2 – Be Aware of What You’re Buying Into

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