Evolution Series: Taking Back the Holidays

Taking Back the Holidays

Our last Christmas as a couple was in 2020. I knew going into December that if nothing changed, this would be our last time through the holiday season together.


Nothing changed. No Christmas miracle.


Starting in 2021, I found that some traditions and memories were too sad or too hard to continue. But I like the holidays, and I didn’t want to abandon them. Here are a few things I have done, and continue to do, to help make this time of year different.


I don’t run away from feelings. I give myself lots of grace. I acknowledge them. I hold emotions and feelings in my hands, and then I let them go.


For instance: sometimes hearing the song, “Winter Wonderland,” reminds me of my first Christmas with my ex-husband. When it comes on now, sometimes I listen to it. Sometimes I skip it right away. But it’s important to me to recognize it, acknowledge the memory, and say, “OK, that’s a thing.” And then I go on.


I identify triggering or overwhelming traditions, and then make the choice to adjust them or ditch them. Sheri and Matt talked about this in Untoxicated Podcast, “Ep 218 – Holiday Triggers and the Healing Power of Time,” released just before Thanksgiving. I don’t have to do the same old traditions. Seriously, you don’t either. I give us all permission to let those go. Even if you’re in the thick of this stuff, what is a tradition that now feels not so great? Take it, and either ditch it or adjust it.


For example, my ex-husband and I always went to a live Christmas Tree farm and cut down an evergreen. It was like, “our thing.” The first year we did it, we sang, “Winter Wonderland,” and it was snowing and perfect. In 2021, our first separated Christmas, our daughter was four, and I knew I couldn’t handle cutting and transporting and putting up a tree on my own, even with the eager help of a four-year-old. Plenty of people offered to help, but it just didn’t feel right. That year, I bought this little wall tree on Etsy. It was beautiful. It was easy. It’s not that I’ll never get a full-sized tree again, but for now, it’s perfect. I think I’ll always put up this little wall tree, even when I go back to having a big tree, too. It’s kind of my Christmas reminder that I’m going to be OK – that I’ve got this on my own.


Another adjustment I’ve made to make the holidays enjoyable is that I don’t tolerate or absorb judgment or criticism about my new traditions. Seriously, if someone judges me, or criticizes me, for a new tradition (or anything actually), they can buzz off. One person said, “But your daughter needs a ‘real’ tree for Christmas!” I replied, “Cool. You can drive up here and cut one down and hump it into the house and get it in a stand on your own and decorate it on your own and then take it down in January on your own and hump it out to the curb on your own.” That person did not accept my offer.


Love my new little wall tree, or don’t come to my home.


I have learned to deconstruct things I want to do into microscopic steps I can do very gradually. This is so critical for me all times of the year as a single parent. Whether you are separated, or in the thick of living with active addiction, you are basically a single parent (if you have kids).


Here’s an example: Let’s say I absolutely still want to make Christmas cut-out sugar cookies. Let’s be real – that takes a lot of effort, mess, etc. So I break it into deconstructed steps. Find a recipe. Look for ingredients I have (including decorating stuff). Make a list of ingredients I don’t have. Buy the ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients. Mix the wet into the dry ingredients to make the dough. Roll and cut out the dough. Bake the cookies. Decorate the cookies. Eat too many cookies (haha!). By deconstructing the steps, I can, for instance, mix the dry ingredients one day, and keep them in a Ziploc bag. Then on another day, I can make the dough and freeze or refrigerate it for another day. It may take me a dozen days to make a batch of Christmas cookies, but when I’ve got 5 to 15 minutes free, I can knock out some deconstructed steps. And guess what? It gives me control over something. We all want control because of so much time spent in situations that are completely uncontrollable. Deconstructing the steps and executing them in stages is within my control. And if I don’t finish, I’m OK with that! I can always, for instance, grab the frozen dough and make Valentine’s cookies later.


Lastly, I do something for myself as often as possible. You might have noticed that I’m a list maker. I make a list of things that I can do for five minutes that I really like. Then I give myself five minutes away from the stress, responsibility and chaos, and I do one of those things. Maybe I don’t find five minutes every day, but this practice is critical this time of year with the added pressures of the holidays. Hey – make your five minute list a new holiday tradition!


Here are some things on my list: crochet, enjoy coffee, listen to music, walk outside, read a few pages in a book, write poetry, play with my kiddo, meditate/breathe, or do a few yoga moves.


Thanks for reading my strategy for taking back the holidays. Maybe some of these ideas can be useful for you, too. Please share any tips you have in the comments.


I’m wishing everyone a very peaceful season!


If you’d like to join Stephanie and other loved ones of alcoholics in taking back the holiday season, please check out our Echoes of Recovery program.

Echoes of Recovery

September 1, 2021
Gather Up the Pieces
October 20, 2021
Broken Silence
July 18, 2018
  • Reply
    December 6, 2023 at 5:43 am

    Thank you Stephanie! This hit home, as I was separated in 2021 and divorced last year. I’m over 2 years sober, but now being a single parent and sober… the holidays are not the same and never will be. And that’s o.k.

    • Reply
      December 6, 2023 at 7:25 am

      Wow way to go Mike! I see you embracing the situation, and as hard as that can be, I feel like it’s what we need to do. I saw a decal once that said “embrace the struggle” and at first I wanted to shred it. But then I realized it’s really so true. Sometimes you want to run from the struggle, or rock yourself in the fetal position while the struggle overwhelms you; and that’s OK. But in the long run, we have to embrace the struggle. Hold it by the hand and bring it with us and look it in the eye. Until we can deconstruct it and let it change us in an eventually positive way. This holiday my daughter won’t be with me on Christmas Day and it’s a bummer, but it’s OK. I’ll find some cool things to do for me this year. Sending warm wishes Mike!

  • Reply
    Anne K Scott
    December 6, 2023 at 6:37 am

    Small powerful actions Stephanie. Wishing you another reimagined Christmas!

    • Reply
      December 6, 2023 at 8:06 am

      Thank you Anne, same to you!

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