It is paradoxical, but the Christmas season, a time that should be filled with compassion, empathy and joy, is a time when many people are sad and depressed. This phenomena is so widespread that it has been named the Christmas (holiday) blues.
Ask any practicing psychotherapist and they will tell you that they see a disproportionate number of emotionally disturbed and/or depressed clients during the Christmas holidays than at any other time of the year. Since drinking and holiday cheer are so acceptable, alcoholics and other drug or food addicts tend to act out extensively during this season. I'll return to this last point in a moment.
No one knows when Jesus Christ was actually born. Traditions point to December the twenty-fifth, a time which corresponds to the onset of winter. No one knows why the celebration of Jesus' birth was early on enmeshed with pagan festivals of light, dealing with the onset of winter.
Winter is the season when days grow shorter and there is less sunshine. Winter is the season when darkness has it's dominant rule.
Sunlight is essential for both our physical and emotional health. In winter cold, dark dreary days are commonplace. The pagan festivals of light were intended to confront the darkness. In Christianity this combat was taken over by decorated Christmas trees and landscaped lawns with lighted trees. The lights and festive brightness symbolizes that Christ the Savior is the light of the world and has triumphed over the darkness of sin. Why then the Christmas Blues and depression?
The darkness itself and loss of sunlight is one reason given to explain larger numbers of depressed people during the winter months.
Another reason for the blues comes from the loss of our "magical childhoods". We gradually have to give up the magical belief that a wonderful caring old man with a sled full of toys will fuel the energy of eight tiny reindeer to fly over rooftops, and bring us toys.
The loss of "magical beliefs" is sad and we will also have to deal with the loss of other magical beliefs (like the fact that we will die and go to a wonderful place called Heaven). No one really knows anything about death or dying. As the years go by we experience suffering and the loss of loved ones; grandparents, parents, siblings and dear friends. We especially remember lost loved ones because Christmas is a time of love and joy. As grown-ups we cannot explain why nature natures (why hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods) happen. Being an adult means leaving the magic of childhood.
If you grew up in a family where your parents were emotionally immature and childish, they could act out their suppressed rage, resentments and other unresolved wounds on each other or on other members of your extended family. I counseled people who dreaded seeing their in-laws and relatives at Christmas.
I mentioned earlier that alcoholics and other types of drug addicts act out during the Christmas holidays more than at other times of the year. If you are a child of an alcoholic (like myself) your memories of Christmas can be very painful. I can only think of one really happy Christmas during my childhood. We were also very poor, but I would have traded my toys any day for family peace, love and the absence of anxiety, shame and tension.
Like many children of alcoholics, I became a drinking alcoholic myself. I began binge drinking and having alcoholic "black outs" (periods of anmesia) at age sixteen. I can remember being drunk a large part of every Christmas season til I reached my bottom on Dec. 11, 1965. I spent eight days in the locked ward of Austin State hospital. I got out a few days before Christmas and enjoyed the most intimate time I had ever had with my family.
Sobering up during the holidays was great for me and my family. Many people thing of the Christmas holidays as the worst time to reach out for help; to do an intervention; or to go into treatment. In fact it is one of the best times. We can give our loved ones no greater Christmas gift than a sober recovering self. And for treatment centers that have family week, nothing can replace a family connecting (often) for the first time in an intimate embrace of support and love. Some of my most powerful memories are the "family week" at my former hospital in Ingleside California or at The Meadows where I am now. I encourage those of you who are using and/or depressed during the Christmas holidays to focus on the major source of your blues. The poet says "if winter comes, can spring be far behind?" You can recapture some of your magical childhood by letting your inner childlike self create new traditions and new family rituals. It's certainly okay to grieve for your deceased family members, just put some boundaries on your grieving. Life is so fragile and subject to fate and unexpected tragedy, don't let this time for celebration and love pass you by!