The Meadows Blog

Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:47

Mental Health for the Holiday Season

The holiday season is a joyous time of the year to spend with family, attend get-togethers and enjoy the wonder of the season. The holiday season can, also, be a difficult time for those in recovery. The holiday season is a time for fun and excitement, yet this time of year can bring financial stresses, more work and anxiety. For some, the holiday time may bring increased anxiety or depression. This article will address how to cope during the holiday season, maintain sobriety and stay on the path of recovery.

One area that people in recovery often experience anxiety about is holiday parties and get-togethers. We might feel obligated to attend parties and get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues. Guess what? You don’t have to do it all! You can cope with this busy time of year by taking care of yourself and following a few suggestions in regards to get-togethers:

  • Set boundaries! You don’t have to go to every party or get-together. Decide which are important to you and be choosy.   Choose parties in which there will be less triggers for you.   Remember, saying “No” is a complete sentence. Put yourself first.

  • Set time limits.   It is not necessary to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Decide in advance when you will leave. If you are relaxed and comfortable and want to say longer, you can. If you need to leave, stick to the time you chose and leave at the time you promised yourself you would.

  • Have a safe place for every party.   If the person having the party knows and understands your anxiety and/or how important sobriety is to you, you can ask the host if there is a room you can use for quiet time if you need it. If that is not possible, find a place outside for quiet time or leave the party.

  • Bring someone who understands. Bring a friend or family member who is supportive of your recovery.   Choose someone who understands that you may need to leave when you say so. This person should also know your safe place. Having a “safe” person there may make you feel more at ease to enjoy yourself.

  • Relax before you go to the party.   Relax ahead of time; perhaps take a long bath followed by silly dancing to your favorite CD.   Wear your favorite clothes. Get ready by listening to soft, relaxing music , thus setting the tone for the party you will be attending.

  • Remember your coping tools. Relaxation and breathing tools can help in any situation in which we become anxious or triggered. Bring small notes to remind yourself of the steps you need to take. There is nothing wrong with needing a reminder to balance ourselves.

  • Remember why you are celebrating.   You are not going to parties because you have to go. You are going because you want to be with people you care about.   Holiday parties are about sharing friendship and happiness, not about trying to do what you think someone else wants you to do.

  • If you cannot go, then don’t! You can say “No” at any time. It is okay if you can’t go.   This is an act of self-care.

Another area that is easy to get caught up in during the holidays is the high expectations of how the holidays should be. Here are some tips to help you keep your expectations reasonable:

  • Don’t judge the value of the gift you are giving by the price tag. The best gifts come from a desire to bring joy to another person. Giving from the heart means your gift will never be too small!

  • Don’t get caught up in the thought that you have to do everything that is asked of you.   Say “No” if you really do not have the time or energy to do something. It is reasonable to delegate responsibility to others in your household. Setting time management limits can keep you from becoming stressed.

  • Share with someone less fortunate. There are several ways to do this; volunteer at a homeless shelter for a day, volunteer at an animal shelter for a day, send cards to those in the Military who are stationed overseas… (Well-wishers who would like to send Christmas and other seasonal cards to U.S. service members should address those cards as follows: Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456, Capital Heights, MD 20791.   All cards must be postmarked no later than Friday, 6 December 2013 in order to ensure sufficient time for sorting and distribution before the holidays. You can address the cards to “A U.S. Service Member.”)   If you have children, get your children involved in understanding the joy of giving to someone from the heart through service.   Service men and women love receiving mail from children!

  • Remember, your family is a real family. Thus, there will be arguments and skirmishes among siblings. Family members may act the way they have before. The behavior of others does not have to ruin your holiday.   You are not in control of other people’s actions, yet you can control your reactions.   Remember to work on forgiveness and acceptance.   You can always take a time out and allow yourself the time to come back to balance.

  • Things will go “wrong.”   Your children will get dirty and make noise. You might forget to buy batteries, thaw the turkey or take the cookies out of the oven. Planes might be delayed and friends or relatives will have other responsibilities. Dogs will jump on you and your clothes with muddy paws. Breathe and face these little setbacks with grace and a sense of humor. You will find yourself having a better holiday with things being “perfectly imperfect” than with everything having turned out “perfect,” because now you embracing your humanity and can relax a bit more.

  • If you cannot see someone special due to military commitments, finances or other reasons, find a creative way to make the holiday time special. Send cookies, a videotaped greeting or gifts to far away relatives. You can arrange another day as your “Christmas,” “Hanukkah” or your designated holiday celebration.   You don’t have to limit yourself to what it says on the calendar.

Last, yet certainly not least, let’s look at ways we can keep the holiday season both sober and joyous! Many people have enjoyed the happiest holidays of their lives sober. Here are some tips for having a joyous holiday season in sobriety:

  • Line up extra 12 Step meetings for the holiday season. You can volunteer to take newcomers to meetings, answer the phone at a clubhouse, be a speaker at a meeting, or help with the dishes.

  • Be the host to AA, NA, CODA….friends, especially newcomers. If you don’t have a place to hold a formal party, take one person to dinner and spend recovery time together.

  • Keep you support lists with you at all times.   If a drinking urge or panic comes, postpone everything until you’ve called your sponsor or someone on your list of supports.

  • Find out about special holiday parties, meetings and celebrations given by support groups in your area and go!

  • Do not attend any drinking occasion you are nervous about.  In your addiction, you were clever about making excuses to drink. Use that talent to come up with reasons not to attend events you are nervous about!   No party is as important as saving your life.

  • “Bookend” parties and events. Call your sponsor before you go and call your sponsor again after the party/event to process how things went for you.

  • Plan to leave parties early if you think there will be more drinking as the night goes on.   Plan your “leave time” and stick to it.

  • Worship in your own way; a way that brings peace and balance to your life during the busy holiday season.

  • Don’t sit around brooding. The holiday time can be a great time to slow down and take “me” time. Catch up on books, museums, walks, emails and letters.

  • Watch those holiday temptations. Remember, “one day at a time.”

  • Enjoy the true beauty of holiday joy and love.   Give from the heart!

My hope is that these tips will re-new your commitment to stay sober and in recovery during the holiday season. Keep in mind that the real reason for the season is spiritual renewal through sharing with others.

*May joy and love be what you remember most for this holiday season*


AA Newsletter – Holiday Issue 2005

Joyce Willis is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is currently a therapist at The Meadows. She earned her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Akron. After teaching for several years, Joyce earned a Master's degree in counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has been in the counseling profession since 1996 and in that time has worked extensively in the addictions field. Her specialties include treatment for addictions, bereavement, trauma, depression and anxiety. Joyce has a special interest in mindfulness and helping people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful and physiological selves with compassion and respect.

Published in Blog
Monday, 12 December 2011 19:00

Jerry Boriskin: Treating complex PTSD

The Meadows, America's premier center for the treatment of addiction and trauma, is pleased to present a 10-part video series featuring Dr. Jerry Boriskin discussing post-traumatic stress disorder and complex PTSD.

In the ninth installment of his 10-part series, Dr. Boriskin, psychologist and senior fellow at The Meadows, talks about treating the most complicated form of post-traumatic stress disorder, complex PTSD.

"Complex PTSD is not just an anxiety disorder; it's almost an otherworldly sort of experience," he says. "Everything changes, and you go into the equivalent of the 'Twilight Zone'."

Dr. Boriskin then talks about the need to demystify the disorder. Its power must be taken so the patient can be comfortable in the moment, instead of needing to flee or "disappear in plain sight."

"It's important to normalize, teach certain skills like breathing and centering, and work on the interpersonal and spiritual parts," Dr. Boriskin explains. "It sounds complicated, but it's really quite simple. It's doable by everyone with the right set of supports."


In other videos in the series, Dr. Boriskin discusses long-term treatment for complex PTSD, the relationship between addiction and complex PTSD, and evidence-based treatment methods for PTSD.

Jerry Boriskin, Ph.D, has been at the forefront of the treatment of PTSD, addiction, and co-occurring disorders for more than 30 years. He is the author of several books, including PTSD and Addiction: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Counselors and At Wit’s End: What Families Need to Know When a Loved One is Diagnosed With Addiction and Mental Illness.

Other videos in The Meadows' series include interviews with leading experts in the mental health field, including John Bradshaw and Maureen Canning. View the videos at

For more about The Meadows' innovative treatment program for PTSD and other disorders, see or call The Meadows at 800-244-4949.

Published in Blog

The Meadows Free Lecture Series How To Feel Better in Your Body;

Simple Skills based in Neuroscience presented by Stephanie Book Koehler, MA, MFT on Thursday, June 16, 2011 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at the Culver City Senior Center, 4095 Overland Avenue, Culver City, California  90232

If you sometimes find yourself at the mercy of your thoughts or feelings, sinking into depression or spiraling up into anxiety - and don't we all? Join Stephanie Book Koehler in this interactive lecture where you'll learn simple, powerful tools to bounce back from overwhelm. You will learn to ground yourself in your body and have more ease. These skills are based in neuroscience and are part of Somatic Experiencing training for dealing with the challenges of everyday life.

No registration required. For information on The Meadows or its Southern California activities, please contact Colleen Capistrano, Los Angeles/Southern California Community Relations Representative, at 800-510-5572 or

Published in Blog

Free Lecture Series - Phoenix, Arizona - May 23, 2011

Charlie Atkinson, MA, MSW, LCSW will be speaking at The Meadows Free Lecture on May 23, 2011, at 7pm at the Scottsdale Chaparral Christian Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mr. Atkinson is a well known therapist who has been in private practice in the valley for many years, specializing in the treatment of trauma and anxiety disorders. Mr. Atkinson will present the topic of Understanding and Healing Your Pool of Pain. During his presentation, Mr. Atkinson will discuss the development of trauma as well as the grief process. He will present effective methods of working through pain and grief. Through this healing process, an individual will be able to find a sense of wholeness within themselves.

Contact The Meadows Arizona Community Relations Representative, Meagan Foxx, LPC, LISAC at 602-531-5320 for more information. No registration required. We look forward to seeing you.

Published in Blog
Thursday, 21 April 2011 20:00

Healing our “Connective Tissue”

Healing our "Connective Tissue"

Yogis have long known the healing power of turning into oneself and deeply stretching one's muscles and ligaments - while also stretching one's mental focus, tuning out the static and noise of the world outside. This practice, thousands of years old, has far-reaching physical, mental, and spiritual benefits for the individual, and it fosters a sense of community and fellowship for the group.

In Yin Yoga class, practitioners hold nonmuscular poses to delve into connective tissue, healing joints, tendons, and ligaments. Recently, the instructor said in a slow, smooth voice, "There is a reason why there are only 10 of you here this morning.. We live in a society that does not value turning into ourselves, focusing on our values, or taking the actions necessary to facilitate our intentions." How true. We live in a culture that instead turns out or tunes out; we turn to iPads and smartphones to get relief from daily burdens.

Perhaps this observation resonated so deeply with me because, as a marriage and family therapist, I often see the breakdown of "connective tissue" in individuals, couples, and families. No one is shocked to hear that Americans have the highest rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and obesity in the world. Turning out and away from our burdens naturally leads us to seek relief from outside. This temporary relief may come in the form of food, alcohol, prescriptions, hours spent on Facebook or Farmville, gambling, shopping binges, or infidelity. Such activities damage our "connective tissue" to our unique values and intentions - and prohibit us from taking the actions to reach our goals. Likewise, these activities also damage the "connective tissue" of our relationships with those we hold closest.

Just as the practice of yoga can be strenuous and challenging, the practice of turning in to ourselves will likely be painful and difficult at times.

Just as yoga helps the body to melt away soreness and tension, shifting our focus to our true values and needs will help to ease the emptiness and anxiety that often cause us to look for external solutions.

Whether it's within the practice of yoga or within the context of the individual or family, the act of turning inward involves behavioral, emotional, and cognitive adjustments. An initial - and rudimentary - behavioral change is simply to turn off everything electronic. Silence the radio and cell phone on the way to work, and ask your child to turn off his iPod or DSI. The silence will help you hear your own worries, questions, intentions, and goals - and those of your child or partner. Emotionally, make an effort to be patient, positive, and open, both with yourself and others. Leave denial, defensiveness, judgment, excuses, criticism, resentments, and competition at the door. Remind yourself of what you admire about yourself or your child/partner. What are your/his/her strengths? As you gain strength, you may consider asking yourself, "What can I learn from this?" or "What is my part in this problem?"

As we begin to heal the "connective tissue" in our bodies and our relationships, we can hope for a society that is more sensitive to the needs of the individual and the community. If we look inward for solutions, we can aspire to be part of a society with less substance abuse, mental illness, divorce, violence, and crime.

Published in Blog
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