Christmas is a great time of the year. In fact, some might say (or sing) that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. You know, jingle-belling, mistle-toeing, etc. It’s great.And it obviously has – for Christians – an even deeper significance and wonderfulness, as we gratefully remember the birth of Jesus Christ.
But for many people Christmas is a very difficult time of the year. For people who have lost loved ones, it can be a painful time of the year. For people who struggle with sexual addiction, it can be the most triggering time of the year. Many men with whom I walk in recovery share that the Christmas season is the time of year when they act out the most and feel the worst. It’s easy to run to acting out during the holidays because sex feels comforting in painful or difficult situations, even if only briefly.
But what is so difficult about Christmas? Why is a time that’s meant to be so fun and joyous so triggering for many people? There are several reasons…
Christmas has a strong family focus. For some people in recovery, their addiction has caused deep wounds within their families. They are alienated or separated from their spouse and children because of the toll the addictive behavior has taken. For others, they carry their own wounds from trauma they experienced in their own families growing up. They generally avoid spending a lot of time with family members who have caused emotional harm, but this is more difficult to do in a season that’s all about families getting together. Still others long to have a family of their own, but for a variety of reasons do not have one. Christmas can be incredibly lonely, and loneliness is triggering.
Christmas is a difficult time to maintain routines. Part of the recovery process involves identifying triggers and unhealthy habits & patterns, then replacing them with healthier patterns and routines. Recovering addicts have to be relentless in following their program, avoiding certain situations & locations, going to meetings, etc. Often, Christmas schedules throw a wrench in the routine. People travel, meetings get cancelled, work and personal routines necessarily change to enable Christmas plans. All of these changes can make a person feel much more vulnerable to relapse. Without a plan the struggle to maintain sobriety is a great deal harder.
Christmas is a harder time to stay connected. Addiction involves isolation. Addicts have spent years growing accustomed to hiding from honest, intimate relationships, instead spending an inordinate amount of time alone. Recovering people learn that no one gets better in isolation. We need community and a support system. However, the holidays are, for a lot of people, two or three weeks when the normal schedule goes out the window. With that, recovering people can find themselves facing more time without the human connections they’ve grown used to. Once again, loneliness creeps in and with it, the addiction seeks an opportunity to take over.
So what do we do? Most recovering addicts know that most of the situations that trigger them are unavoidable. How then can they stay sober and work their program when things are so hard?
Realize it’s bigger than you and ask for help. The first step (in the Twelve Steps) says that we “admitted we were powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable.” Addicts need others’ help. Ultimately, Christians acknowledge they need God’s power to work in their lives. Their own efforts have failed them again and again; and rather than continue living out the definition of insanity, they can commit to seeking and accepting help from God and others.
Form, communicate, and stick with your holiday recovery plan. Failing to plan equals planning to fail. Any addicted person who knowingly enters into a triggering season without a plan has already made a decision to eventually act out. It pretty much is that simple. Knowing their own limitations and character defects, recovering people must form a plan that decreases the likelihood of being blindsided. They also need to share their plan with another person who can check in. Finally, there should not be compromise from the plan, even if sticking to the plan is inconvenient.
Schedule time to stay connected (meet or call). Because it can be harder to maintain regular meetings, a recovering addict can and should be proactive in setting aside specific times to connect with people in their support system. While it may not be possible to meet in person, a call is almost always possible, and preferable to texting. A person can text and claim to be staying connected even while isolating, but it’s harder to hide when the other person can see your face or hear your voice.
Take care of your diet, exercise, and rest needs. Addiction is at least partially fueled by chemical releases. Diet, exercise, and sleep all contribute and all are affected by the out-of-the-norm nature of the Christmas season. People tend to eat worse, which can make them feel bad. They tend to skip a run or a workout, which makes them feel worse. And they don’t get enough sleep, which completes the trifecta. Recovering people need to take care of their physical needs.
Remember your freedom. There are six words I’ve repeated to myself over and over again in the years since my recovery began in January 2009. The phrase is simple, but it’s impact on me has been profound. I’ve repeated it to many men I’ve sponsored and encouraged. The phrase is “I don’t have to do this.” For a Christian in recovery from sexual addiction, the power of God is at work. This power makes it possible to say no to the triggers and avoid behavior that previously seemed like a foregone conclusion. But recovery has taught them that they don’t have to live chained to the addiction any more. God offers freedom from addiction, in fact from all sin and everything that trips us up. For anyone who has entered into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this freedom is real, not hypothetical. It doesn’t mean saying no to relapse will be easy, or that recovering will be a breeze. But it does mean that it’s possible. And that is a change from what addicts are used to believing.
Scripture talks about this freedom and what powers it. It’s the grace of God – ultimately expressed in the sacrifice of Jesus and continually visible in the community of gracious, supportive people in recovery – that allows us to finally say “No” to sin and addiction and “Yes” to the work He wants to do in our lives.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” -Titus 2:11-14, NIV
Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.