Holidays Mental Health Recovery

Gratitude for the Thanksgivukkah Holiday

Calendar Confusion (5774 / 2013) ...item 5.. T...

Thanksgivukkah? Yes, that’s right, there’s a rare convergence of two holidays happening this week because of a rare occurrence in the lunarsolar Hebrew calendar, whose dates reflect the moon phase and solar times of the year. I am definitely intrigued by the meshing of Thanksgiving and Chanukah and have been creatively thinking of culinary ways in which to blend the two. Pumpkin-pie cream-filled donuts and latkes are definitely entering this once-in-a-lifetime menu of obscurity.


Thanksgiving and Chanukah are holidays that encourage togetherness, and for both of these celebrations, gratitude is the main dish served. Additionally, these holidays invite the possibility of family gatherings. For some, this is exciting and long awaited; for others, it’s tantamount to walking into Mordor. Honoring either of those situations, and the feelings and sensations that arise is going to be key in navigating the holiday.


If you are freshly in recovery from mental health issues or substance abuse, and your trauma is in your face, being gentle with yourself is going to be imperative. Honor what you need, how you feel, and create some healthy boundaries for yourself. If going to a particular family member’s house is too triggering, see if you can go to a friend’s house or maybe invite friends over and make your own wild adventure of a meal.


If you are the parents of a child in treatment and this is your first holiday together, try to come into it with an open heart and mind. It won’t be easy for any of you, but there is a clear opportunity to create healthy, healing familial change. Both holidays are tied together with the idea of unity, togetherness, and community. Taking baby steps to develop new traditions can be eye opening and fun.


We are all grateful for something. Start making gratitude lists and checking them twice. Gratitude lists can be simple, complex, silly, or serious. Gratitude is gratitude and Thanksgivukkah is a perfect opportunity to get grateful.  Chanukah celebrates the miracle of light and the miraculous fact that a day’s worth of oil lasted for 8 days. Thanksgiving celebrates a bountiful harvest. Both of these conjoined make for a celebration of epic gratitude. Yes, epic. Mixing traditions and discovering their similarities is pretty darn cool.


So, whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving this week or Thanksgivukkah, use it as a time for reflection on community and gratitude. You never know what nuggets of wisdom or moments of awakening and change will arise.

Adolescence Holidays Prevention Recovery Safety

How To Have a Safe, Sober and Fun Halloween

Happy Halloween (Photo credit: Professor Bop)

Did you know that more people drink and drive on Halloween than many other holidays?
“Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that Halloween is among one of the most deadly holidays for drunk driving. For the holiday period — from October 30 through 5:59 a.m. on November 1, 2011 — 74 people died nationwide in a crash involving a drunk driver, a 21 percent increase over the average number of drunk driving deaths per day.” via MADD

We understand that Halloween can be a trigger for some people, particularly those who are newly in recovery, so it’s important to create some guidelines and parameters with which to navigate the holiday. If you were once an enthusiastic celebrant of Halloween, doing it sober may cause you panic and despair. Don’t worry, below are some safe, and fun suggestions. Remember, if this holiday is too triggering for you, you can make it a non-event: go to a meeting, hang out with friends, and keep it simple. If it creates stress, it’s not worth it.

  • Plan something with people who are committed to being sober
  • Surround yourself with people who can hold you accountable.
  • Be honest with yourself and with those around you: talk about your triggers if you have them!
  • Don’t go to a party where you know there will be drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Create a relapse prevention plan using tools you’ve learned at Visions to create a good exit strategy if you should need one.

There are an abundance of sober activities you can do on Halloween, especially as part of the young people’s fellowship. You can:

  • Be of service to your family: take your little brother or sister out to trick or treat.
  • Have a scary movie night
  • Have a monster themed dance party
  • You can go on the Haunted Hay Ride with sober friends
  • Some fellowships may have a Halloween themed dance or event.
  • Host a sober Halloween party with spooky treats and an eerie Halloween music mix
  • Make a creepy, crawly scavenger hunt

This list can go on. I trust that you can come up with a fun sober activity! The most important thing is that you enjoy yourself, stay accountable in your recovery, and endlessly tickle that funny bone.    Embrace this new side of yourself. Being present and aware is a wonderful thing to behold!

Adolescence Feelings Holidays Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Healing the Heart: Father’s Day

Healing. (Photo credit: WolfS♡ul)

Father’s Day came and went, but I was struck by the aftermath of the day, nonetheless, when my son sat in the midst of his anger and disappointment after his own father didn’t show up for him. When my son said, “Not only did my dad not show up, he only spent 2 minutes with me on the phone,” I felt his deflation. I felt the letdown and longing for a father that would never be. And I had a visceral memory of what that was like. However, as a parent, my role isn’t to project my past onto my son’s present. Rather, my role is to hold space for him to feel and experience that which ails him, allowing his emotions to safely ride though his body. As a parent, I have to do my work on my own. Not via my son.


Father’s day, like Mother’s day, can elicit a varied set of emotions for our kids and for us as parents. They can range from untended loss, or expectations, abandonment, and deep grief rising internally around parents that were never available for us, be it physically or emotionally. When I first became acutely aware of this in my own life, I did what many of us do: I spiritually bypassed the situation and filled my time with practices of avoidance. At that time, my outsides appeared to be ok, but my inner voice remained devastated. The scary part is finding our voice amidst that loss. Sometimes it wobbles. Sometimes it screams. But it’s there, waiting to come out.


My son found his voice yesterday; he used it well. He leaned into his resources and shared his frustrations and sense of loss. He really discovered how available his step-dad is for him, finding grounding in the emotional presence and support that has been made available to him over the last 5 years. I had the honor of baring witness to such splendor.


Sometimes, we find ourselves grappling with the reality of having what we need but still wanting something we cannot have: my son wanting his father to be a dad but having a step-father who gives him everything he needs. On Father’s Day, we ventured to the beach, and when Joseph dried him off and kissed his head, my son giggled and said, “My dad would never do that.” It is in these moments where we hold space for that grief I was speaking of; here is where we can allow this young man the time to process the weight of his loss while reveling in the joy of the experience itself.


Parenting is a process and being a kid is a process. Somewhere, we meet in the middle, knees and hearts bruised along the way. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: our hearts have a tremendous capacity to heal. The heart, I know, is a muscle of great resilience. It can even open to the tumult of holidays, learning to forgive and/or navigate the foibles of clumsy parents and the awkwardness of adolescence.

Anniversary Blogs Holidays Mental Health Recovery

Happy New Year!

New Year – Chinatown
© 2012

‘Tis New Year’s Eve and I have to say, 2012 has been amazing. We celebrated 10 years of service, continued our diligent efforts of care and expanded upon our mental health track, got a facelift at our Brentwood facility, and expanded our programs. We are blessed to have a team of people who are imbibed with the love and passion it takes to work in the field of recovery. Visions is a family, pure and simple, and whose primary purpose is to be of service to one another.

Over the past year, we have celebrated many of our team in our Anniversary blogs. However, we are far from done! The anniversary blogs will continue into 2013, so we can honor those whose altruism and sheer kindness form the foundational brick and mortar of the Visions team.

For those of you new to the path of recovery: stay connected. Your sober network provides a wonderful net on which to rest when things get tough or scary. The work of sobriety and mental health is a long process, but one that is well worth the effort. If I could say one thing to you at the end of this year it is this: when things get tough, or frightening, and the shadows of your trauma is looming, turn toward it. Sounds counter intuitive, but when we look directly at that which frightens us, we take its power. Shadows have the capacity to thin and dissipate, and in doing so, they eventually lose their opacity and their power.

It is with great excitement and joy that I wish you all a wonderful, safe, sober, and sane New Year. May the winds of change bring you love and happiness, and most of all healing to whatever path you’re on. Let yourself be loved. You are worth it.

Addiction Adolescence Alcoholism Holidays Mental Health Recovery

End of the Year: Mental Health Care

It’s the end of the year, and for recovering addicts, alcoholics, and those suffering from mental health issues, it can be a frightening time. We place on onslaught of expectations on others and ourselves as we seek perfection and immediate change via resolutions and hyped up promised to ourselves. In many ways, this can be a set up for failure, especially for the addict/alcoholic who has to do everythingallatonce. You know, who else wants to join a gym and work out every day for 3 hours with a trainer 7 days a week while also giving up meat and going vegan? What, that’s not reasonable? Sheesh. Can’t we do everything? The honest answer is no, at least not all at once.

Okay, so the New Year metaphorically represents a time of renewal and an opportunity to commit to personal change.  Recovery teaches us not to place too much pressure on ourselves as we begin to make change. We are encouraged to take baby steps. In the beginning of the recovery process, the foundation we stand upon is tenuous; working steps, getting a sponsor, being of service is part of our construction process. We are building a foundation one action at a time. Mental health recovery requires us to work hard and consistently to broaden the safe, healing ground on which we stand.  Resting on our laurels is simply not an option. Holiday time and end of year shenanigans make recovery work imperative; there is no reprieve.

Before you get overwhelmed with resolutions, how to deal with parties, peer pressures, and goals of perceived perfection: stop. Just stop.  This isn’t an opportunity to beat yourself up or wallow in the what-ifs and I-should-haves, nor is it the opportunity to kick your feet up and rest.  This is the time to take things one minute at a time.

  • Call your sponsor.
  • Take your medication—even if you feel better!!
  • Surround yourself with friends who are supportive of your new path.
  • Make plans that include having safe, sober fun.
  • And don’t forget to have a sober dance party.

This time of year presents the perfect time to be of service and to practice self-care. Our mental health depends on it. Embrace your new self. You are beautiful and enough, just as you are.

Adolescence Holidays Recovery

Sober Fun for Adolescents in Recovery

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s this? The 4th of July lands on a Wednesday? This might mean less opportunity for teen substance abuse or experimentation, or it might mean a murky Thursday morning. I’m hoping for the former. This got me thinking. At our outpatient treatment facility, one of the groups we hold for our adolescents in recovery includes “sober fun” as a way to get our teens to embrace the idea of having fun in recovery. We all know one of the scariest things about getting sober as an adolescent is the fear of being alienated socially by friends.  Most of the time, the activities that used to be exciting and fun are unsafe in sobriety—drinking and using can’t be used as a social buffer anymore. Recovery is a lifestyle change: both inside and outside of the body.

Why not make the 4th of July chock full of sober fun? It’s a great way to get pre-teens and teens out of their adolescent comfort zone and into a setting of silliness. The options are truly limitless. Sometimes sober fun happens organically, with impromptu dance parties, or  bouts of charades. Not to mention, there are always the organized activities that are far more fun sober than loaded, like bowling, mini golf, or paint ball. The idea is to get comfortable in our skin so we can let loose without chemical aid. Life is fun. It is full of wonderful surprises, why not experience them in a way you can remember later?

Over the years, I’ve had far more fun sober than I ever had using. Being in recovery empowers us to be present. We become engaged with our lives and in our friendships, which ultimately means we can enjoy our experiences tenfold. One of the best gifts of being a young adult in recovery is this: learning to live in the solution before we get stuck undoing decades of bad habits.

Have a wonderful, safe, and colorful Fourth of July. More than anything, have limitless fun and laugh like you mean it.

Adolescence Holidays Parenting

Long Summer Days

Summer field in Belgium (Hamois). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summertime seems to be that time of year when the common perception amongst many kids is: ultimate freedom. This perception sticks for some time, too, at least until adulthood or a regular job sets in. Think about it: There isn’t a school schedule to adhere to, there’s no homework to do, and no deadlines to meet. In many ways, summer can be the impetus for social free-for-alls: late nights, experimentation with alcohol and/or drugs. What can we do to preemptively halt the madness in its tracks?

We can start with providing some semblance of order in our kids’ lives. While school may provide the safety of confined activities and schedules that allow us to feel secure in knowing where our kids are, breaks from school can present a challenge for many of us. There’s no better time than the present to ensure that there is structure within the “freedom” of summer. Yes, that sounds like a bit of a contradiction, but we all must learn to create structure and boundaries amidst the chaos of life.

For college-bound kids, summer may have a different feel to it. It may be the last time they’ll see some of their friends for a while, especially if they’re off to different colleges. And in some ways, it may be a farewell to the freedom of childhood. College implies adulthood, and that last summer can be a humdinger.

We can start with some of these ideas:

  • Have regular family dinners. Sitting down together several days a week is a wonderful way to get grounded in family.
  • Check in with your kids. Do you know whom they’re spending time with? What they’re doing? Where they’re doing it? You should!
  • Get to know your child’s friends … and their parents.
  • Get involved. You can stay involved in your kids’ lives without being the quintessential helicopter parent.
  • Support their recovery. For example, if they’re going to college, help them find meetings in the area or support groups they can attend. Maintaining those ties are important.
  • Learn not to take things personally. While being involved is a good thing, we have to also learn when it’s okay to let go.  Remember, adolescence is prime time for individuation and sometimes that means giving the parents the cold shoulder.

Ultimately, summer reminds me of time slowing down. It’s a respite from the chilly, short days of winter. Living so close to the beach, it’s prime time for witnessing sunsets and frolicking in the sea. Even if we’re working or just busy, we are truly blessed with these longer days and warmer light. Spending time with our loved ones is one more blessing we can’t pass by.

Holidays Mental Health Self-Care

Holidays and Self-Care

Agni Yoga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is having learned the many ways in which we can care for ourselves. We typically come to recovery via hard emotional and/or physical bottoms. In other words, we have often lost our asses in the process of trying to stay afloat. So, when we get to a place where we are being taken care of, we soon discover we are also learning to take care of ourselves.

When holidays are bestowed upon us, there is a great opportunity to invoke a sense of self-care. In the past, holidays often meant alcohol-filled parties or BBQs filled with some sense of debauchery or another.  With the air of recovery about you, better choices are possible. This isn’t to say that gain perfect judgment—we don’t. We are human, after all. But the chances of us doing something good for ourselves are much higher than they used to be.

Overwhelmed by this? Try one or some of these things to give yourself pause:

  • Take 10 deep breaths.
    • Try one of my favorite calming techniques: Breathe in for the count of 5, breathe out for the count of 6. Do this 10 times! If you can, increase the #s, always making the outbreath longer. It naturally calms the mind and resets the nervous system.
  • Get outside! (We tend to deprive ourselves of good ol’ Vitamin N-ature!)
  • Yoga;
  • Take a nap;
  • Read a book;
  • Go to a meeting;
  • Be of service. It will change your life.

Share with us: What do you do to take care of yourself in recovery?

Addiction Alcohol Alcoholism Holidays Mental Health Recovery

New Beginnings

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Passover, and you know what that means? It’s that time of year where it’s customary to drink four glasses of wine through dinner as part of the Passover story! It means giant family gatherings, with the myriad of wacky personalities. It also may mean some anxiety for the newcomer (or even someone with time, you never know!) For some, it’s this Passover week, for others, it might be the upcoming Easter Sunday. Either way, self-care is key. Ask for help if you need it, and have an exit plan–better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it!

This particular holiday reminds me of my early introduction to alcohol. My family didn’t drink that often; holidays were the exception. Still, I have distinct memories of sitting at the family Passover table, with my thimble full of Manischewitz wine, thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I remember the warmth in my belly, and the slight fuzz in my head (I would get sneaky and steal sips from other folk’s glasses). I remember thinking I was a part of the adult world, and a real part of my family. It was a childhood delusion, of course, but the memory stuck.

Wine has deep roots in some religions, for example, in Christianity it represents the blood of Christ, and in Judaism, the fruit of the vine. It’s an accepted, expected, ritualistic piece of the religious meal. But as we get sober and learn to participate in the rituals of our varying cultures, we must learn to make adjustments. No one wants to see you drunkenly opening the door for Elijah! We drink grape juice instead of wine, and we learn to adapt the rituals and meals to our sober, clean lives.

Passover is about freedom from slavery and tyranny; and like Easter, it’s reflective of Spring and new beginnings. What apropos likeness to our recovery! Here, we are offered an opportunity to begin to view our sobriety as freedom from the tyranny of drugs and alcohol. Our recovery is our new beginning and our new life. Remember what Chuck C. said: “You cannot think your way into a new way of acting, but you can act your way into a new way of thinking.” Have a safe, sober, and joyous holiday week.


Holidays, Part Deux

For many, the holidays bring copious joy and a sense of celebration: there are a bevy of lights illuminating the city streets, Santa’s everywhere you look, school’s out for two weeks, family gatherings are plentiful, and everyone is ready for a “break,” right?  Well, that’s not always the case for the alcoholic/addict. When I was new in sobriety, the holidays were dreadful, and I had little to no coping skills in terms of dealing with the inevitable difficulties that can arise around family. I would spend every waking moment in marathon meetings, eager to recreate a sense of connection. I’m forever grateful for that experience.

As I gained more years under my belt and my proverbial tool box filled up with a variety of solutions applicable to most situations, my coping skills became broader. I became able to engage with my family in small doses, despite the fact that the sense of discomfort hasn’t ever really gone away. The thing is, just because we’ve continued to work on our behavior and our sense of disillusionment, doesn’t mean the rest of our families have as well. A lot of the time, they’re going to be the same as they always were. So, what does that mean for us addicts and alcoholics?

For starters, it’s an opportunity to put all of the hard work we do into action, but on a grander scale. Perhaps we can begin to treat a difficult person as the suffering being that they are and offer them compassion. What do you think would happen if you approached them with an open heart instead of anger and resentment?  If that’s too hard, because the trauma is too fresh or too deep, then treat yourself with compassion and take a break. Call your sponsor, or a safe friend and check in; step outside and take 10 (yes, really) deep breaths–the kind that fills your lungs all the way to the top! And if all else fails, get yourself to a meeting. It’s one of the best aspects of recovery during the holidays: the meetings, just like the holiday cheer, are a-plenty!

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