We are about to enter the holiday season, a time during the year when sexual acting out increases. Many who once tried a lust recovery program and dropped out will re-enter after the first of the year. Many others will attend for the first time in 2017. Why is the next six weeks so difficult for so many? Here are a few reasons among many and some suggestions on what to do about it.
- Alcohol. As we know, alcohol erodes inhibitions causing humans to often say and do things they would not say and do apart from its influence. Many people will attend office parties and other functions that provide out of normal interactions, ones not engaged in over the other 10 1/2 months of the year. Over-use of alcohol can grease the wheels for barrier-breaking behavior that will lead to regret. What to do? If you are in a recovery program, attend more meetings, make more phone calls, and take greater action like doing 12 Step work during this season. This is not the time to miss a lot of meetings. Decide in advance what your alcohol intake or lack thereof will be. Be accountable by letting someone else know your limit. Consume food with any alcohol and perhaps leave early, reducing the possible time for risky behavior.
- Stress. During the holidays, many people will add parties, gatherings, shopping and other things to their lives while at the same time missing sleep and recovery time. This is a recipe for burnout. Stress is not necessarily bad but this kind of stress can expose cracks in our personality and very quickly lead us back to our coping mechanisms. What to do? Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, say no to stress-producing events or too many invitations. Set a budget for Christmas or holiday observances and stick to it. Be kind to yourself, laugh and focus on the spiritual meaning of the holiday season. All of this will reduce stress and lead away from the potential high of too much activity and stimulation, an atmosphere that often leads to acting out.
- Memories. Many of us struggle with memories of either better times or troubling times in seasons past. Others struggle because of the deaths of loved ones, divorces or other trauma during holiday seasons past. This creates unrealistic expectations to either repeat former happy times or demands for the present to heal or obliterate past pain, which can also contribute to medicating ourselves in pursuit of the next high. What to do? Realize that this season cannot change the past in any way. Today is God’s gift to you now. Focus on the present, on creating the season you need to have now. Perhaps it will mean being more quiet and reflective or setting aside a time to share past pain with those close to you, rather than stuffing it down inside with alcohol, risky behavior or extravagant spending. Live the season in very short segments without sweeping generalizations about how the whole thing will go. Let it unfold. If we are gentle with ourselves and tear up our expectations, God has ways of surprising us. Many have testified to the benefits of simple Christmases or a return to a spiritual focus for their holiday celebrations.
- Isolation. This is the enemy of recovery. When we are physically isolated or dwell “in our heads” without others knowing our thoughts, we can get into trouble. Pornography and intriguing with others may seem like an answer to the pain of isolation but they simply lead to more isolation, pain and despair. What to do? This is the time to reach out, be with others, make more phone calls and find ways to give rather than receive. Break the spell of isolation by telling someone you trust exactly what you are thinking and tempted to do. Take action against isolation. We all need to find a way to affirm others and give of ourselves, if only in small ways. The kind word, the taking of someone’s hand in prayer, or the small gift or card can work wonders. This is how we can “rest merry” during the holidays, by taking action against isolation and building bridges of fellowship with others.
The truth about the holidays is that they cannot push us into our defects without our consent. But the holidays do present a challenge. Passivity is the enemy. Taking action is our friend. When we face facts and recognize that the world comes at us differently during these six weeks and respond creatively to this truth, we can discover this time of year to be a liberating blessing, filled with joy and peace.
Jay Haug is Executive Director of Jacob’s Well (www.jacobswellhope.com.) He is the author of The Rest of God: Finding Freedom from Lust in the Internet Age, available from amazon.com