The Year-End Holidays
The end of the year brings with it a variety of big holidays representing a range of different traditions and beliefs. What many of those holidays have in common is the giving and receiving of gifts.
While it may seem that gift exchange should generate shared joy over the holiday season, the process of picking, buying, and giving gifts can generate a lot of stress—and expense. In fact, Americans who purchased Christmas gifts in 2019 spent, on average, more than $900 on those gifts.
We bring this up not to discourage gift-giving but to suggest that it might be refocused. In particular, you can focus on giving a present to yourself—especially if you are a person in recovery from a substance use disorder.
Our suggestion for a great present to give oneself? Give yourself the present of being present.
What Does It Mean to Be Present?
“Everyone agrees it’s important to live in the moment, but the problem is how. When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there,” says Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard.
Her comment is pithy. It is also worth thinking about. What does it mean to be “not there” and why is it a problem?
Well, take a moment to reflect on the kinds of things you generally have running through your mind at any given moment. How often are you thinking about the past, perhaps regretting past mistakes or wishing you had made different choices? How often are you thinking about the future, perhaps worrying about things over which you have little control? If you are like most people, you are probably spending a significant amount of time ruminating about the past and feeling anxiety about the future. When you are doing either of those things, you are not present in the moment. You are “not there,” as Langer puts it.
Instead of letting your thoughts run off to the future or the past, staying present keeps your thoughts right here in the moment, encouraging you to truly engage with what is happening right now.
That sounds pretty easy, but as we have noted, for most of us it is not easy at all. But there are some things you can do to improve your ability to stay in the current moment.
Make Up Your Mind to be Mindful
Mindfulness practice is all about staying present. Through a series of simple exercises—including focusing on the natural rhythm of your breathing, visualization activities, and more—mindfulness encourages you to recognize that you are not defined by your thoughts or your feelings. Ideally, you adopt a non-judgmental approach to simply observing what you are experiencing at any given moment. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety; it can also be effective for managing pain, addressing depression, or supporting healthy sleep.
All of these things can support your ongoing sobriety, making mindfulness a powerful tool in recovery. There are a host of mindfulness resources online, and there are likely mindfulness classes in or near your community.
It Is Not Stretch to Say Yoga Can Help You Stay Present
You might think of yoga as a more active version of mindfulness meditation. There are certainly many ways to connect the two practices. As you move your body into various yoga poses and hold them, you are encouraged to bring your thoughts fully into the moment, focusing on the current experience and the connection between mind and body.
Arguably, it would be easy enough to let the mind wander off while your body is doing yoga, but the goal is to bring the two together. As with mindfulness meditation, the hope is that by being intentional about staying in the present during a dedicated period each day, you will find yourself better able to stay present throughout the day.
Remind Yourself that the Key Moment Is Now…and Now
Both mindfulness and yoga have fairly low barriers to entry and can be safely and effectively practiced by most everyone. But even if you are not inclined to try either one, it is still possible to improve your ability to be present in your own life. The key is to gently remind yourself to return to the present any time you find your thoughts running off or your emotions ramping up. If you can bring your mind into the present moment, you will be better able to calm your worries and safeguard your sobriety.
You can practice this throughout the holiday season. Listen intently and respond with kindness during the Thanksgiving meal. Take time to enjoy the unwrapping of gifts. Spend New Year’s Eve reminding yourself that you are in a good place when it comes to your sobriety and celebrate that rather than reflecting on the past or putting the pressure of ambitious resolutions on your future. Enjoy the moment you are experiencing—and the people you are experiencing it with—whenever you can.
We think you will find that being present truly is a remarkable gift.
Give Yourself the Gift of Sobriety
The first step toward being able to live with contentment in the moment is relegating substance use to your past. At The Aviary Recovery Center, we are eager to develop a personalized, evidence-based treatment plan that will address not only your substance use disorder but any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to it. The right time to give yourself the gift of sobriety is always right now—and all of us at The Aviary Recovery Center are ready to help. We guarantee sobriety is a gift you will never want to return.