'Why is it that “this time of year” can be either so wonderful, or entirely lonely and desperate?'

The movies would suggest that everything always works out. In The Santa Clause, for example, Tim Allen becomes Santa. In Home Alone, Kevin’s family returns and shows him that they really do care about him. In Love Actually, Alan Rickman’s character cheats on his wife, but if you watch Die Hard immediately after, then he finally gets his comeuppance.

My point is that these things are all written, fictional dramas with happy endings decided before a word had even been written. Our lives are not so well laid out, however. We do not have a writer setting our path for us, and we do not have producers and directors looking out for us, editing out mistakes and making the world seem perfect.

Christmas is hard for lots of people, and the situations that life offers us can make this much, much harder to deal with. With all the emotion and expectation surrounding Christmas, can you try to imagine how difficult the Holidays can be for those who struggle with a generic Tuesday? Whamageddon is not a game played by the homeless population, nor by those living in extremely chaotic hostels. The game played by these people every day is called “Get money, get drugs, get high” and it really is as simple as that.

Addiction is a powerful enemy that poses as a friend. It claims to love you and yet it drags you down into your worst place. Addiction is painful, but tricks you into thinking it actually helps to ease the pain. Addiction is hard, and that’s harder to cope with for many reasons, one of which being the emotional expectations surrounding the time to be merry. If I’m honest with myself, I’m the person to expect things from people that I’ve already learned not to expect much from. I will also change my behaviour according to my emotions. If I feel neglected, abandoned, or rubbish about myself, then my go-to reaction is to shut off from the people making me feel that way. It’s a silly reaction because that actually causes people to neglect me, abandon me, which again causes me to feel like rubbish.

So, what can we do about it?

First of all, mindfulness is a key tool in survival. The ability to get back in the moment despite the rush of thoughts and emotions is a gift like no other. Yes, your home may be at risk, or you’re not on good terms with your parents, or a relationship has broken down. Maybe giving up seems like an option, because the future seems terrible. However, you are still alive, and can still make changes now so that the future turns out much better for you.

Secondly, your diet can have a huge effect on how you feel physically and mentally. Regular doses of healthy food and drinks can help to make you feel stronger in many ways. Treat yourself from time to time, but try to maintain healthy eating and drinking (which is also extremely hard to do at #Christmas with all those lovely Quality Streets running around shouting “Eat Me!”) where possible.

Third point is exercise. I hate it, and wish it had never been invented because it is not something I am good at or enjoy. The truth is, though, that when I do exercise, I feel like I am free. Endorphins rush through my body, I can feel the muscles burning in such a good day, and my mind clears. “Do 20 press ups and then you can think). Build on Belief runs the Badminton Club twice weekly, and I truly valued the fun that surrounded the activities. It wasn’t just being active, it was enjoying myself, too. All the benefits without the stress of a membership, or moody-faced staff members at the gym. You can work out at home, or in the park, such as the Park Fit days with Turning Point. 

Please don’t panic or disconnect from this if you don’t think any of these options are helpful, or don’t believe they will make a difference. It’s more than okay to be full of doubt and anxiety. Who wouldn’t be right now, Christmas or no Christmas.

If you do end up using or drinking this season, then please don’t be harsh on yourself. Okay, it is not ideal, but that shame will make it much harder for you to get back on track again. Minimise what you use or consume, and keep yourself safe. If there is an emergency, please reach out to your support networks (even if that is a GP or a visit to A&E) or call a Crisis Line. MIND, CRISIS, and The Samaritans are also available for helpful talks, and – believe me when I say this – they can help to support someone even if their life is in total despair and disarray.

We will make it through the dark, we will. When the sun goes down at night, we know it will return in the morning, even if we are left in cold darkness for a short while. It is a time of year when we may not feel very Christmassy or joyful, and that’s only heightened by the feeling we are supposed to feel that way. Christmas songs can actually be delightful, but they can also be very triggering and / or upsetting.

Ding Dong Merrily on High.

Not the best line to focus on if you’re struggling with any sort of substance use problems, is it?

First of all, there is the “merrily” part. We can’t force ourselves to not feel like rubbish, can we? We also can find it harder to do that when a whole Season suggests that you should be happy, and if you are not, then – from experience – you’re bound to blame yourself.

“Why can’t I be happy?”

“I obviously don’t deserve to be happy.”

“All this forced joy is making me sick.”

When you become your own worst enemy, how can you be trusted to look after yourself? Even in your despair, you may offer kindness and compassion to others, but you may still struggle to do that with yourself. These feelings are only going to be exacerbated when you feel isolated and alone; eg: the only unhappy person at Christmas Time. 

So, I wish you well. Seasons Greetings, and all the best for the holidays. The way we feel is temporary, and it will pass. We have made it this far, and we can keep going. I believe in us, all of us. Every single one of us.

Trying together is better than giving up and being apart; true open connections are what make us better as humans.

As opposed to worrying about how you may cope, tell yourself what you will do to try and enjoy your day every day, not just at Christmas.

By Danny Walsh

Build on Belief’s Peer-Led Harm Reduction Worker

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

0800 58 58 58