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Set Realistic Expectations for the Holidays

Last week I posted the first in a series about surviving the holidays. We are almost on the eve of Thanksgiving in the U.S., so let's talk about keeping our expectations for the holidays on a realistic level.

We are all victims of every media-driven image of Happy Holidays - from cherished old movies, holiday music CDs that every artist seems to release, holiday-themed magazine articles to our own family and friend's ideas of the perfect gathering.

Although it may sound like the "glass is half empty" mentality, I try to keep my expectations for the holidays quite low. I hope to see people I care about, have some extra time with my spouse, pick out some fun gifts and enjoy seasonal foods. Beyond that, I don't expect much. If some special things happen, I'm pleasantly surprised.

The following is a handout I usually give to patients this time of year. Years ago, I started passing them out to newly-recovering patients in drug and alcohol treatment. As the holidays are key times for relapse, it serves as a reminder about "acceptance." Acceptance of our family relationships and ourselves as less than perfect beings. The author is anonymous.


Holiday time is here: so is the challenge to treat one another with grace and to remember the importance of the connections between us.

It isn't easy, so here are a few rules:

  • Take very good care of yourself so you aren't stressed out or crabby.

  • Don't expect or attempt perfection; settle for anything short of a disaster.

  • Don't ask if the pies are homemade.

  • Don't correct or criticize anyone.

  • Choose to be happy, not right.

  • Don't care who gets the credit for whatever.

  • Avoid competition and comparison; don't keep score.

  • Give up playing martyr or victim.

  • When in doubt, keep quiet.

  • Remember, very few things are important.

Then thank everyone for staying alive so you can love or hate them for another year. Your family may not be perfect, but they're yours!


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