hole in the road

I don’t know who wrote the following words of wisdom about stages of recovery.  It’s been around as long as I can remember and this is just one version.

Stages of Recovery

Stage 1:
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Stage 2:
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Stage 3:
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I fall in…it’s a habit…but my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Stage 4:
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Stage 5:
I walk down a different street.

The truth in the ideas expressed above can be applied to many situations, including holidays. Many times holidays are emotionally difficult. Often this period is difficult in the same way for the same people year after year. Refusing to think about the coming stress or wishing the events would be different though nothing has changed are strategies that aren’t likely to be helpful.

Remember there are basically four things we can do in any situation: solve the problem, change our perception of the problem, radically accept the way it is, or stay miserable/make it worse (Linehan, 1993).

One way to solve the problem might be to spend holidays in a different way than you have in the past. Maybe plan a drive in the country or have a movie marathon. Ways to change your perception of holidays include viewing them as a time to help others, as days off from work, as a time for religious reflection, or as days to focus on gratitudes you have. Finding a way to depersonalize whatever makes holidays difficult, such as finding meaning or seeing it as a growth experience could help decrease the emotional stress. Focusing on acknowledging the viewpoint of others, even if you don’t agree, could help. Maybe you practice mindfulness, just observe, describe and don’t interpret or judge. Notice thoughts that you have that upset you and let them pass.

What you do depends on what works for you. Maybe the best choice for you is to radically accept your holiday experience as it is. Radical acceptance means fully and completely accept what is.

Using the Cope Ahead skill from Linehan’s work could also be helpful, particularly if you are choosing to change your perception. Cope ahead means planning ways to cope more effectively with what stresses you. This doesn’t mean that you’ll have a great time–it means you plan ahead to take steps to manage your discomfort in ways that don’t make the situation worse.  Maybe you schedule time with friends to look forward to or give yourself breaks from interactions during the day. Maybe you decide how you are going to cope when people ask questions that are hurtful.

What can you do differently this year so that you don’t fall into the same hole?  Consider the options that you have.  What is it that is upsetting to you on holidays?  What actions can you take to walk down a different street?

Note to Readers

If you are emotionally sensitive, please consider taking my survey about understanding loneliness. I appreciate your time and your contribution to better understanding emotional sensitivity.


Linehan, M.  Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.