Feeling Frazzled this Holiday Season? We’ve Got the Cure!

Welp friends, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. OR it can be the most hurried, stress-filled and expectation-riddled season of all. I find that it really all depends on my perspective. My sanity and joy during the holiday season hinge on my dedication to self-care.

Just so we’re all on the same page, I’ll give you my definition of self-care. I believe that self-care includes mindsets, self-talk and actions that create space for us to remain healthy and grounded, throughout various seasons of life. In difficult, stressful or challenging times, we desperately need self-care practices in order to be refreshed and renewed, and to keep us from burnout. In seasons when we are experiencing ease, joy and peace, self-care serves to fill us up to a truly abundant state. Our needs are met and we can generously overflow to others.

The purpose of self-care is not to become self-focused and certainly not to be selfish. Rather it is to love others as we love ourselves. Did you catch that last part?

“. . . as we love ourselves.”

This means that we have to learn how to love and be kind to ourselves before we can possibly overflow with love and kindness to others in a truly unselfish, no-strings-attached kind of way.

In my experience, honoring my need for self-care chases away scarcity and the resentment that comes from continuing to give from an empty well. As I have love and grace for myself, I am filled up with love and grace for others. Scarcity, resentment and burnout are replaced with abundance, overflow and freedom.

Just let that sink in.

Imagine experiencing the entire holiday season from a place of abundance, overflow and freedom. Freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to invitations, without the guilt that people-pleasing often brings. Freedom to give from a loving, generous place, knowing that others may or may not be able to give back in the same way—or at all. Freedom to be yourself among the various groups of family members, friends and coworkers you’ll find yourself with in the coming weeks. Imagine experiencing all of this grace and freedom for yourself and then extending it extravagantly to others. To me, that sounds like the most wonderful way to be any time of the year.

Here are a few of my favorite self-care practices that I integrate into my daily routine. They keep me from getting depleted during an ordinary, no-drama week and are thus extra necessary during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Meditation and prayer


Reading a great book

Taking a walk

Hugging an animal

Eating well

Having a treat

Time with a loved one

Time with friends in recovery or other encouraging friends

During stressful or challenging times, I often add:

  • Counseling
  • Chiropractic care
  • Saying ‘no’ to optional busyness in favor of downtime
  • Additional recovery meetings
  • An extra visit or call with a friend
  • Coaching or mentoring sessions

Any support I need to process my experiences, thoughts and feelings when I am under added stress is an investment in my sanity and serenity. These resources help me to slow down and choose how I’d like to respond, rather than reacting under stress. They also help me glean lessons from my experience instead of just white-knuckling my way through them.

The point is, self-care takes lots of forms—from a cozy day of resting, recharging and hugging your pet (possibly against their squishy-faced will), to action steps such as reaching out for support or setting boundaries. All of these choices help to keep us healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

So, as the official Ambassador of Self-Care . . .

. . . I invite you to consider being kind to yourself this holiday season, and year-round. The world has only been entrusted with one of you and so I encourage you to take care of your wellbeing accordingly. Let yourself be renewed and recharged and then love others generously from a place of abundant overflow.

And now let me ask you…Which of these self-care practices resonate with you? What you would add to the list? Which practices are essential for you, even in the busiest times?

You can start today, with just one small choice or action. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated!

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment and then share the article—and the (self) love.

Who Says a “Geographic” Is Always a Bad Thing?

On the Monday after Thanksgiving 18 years ago, I ran away to Europe. Every time I used drugs and drank that autumn, I hoped that I wouldn’t wake up. There was nowhere I could really turn for help without being met with answers like, “Just go back to church,” or “Tough it out, you’re too smart for all of this.” Something that I can only describe as a shimmer of clarity woke me up on Black Friday with a clear message: Go to Europe.

The few months I’d spent backpacking through Central and Eastern Europe earlier that year were some of the happiest times in my life. Getting to connect with my Croatian relatives that summer and in the two previous years I spent traveling and studying in my ancestral homeland was like finding a part of myself I’d been desperate to meet. So over what remained of Thanksgiving weekend I made the arrangements—got my money out of savings, bought a cheap ticket, and wrote letters explaining to the people in my life that I needed to leave to be okay. I took the gamble, left that Monday, and stayed for almost three years.

I recently recounted the story to one of my oldest and dearest friends. He said in reply, “Jamie, stop saying you ran away to Europe. You moved to Europe.”

I chuckled and sighed when I heard his reframe. Indeed, everything truly wonderful that happened to me—especially finding my recovery and my life’s vocational path—was a direct result of taking that risk to move. In the English language the concept of motivation comes from the Latin word meaning “to move.” So the very concept of being motivated is rooted in movement. And we don’t give movement (and all the ways we can engage it) enough credit in the change process.

In recovery circles we can be quick to condemn the so-called geographic cure, or the notion that just changing locations is the magic bullet that will make all of your problems disappear. Of course, you take yourself with you wherever you go, and if nothing changes inside then nothing will change overall. Some people would describe what I did by moving to Europe as a geographical cure in the pejorative sense. Janet Leff—my very wise first sponsor and fellow humanitarian aid worker who I met while living in Europe—once made a powerful distinction.

She offered: “Sometimes it’s necessary to make a change—change jobs, change relationships, change cities. We have to ask ourselves though, are we running away from something or running towards something better? Like recovery, our self-dignity, an opportunity that’s better for us and our growth?”

These questions are useful for all of us in recovery as we contemplate making changes, especially if those around us try to shame us for our choices. When I reflect back on those moments in the Fall of 2000, there is no doubt that moving myself in the most radical way possible was needed in order to survive. When I arrived back to Croatia and then to Bosnia-Hercegovina where I settled, I struggled a great deal. It was certainly no geographic cure! I thought that church was the only answer at first and that working for the Catholic Church (which I did) would save me. I thought that I could still drink like a fish and hang out with men who weren’t good for me, as long as I wasn’t popping pills.

And then 12-step recovery found me in the person of Janet Leff, who first befriended me and then asked me to translate a recovery council meeting in the local community for her one day. The 12-step system of help, which was devised in my home state of Ohio, found me in the hills of Hercegovina in the years following a brutal civil war in that region. Janet was there to answer all the questions I struggled to piece together about my life in chemicals and my emotional demons. A retired clinical social worker, Janet was the first person to give me the framework of unhealed trauma as the main explanation for my mental health and addiction concerns. Because of her commitment to carry a message of recovery to others and lead by example in her life, I’ve been continuously sober since July 2002. There are not enough words to express my gratitude to her and the cosmic flow that brought me to her.

What I do today professionally is a direct result of the seeds that Janet and others planted during my work there from 2001-2003. When I moved to Europe I was starting a graduate degree in history; I took two psychology course in my undergraduate studies and hated them. So when both Janet and the priest who was my immediate supervisor suggested that I go to graduate school for clinical counseling, I laughed at them. Janet chuckled in response and said, “Trust me, you’ll be good at it.”

As I reflect back on this time in my life that set the course for the road ahead, I am grateful to be a mover in every sense of the word. Friendships that I made last to this day and continue to shape me. I learned for certain that the world is much bigger and full of wonder than the American bubble of success and failure in which I’d been raised to imprison myself, and there are parts of me to be found everywhere if I’m only brave enough to look.

To be a mover is to embrace a challenge with forward momentum, even if the temptation is to judge yourself as a coward for what may seem like running away. For you, moving halfway around the world may not be required. Although for change to happen, taking actionable steps in the direction of change is an imperative. Movement heals—a simple phrase I often teach in my Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts therapy work.

I spent this past Thanksgiving weekend of clean, sober and mostly sane on holiday in Slovenia and Croatia, two of the places that revived my spirit all those years ago. And that’s when I realized the deeper truth in this simple teaching. Movement truly heals.

Recovery Month Contest Winner #3: Music and Mom Are My Medicine

In honor of Recovery Month, we asked you to send us your stories about the impact community, nutrition or environment has had on your life since you put down substances and picked up life. Winners are not only receiving copies of our book, The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery, but are also being published here on the site.

This week we have Emily Redondo. 

Early sobriety found me in an emotional mess some days.  I had to find new ways to handle life other than drowning it in alcohol.  Aside from the hard work I put into my recovery, I still needed some sort of outlet to express myself.

Music was a medicine to connect me to feelings I didn’t yet understand.  Lyrics and rhythms helped me fight for positivity, understanding, and the courage I needed to keep fighting for a life free from the chains of addiction.

Along this journey, my mom and I started a yearly trek to Austin, TX for their annual music festival, Austin City Limits.  Sober since 1990, my mom might be 70 years old, but she’ll beat anyone I know with her music IQ.  We stay all three days, embracing every moment.  We are no different than the 150,000 other music lovers there, except we aren’t drinking or doing drugs.

Our second year we decided to make a flag.  It’s a subtle reference to those of us in recovery, a triangle and the words “we are not a glum lot”, that we still have fun and act wild.  Strangers have asked us about it, and we happily tell them.  Other sober attendees see the flag and suddenly we have instant new friends.  Some use it for a meet up spot during the day, and we just smile at each other as they drink their beers.

Last year, ACL had a booth supporting those who were there in recovery, even having meetings a couple times a day right there in the park.  How fantastic.  There in the midst of the wild crowds of music lovers was our sober community!

This love for music has carried over to other live venues and concerts.  People in recovery are out there just like normal folks, living life and rocking out, high-fiving and fist-bumping each other when we make the connection.

Life is not over when we put down the drink or the drug.  In fact, it’s just beginning.  I’m 43 years old, still dancing around at music festivals and concerts, finding sober friends in my company.  My mom and I are still surprising the younger generation by being an example that yes, grown-ups still can be fun, and that no, we don’t need to be loaded to be happy, joyous, and free!