The holidays are always a tough time for me as I’m not really close to my religious family and most people I know are away with their loved ones. What usually happens when I’m feeling lonely is I act out. It’s sort of a pattern of mine, I’ve noticed. My Grindr usage gets out of control and I end up drinking and partying a lot. Two years ago I actually ended up missing work for a few days afterwards just to recover. I know it’s bad and I’m afraid this holiday season might be even worse because it’s already been another lonely year with the pandemic. What should I do?
Party N’ Dismay
Dear Party N’ Dismay,
You’re not alone. The holidays can be a difficult time for many LGBTQ people, even those that have family to go home to, and many may find themselves more anxious or depressed than usual. The most important thing I can tell you (and anyone dealing with this very common problem) is: Try not to control your emotions. You don’t always have power over them. But you do have power over how you react.
What you call “acting out” is another way of saying “avoiding your feelings.” Nobody wants to feel sad, lonely, or anxious, and often our way of dealing with those feelings is to escape. Drugs and alcohol tend to be the most prevalent way people do this because they are so readily available. Sex and the endless search for the next sexual high is another way many check out. If we’re not careful, these behaviors can become habits that play out over and over again, resulting in long-term negative effects.
The good news is, these habits can change. Our brain have neural pathways that inform our behaviors. Right now, when you’re feeling sad and lonely, your brain emits cravings for escape through sex and partying since that’s the only relief it knows. But after you spend enough time exploring different coping strategies, new neural pathways can form, and those previous cravings or impulses can diminish.
So how does one actually change?
1. Practice active awareness. Notice your emotions. Instead of blindly reaching for Grindr, ask yourself first, “How am I feeling?” If the answer is lonely or sad, acknowledge that. With awareness, comes more space to make the best decision in terms of how to react.
2. Sit in your feelings until they pass. Once you identify that you’re not doing great, acknowledge the negative feelings and wait for them to pass. It’s OK to feel down sometimes, and you don’t have to always run from that feeling. Eventually, it will pass. If you can make it to the other side of your negative feelings, you’ll still be in one piece without a wake of destruction behind you.
3. Reach for new solutions. Although they may not be immediate, there are ways to develop new habits that can take you out of your negative feelings, rather than taking the “quick fix.” Call a friend. Have a therapy session. Watch a funny movie. Find that unique thing that best distracts you from your emotional state in a healthy way.
Often times, the best antidote for sad feelings is to be in the presence of other people, even when you initially don’t feel like it. That’s why I really recommend finding a therapist you connect with. There are also 12 step meetings or support groups for addiction and other topics. Remember, the idea is to develop new strategies that will create new neural pathways in your brain, so that you’ll feel better without being self-destructive.
There’s nothing wrong with healthy escapes from your feelings. And sometimes that might mean a drink or a hookup. But when you feel it reaches an unhealthy place, that’s when you need to take action. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury. However, you do have the ability to take care of yourself, to choose self-love, and to make it the best holiday season it can possibly be. Instead of going off the rails, use this time of year to connect with the best version of yourself. It may be uncomfortable at first, but just like your sadness, the holidays be gone before you know it!
Jake Myers the Founder of LGBTQ Therapy Space , the first LGBTQ owned and operated national platform for teletherapy. He has a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles, with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Psychotherapy, and is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in both California and Florida.
You can also email Jake at [email protected]