Emotions Anonymous

Emotional Support for Surviving the Holiday Season

Emotions Anonymous: Emotional Support for Surviving the Holiday Season

The Holidays are coming! Visions of turkeys and twinkly lights, pumpkin pie and presents, elves and embers begin to consume our every thought. We dream of reunions with family and friends, and the hope of igniting the warm, fuzzy feelings of holidays past, and sparking new memories to last through the ages. But for many, the past holiday memories and feelings have been forcefully buried over the last ten months, only to come racing back quicker than Santa and his reindeer through the Christmas Eve sky. Feelings of resentment, jealousy, and insecurity, and memories filled with anger, loneliness, and discontent. Perhaps these are feelings felt year round, and the joy of this special time of year only amplifies the feeling that something is missing. For these people, there is a sense of hope, and support that can be found through Emotions Anonymous.

Emotions Anonymous is a 12-step support group, with a structure similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. The group was created in 1971 in Minnesota, and currently has over 1,000 groups in 35 different countries. The purpose is to help those struggling with emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, grief, low self-esteem, broken or strained relationships, non-chemical addictions, worry, and many other straining emotional feelings. The structure of the program is inclusive of weekly meetings where participants learn from three different books, share their feelings in a safe and non-threatening atmosphere, and find a sponsor (typically someone who has been through the program) to  support them in overcoming their struggles. They study one step of the 12 steps per month, and use what they learn to slowly alter their lives and the way they see and deal with situations.

I spoke with two members of Emotions Anonymous, who for the sake of this article will remain nameless. Both have been through the program, and have seen dramatic differences in their lives in terms of relationships, the way they react to situations that arise, and the overall feeling of contentment they now feel. "It's not a quick-fix program. We have to learn to live with unsolved problems. The truth is we are all powerless over other people, places and things in our life, and often life can be unmanageable. We have to learn to shift our thinking to look for solutions, so we don't carry the weight of the world on our shoulders day in and day out."

"For me, it changed everything from the ground up. I used to be all about the reactions of others. If things were pleasant in my life, I was pleasant, but if one thing went wrong, I spun out of control. My life was like a yo-yo. I had ideas of what everyone else should say and do; however, when my sense of reality and what was actually reality bumped up against each other, I would get depressed. My sponsor helped me because she had been there, and she taught me that it wasn't about everyone else, it was about me. I can't change the world or others, but I could change myself. I really got to know myself, through the help of someone else." 

The role of the sponsor with each participant is to offer support and advice through daily phone calls, weekly meetings, and constant mentorship. The meetings differ from Alcoholics Anonymous because the participants tell their story to their sponsors, but rarely in front of the group. "It's not group therapy. I was a therapist for 20 years, and I have not seen anything work as well as the 12-step program. It's all about reframing your thoughts from negative to positive. For example, if it is rainy and gray outside, you have to think to yourself, 'I bet the farmers are really loving the rain for their crops right now.' It's a constant battle and a gradual climb to change the way you think, but it will change everything. If you are having negative thoughts, they are compounded by the holidays. I have participants I sponsor from all over the country call me during the holidays. My advice would be to look deep in yourself and know where you're at going into the holiday season. Remember, it's not reality. Stay positive, and in the middle of your whine list, stop and make a list of what you're grateful for. It's a miracle how that will work."

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