What’s supposed to be the happiest time of year filled with family gatherings, cheerful music, delicious treats and feelings of warmth and love, can be anything but for women in need.

“It’s still a struggle,” Joy Bright said about the holidays.

Bright graduated from Hand UP for Women in 2020 and now teaches the Finance 101 class. She mentors Hand UP for Women participants and has served on the nonprofit organization’s board of directors. She battled drug addiction for 35 years. Alcohol and drugs were her kryptonite since her teen years.

The hardest part for her about Thanksgiving and the December holidays is not having some of her children or other family support.

She remembers her first Thanksgiving post-recovery with her family.

Her dad supported her working to rebuild her life. Bright’s sister and her sister’s sons showed up that Thanksgiving. Her own daughter was there as well.

“It was bittersweet. The family was getting back together again. I was still missing my two boys who hadn’t come around. I felt sad, but happy, too.”

Turning to her family for comfort made her recovery journey easier, but she recognizes that’s not always the case. Some women who are struggling find it difficult to be around family and friends who are succeeding when they feel they are working to rebuild. Finding people who support the decision to become a better person, can help ease feelings of loneliness, stress or being a burden.

She recommends getting a good mentor and turning to them. Let them be a trustworthy support system.

“Most women who are having a difficult time, it takes time to be around a support system to open up,” Bright said about turning to Hand UP for Women participants, mentors and staff, “There were people out there who dealt with me and all my wreckage from my past. It felt good. I learned to love myself again.”

It’s also the season of overindulgence. Food and alcohol are at many holiday gatherings making it tough for women choosing sobriety to avoid the temptation.

For people who are struggling with addiction, it’s vital to have a plan in place to avoid detrimental impulses.

“I always drive my own vehicle to any gatherings so if things become uncomfortable, I can leave.”

Bring your own non-alcoholic beverages to gatherings, stay with a sober friend throughout the event, have a response ready if asked why you aren’t participating and prepare for the event in advance.

Money is tight for women in recovery as well. Giving gifts or being expected to prepare a large meal may not be feasible for women who are working to rebuild their lives.

“Many times, I wasn’t able to provide gifts,” Bright said.

Some women may not have been able to find a stable source of income and may feel embarrassed they are not working during the season of giving, while others are shopping and wrapping presents for one another. Those feelings of shame may lead to women avoiding get-togethers because they can’t bring a dish or gift.

Bright’s biggest advice to give women who are struggling during the holidays is to journal. “Put your feelings on paper,” Bright said. It’s a place that cannot judge you, talk over you, or make you feel less than who you are.

Giving back and volunteering also help her. “It just lifts me up to be able to help someone. I still have a difficult time getting in the holiday spirit. The best way for me to overcome this is to reach out and give help to others. When you can see a big smile on someone’s face that will definitely get you in the spirit.”

Bright’s chosen and maintained sobriety for a little more than six years. She understands each year the pain softens, but her past still lives in her memories.

“Those struggles don’t end when you get clean because you’ve done so much damage to your family it still goes on. Just because I’m not using, doesn’t mean I’m not having a hard time.”

“My past does not define who I am today.”

To support women who are rebuilding their lives to become self-sufficient and financially stable productive members of society, donate here.