Ask Paul at the RSIC: Avoiding unhealthy choices during the holidays |

Ask Paul at the RSIC: Avoiding unhealthy choices during the holidays

By Paul Snyder | Special to First Nation's Focus
You don’t have to drink alcohol to enjoy yourself with friends and family this holiday season.
Photo: Getty Images

RENO, Nev. —

Client: “I hate the holidays, they’re so stressful. I know I’m going to relapse.”

Me: “Why?”

Client: “Why what?”

Me: “Why do you hate the holidays? Why are they so stressful and why do you have to relapse?”

Client: “Everything is so complicated. There are so many expectations. I always spend all my money and everybody is drinking and getting drunk.”

Me: “That sounds horrible. Were the holidays always like this for you?”

Client: “No.”

Me: “Let’s talk about Christmas. Can you please share a good Christmas memory with me?”

Client: “What do you mean?”

Me: “I want you to remember as many details about your good Christmas experience — your age, who was there, what you smelled, saw, heard — please create a picture for me of your experience.”

Client: “OK, many years ago. I was young, maybe 9 years old. Family would come to my house and stay. There were always a lot of people around. My Aunties would get up early and cook. They would drink coffee as the sun came up. I remember sitting on my Auntie’s lap as she combed my hair and talked to my mom and other Aunties. They were laughing and having fun. Everybody was safe, and happy.

We had a wood-burning stove that kept us warm and everybody would gather around and sing songs and tell stories. We had a real tree that Christmas, and mom decorated the house with all kinds of holiday stuff. The smell of the tree with the glow of the lights and all the Christmas decorations made me so happy. There was plenty of food, and dad put marshmallows in my hot chocolate.

That Christmas, my dad said we were going to help out our neighbor. This neighbor was an elderly lady who didn’t have a lot. Her husband had passed that year. Our whole family went out and we chopped up a bunch of wood for her wood-burning stove so she could stay warm all winter. We gifted the wood to her and invited her over to our house for dinner. She ended up staying with us all through Christmas and into the next day. I remember talking to her for hours and we became friends. She told me how her life was when she was my age and shared traditional ways of making baskets, moccasins, drums, cradleboards out of willows, and beading.

She shared how to clean, cook and prepare traditional food like rabbit, duck, antelope and deer and how to preserve their pelts — also, how to roast pine nuts to gift in little bags. She really taught me how to look at the world in a traditional spiritual way. I go to her house every week to bead and talk. I always check to see if she has enough wood and food. I consider her family now.

Me: “Wow that sounds wonderful. Everything you mentioned sounds simple, not complicated. You didn’t mention drinking alcohol or using drugs. You didn’t mention spending a lot of money or buying really extravagant gifts. Actually, what I heard was a little money and lots of family, fun and love. Is it possible to recreate that kind of holiday experience, especially for your children?”

Client: “How?”

Me: “You already have all of the answers. You did it with your neighbor. You became outward focused (invested in others feelings) with your most favorite Christmas vs. inward focused (invested in your personal interests), which is leading you to distress. All you have to do is look for opportunities to share that same type of giving behavior again. Also, heightened expectations and expensive gifts to impress others or for personal praise can lead to disappointment when the perceived level of praise is not received. If you follow your own advice and focus on giving and simplicity, you seem to be happier.

Also, the best way to limit fights, drama, really bad decisions, relapses and hangovers is to avoid alcohol. When adults drink, it may feel good in the beginning, but many times emotions and actions get out of hand when people drink too much.

The book, “The Red Road to Wellbriety,” on page 10 says, “Our communities have suffered from alcohol, domestic violence, dysfunctional families, and now, drug use. It’s a cycle that goes through our families. It’s called a ‘cycle of hurt’ because our violence and drinking problems are passed down through our families and communities. Generation after generation, through grandpa and grandma, father and mother, on to our own children, and to their children, the hurtful patterns repeat themselves. For some of us, we thought this way of life was normal. Now we need to get our people to a place where we can do our part in breaking this harmful repeating pattern. We have our part to do. The Higher Power working through us does the rest. ”



This year, choose to change your focus to your healthy priorities and avoiding unhealthy choices. Your healthy priorities sound like being with your family, having good-natured fun, safety and your children. Break the “cycle of hurt” if it is in your family by being health-focused. Remember, alcohol is inward focused, is not healthy for children and causes a lot of problems.

I’ve never heard anyone say, “I wish I drank more alcohol during that party.” If you’ve never had an alcohol- or drug-free Christmas or holiday, you can start with this one. Then compare the sober holiday to another time when you were using and see which one was more in line with your beliefs and values.

Also, many people like Christmas trees. Decorate the tree with your family. You can redecorate and add things to your tree through the season. Tree decorating doesn’t just have to be a one-time event. You can decorate that tree as many times as you want. Have fun with it!

Most of all, have the children and young people put down their cellphones and get away from the computers to enjoy the family’s company. I heard a smart lady say that we were living in a really sad time because of social isolation.

I thought about this and started analyzing people’s interactions. Her statement came true to me when I saw a family of 5 in the gym the other day. The father was lifting weights, the mother was doing a cardiovascular machine (watching TV) and their 3 kids were sitting down in front of a big screen TV — all on their individual phones or iPads — completely self-absorbed in their little screens.

There was a vacant indoor basketball court and volleyball court with balls available. Be the family that plays together. Any kind of game can be fun memory making opportunity for your family!

Lastly, start your own healthy family traditions. Try cooking together with your family to share with your neighbors, coworkers and friends. Also, say 10 things you are grateful for before you eat dinner. Give thanks for all of your blessings and care for and protect your most valuable assets — your family.

“Ask Paul” is a health column by Paul Snyder, MA, LADC-S, a Substance Use Counselor at the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center. It publishes each month in The Camp News, the monthly newsletter for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony community. Have a question for Paul? Email him at


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