If you allow yourself some time to consider your holiday story you’ll discover it’s not a simple one.
It’s probably got a lot of beautiful memories, of tastes and smells, and hugs and closeness. And, it can also have some challenging memories and thoughts about the season you don’t want to think about. Shoving them down, or swatting them away doesn’t work. You also may have difficult people in your life you like to avoid but you’re faced with having to see them during the holidays.
First let’s look at the story we tell, which can determine your expectations and experience.
Here’s my story and after you read it I invite you to share yours. Write it down in your journal and be really honest with yourself, and then maybe you can get together with friends you trust, or share in the RTT community. I’m sure many people will identify with your feelings. You will find you’re not alone.
My childhood memories of the holidays were wonderful. I can smell my mom’s cooking right now. I felt so connected to her through food. Love was food and food was love. We always had gifts, no matter how small, and we always went to church and sang and ran around the halls with the other kids. There was community and a sense of wonder. Family was safe and predictable, until it wasn’t. My teens were a blur, as I was angry and unhappy and began to have memories of being molested, and rather than talk about it, I acted out. We weren’t allowed to talk about any of “that” anyway- only the good stuff, nothing messy, and never anything about the family. Yet,the holidays were a kind of oasis while we pretended to keep it together and only good things were allowed. Then my early 20’s were wild and uncertain as I spiraled in shame and drug addiction so the holidays were about parties and being alone and desperate in a crowd. I kept trying to make new families with my friends who were all really messed up. The holidays were another excuse to get drunk and high. I wanted to feel good again but I couldn’t get the old feelings back.
At 27, clean and sober for the first 4 years the holidays were miraculous. I was a miracle, although not everyone could handle it. Then I had 2 back to back years where my family was disintegrating, yet I was doing well, and I was powerless and felt so defeated as I watched the terrible tragedy unfold as both my parents got sick in November and died after the New Year, first my dad from multiple strokes then my mom from brain cancer, a year apart. My mom was young, close to my age now, she was pretty much penniless and would have been literally homeless within the year had she lived. My dad had lost everything a few years before so he died a broken man. He was 20 years older than my mom. They were amazing humans and what happened to them was so unfair but life isn’t guaranteed to be fair. It’s what we make of it that determines its meaning.
So for years after their deaths as soon as the holidays started to announce themselves with all the ads and hoopla I turned into instant Scrooge. The holidays hurt, and I hated them now because everyone looked perfect and happy and I felt so cheated but then each year it got a bit better and I got out of my pity party and volunteered at soup kitchens and threw myself into helping others worse off and the lights came back on. But honestly the expectation of loss and pain lived in my body, as neuroscientists say that memory is stored in your body and especially painful ones, and they can get triggered by all kinds of things that remind you of what hurt you. Half the time you aren’t even the one showing up each day, it’s a much younger you living inside you feeling those feelings frozen in time.
So after a few years I got to work to deconstruct my holiday blues and replace them with gratitude and joy and I got creative. I began to trust that I could say no, love myself when I didn’t feel safe, learn to leave, release my guilt for having to betray my family legacy of silence, recognize when difficult people around me were reminders of what I couldn’t control, develop a strong self esteem and apply these to real actionable steps that would make it possible for me to be joyful just because.
It worked. I hope some of my tactics and learnings can help you reconstruct yours as well.
So, 10 years ago I started hosting an online class to help myself and other people manage the holidays together. I actually thought no one but a few friends would come but the first time I offered it over 300 people signed up, all word of mouth! Doing this together with others ultimately provided me a way to create a survival guide for the holidays that really works.
And, when you’ve got like minded community, you don’t have to do it alone.
So here’s what I know.
- Life loves you even if it doesn’t feel like it.(yet)
- You can change your life but you can’t make anyone else change.
- Self care doesn’t need to be expensive, special, fancy or anything.
(How about starting with laughter?)
- Gratitude is the abracadabra of life.
- Love is the answer to everything.
Ready? Your Turn!
Let’s Do This.
Holiday Memories Exercise
Estimated Exercise Time: Give yourself an hour.
Make 2 columns on a page in your journal, notebook, or piece of paper. On one column start with all the good memories you have had since you were little about the holidays. Write them down, describe your feelings about them as best you can.
On the second column write out the memories you know bother you. Things you feel burdened with. Then, do you dread seeing “that” person? Focus on how they made/ make you feel. The story isn’t as important as the feelings.
Which feelings do you want to feel more of? What would you have to do to feel more of those? Would you have to let go of something to have those feelings?
Can you love yourself for having the difficult feelings instead of seeing yourself as flawed or angry, or scared, or that something is wrong? Can you be ok with what was and now is? Could you be willing to take some small steps to shift how you react to things?