Reinventing the Holidays
Every year I sit back in my little home office and watch as Joe, my neighbor decorates his house with Christmas lights from top to bottom. He takes great care while balancing on a ladder as he hangs icicle lights around his gutters, plugs in his glowing reindeer and lines the driveway with plastic candy canes. He and his wife, along with many people I know, consider this their favorite time of year.
I however, always being the oddball, am having a difficult time this holiday season. Dare I go as far as to say that I’m dreading it, as I have done every year for as long as I can remember. I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I should even share these thoughts, considering my blog is open to those who know me. Just thinking these things makes me feel like I’m keeping some horrible, unforgiveable secret. But then I thought well, maybe it’ll be therapeutic to just get these thoughts out. Maybe I’ll feel better, or at the very least, feel understood.
When I began therapy after my mother’s accident last year, my therapist asked me about the upcoming holidays, how I celebrated, and whether I was looking forward to them. I sat there, dumbfounded. I think I summed it all up when I said that if past years are any indication, I’ll have the tree and every trace of holiday decoration down, packed away and stored in the attic by Christmas morning.
I have no particularly fond family memories of Thanksgiving growing up, but I do have short bursts of pleasant memories at Christmastime when I was quite young, like watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman on our television, and waking up to the belief that Santa had come to see me the night before. But most of my memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially over the past 20 years or so have been filled with anxiety and stress. Our home used to be very turbulent growing up, in part, due to a mentally handicapped family member who had, and unfortunately still has a tendency to be violent. For me, holiday memories are sprinkled with a crying mother, a frustrated father, and me left feeling helpless and frightened in an out of control household.
Every year around the beginning of November I try to head into the holidays with an open mind; I keep a mental list of Things I’m Grateful For to help me focus on the positive things I have in my life. I bake pumpkin bread for family and friends; I enjoy the act of giving. But by mid November, I wish I could just leave town and not return until after December 25th; it would be nice if I could skip over that time of year altogether.
Our family situation has always been very precarious. I think that my brother enjoys being with his siblings, but he has many disorders that, even with medication, rarely allow him to remain calm and it’s very difficult to carry on a conversation with him. I’ve been unfortunate enough to have crossed his path at the wrong time and as a result ended up on the floor with my ears ringing from a blow across the head. Still, he is my brother and I love him, and I realize that he cannot control these outbursts any more than a deaf man controls what he cannot hear.
The strange thing is, I’ve worked with the handicapped for over 20 years and have a good deal of experience with violent and non-violent people alike. But when it comes to my brother, all of those years of experience fly right out the window. I am so emotionally involved that I cannot separate feeling from logic. I have no idea how to relate to my situation with him.
How do you react to upcoming events that you are not looking forward to? For me, the anxiety I feel as the event gets closer makes me want to pull out that old comfortable habit of emotional eating. It is the one thing that has always soothed my nerves. Of course this is exactly what I don’t need, and I realize this. Still, that pull is always there, and this is one of the few times per year that I truly feel like I’m one step away from losing control of what’s happening around me.
Seeing that therapist last year helped me realize why I have anxiety issues and why I feel more at ease when I have a plan in place (chances are if you have an issue or problem that you can’t figure out, look to your childhood and you’ll generally find all the answers you need). As far as answers to my adult problems, my therapist suggested that my husband and I create our own holiday traditions, even if that means planning a vacation from the holidays. If I thought I could do that without suffering any guilt from it I would, but two of my siblings will not be attending either holiday this year, even though they both live nearby; therefore I have a hard time considering the idea of leaving my mother with one less child during Thanksgiving or Christmas. I love my family – all of my family, but sometimes I just wish that things could be different but the outcome is always the same. I arrive and within an hour I am stressed, anxious and just downright sad.
I think I need to accept the fact that things aren’t always going to go smoothly, no matter how much I want them to. I need to stop mourning that loss and accept the things I can’t change. Maybe then I can let go of what I can’t have and begin concentrating on the things I can change.
My husband and I have begun discussing the thought of creating our own holiday traditions, although we really don’t know what that means, yet; just starting from scratch and throwing out the traditional. It’s pretty clear that traditional just doesn’t work in our lives, anyway. All I know is that if there is a way for me to figure out how to get through this holiday season having somewhat relative peace without gaining 10 pounds, then I’m willing to tackle this project head-on.
How do you get through the holidays? Any tricks or tips that you might be willing to share that might help those of us with the holiday blues?