The holidays symbolize time to be close to those who we hold near and dear, the sentimental stuff of greeting cards, television series, and memories to be made. In later years we may recall the time that the snow fell 8 inches on Thanksgiving Day and Aunt Margaret perfected her best version yet of caramel apple pie, while baby Charlie was just learning to crawl. The Griswold style celebrations, the kind in which we run to each other with open arms to gleefully share in discussion of all of the incredible things that we have been doing with our ultra-successful lives. Stop, cut! Perhaps you are like many of us who struggle during the holidays, maybe it’s been a tough year or a tough life and thinking of the holidays fills you with dread. Just maybe there can still be some way to encounter some of the most common impasses in a compassionate and constructive way.
Often that relationship concern, family rift, lost job, death, or defeat has a way of haunting the landscapes of that which would otherwise be a charming holiday season. This ominous considerations often lead to a preoccupation with stress during the holidays, we balefully note the slipping away of our glittering joys topped with an extra serving of sadness for not being as happy as we expect that we “should” be. For instance, since the lay off at the office, you have not been feeling quite yourself and grief keeps you from even telling your perfectionist mom about the loss. Yet with thanksgiving it will now become impossible to avoid the situation and anxiety is heightening with each approaching day. Perhaps it is time to allow the people that care about you to be a support? It is often helpful to remember that we imagine others to be in ways that may be less of a reflection of them and more a reflection of us, mom may not become angry or critical when hearing our woes, look carefully at those parts of yourself which cause anxiety at the thought of revealing humanness and vulnerability.
Maybe you have a very small family, no family, a family that lives across the country and not enough of a work break or airfare to get there. For you, the holidays end up being a time of aloneness, in fact when your coworkers ask what you are doing for the holidays you always make up a story about being with Great Aunty Mildred, the shame in admitting the truth is most easily shrouded in deception. Instead you will be sitting inside watching ancient reruns of the Brady Bunch submerged in a dialogue of your general unworthiness towards companionship. Perhaps this could be approached differently, honest discourse demands courage from ourselves but it often opens doors, maybe even doors to holiday gatherings. Remember, although you may feel that you’re the only one alone on the holiday, you’re not, there are others who are in the same position. Maybe by summoning your inner Gandhi and “being the change you want to see in the world” and host your own “Friends-giving.” This is becoming a popular way to celebrate with others, particularly if done in the evening or the day after the holiday. If neither of those options sounds like a fit then accept the challenge of donating your time for the day towards helping a charity or creating something that you can donate with the idea in mind, “how can I help someone today?”
If your concerns aren’t about bringing together people but being surrounded with people who you have been seeking to avoid then read on. For instance, entering into grandma’s house, many hugs and hellos exchanged, the scent of crisp turkey skin intermingled with sage wafting through your nostrils as you see the infamous Aunt Carol approach. Your stomach lurches as you start to feel the anxiety coming on, she is that one family member who always criticizes everything that you do. In previous years “why aren’t you married, you will end up old and alone” “when will you have children, the clock doesn’t tick forever you know!” “why haven’t you been promoted yet?” and on and on, you end up leaving feeling simply terrible about yourself and no matter what you try to say in your meek defense she just doesn’t take the hint. Many of us know the type of meddling in which the inquisitor seems to be blissfully unaware of the sensitive nature of the questions which he or she is asking. With this sort of encounter sometimes it can elicit some compassion to remember that this person is reflecting to you their own inner dialogue and her misguided ability to connect with others in a welcomed and comfortable way. There may even be a bit of pity to think that this is how Aunt Carol has probably talked to herself all of her life and maybe some of the reason that she is here all alone. While it is hurtful to hear her litany of unwelcomed suggestions she may be trying to warn you of markers that she missed in her own life as often advice has more to do with the givers perceptions than the receivers needs.
Yet still a tiny thought for the all doing and typically matriarchal figure who may have wielded cutlery and cooktop for days to prepare this thanksgiving feast, with matching napkins and table centerpiece she has created a vision that would make Martha Stewarts jaw drop. Yet the cooking and the cleaning take so much attention that she ends up missing the togetherness of the day. For this sort of host or hostess, remember that everything doesn’t need to perfect and also to keep the gathering well within your financial means. It is easy to go overboard with tons of eats and treats and obsessing about the perfectly rendered pumpkin pie but the point isn’t to create to the point of stress and exhaustion but to enjoy each other in good times together. Step away from the turkey and have a seat, even if only for a bit, allow others to help as they will surely be excited about the opportunity to contribute to this day of thanks.
No matter where you are or what you’re doing our wish for you is to encounter something or someone which allows gratitude to unfold into you on this Thanksgiving and Holiday Season. Often we become confused by our seemingly unique life circumstance and would be best served to recognize that in experiencing our life situations we aren’t really as unusual as we imagine. With the hope that you too will enjoy this holiday season, gobble-gobble!
With an extra serving of love & mounded with hope,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC & Nicole Monteleone LPC, NCC, NBCC
Reviving Minds Therapy