Having worked in the mental health field forever, I always breathe a silent prayer when January rolls around. The holidays are a tough time for a lot of us; although it's certainly not popular to complain. What tends to happen is everybody thinks they're the only ones not having the wonderful time all those smiling faces in the media are. So the fake smiles get deeper; as does the sense of failure and all those internal questions like: What's wrong with me?
Let's take a look at the holidays. For most of us, it means spending time with our families. We're supposed to love our families, right? No one ever talks about the alcoholics and addicts in the mix; or how they embarrass everyone year after year. No one ever talks about the childhood abuse. And it doesn't have to be blatant. Emotional abuse is present in many, many homes and takes nearly a severe a toll as other types since it makes us question our own self worth. It doesn't feel very good to be compared negatively with others; or to be ignored. Or yelled at.
While we're there, childhood abuse is shockingly common. A beta reader for a recent novel of mine commented that both male protagonists had grown up in houses where there was molest. She didn't think that likely. I beg to differ. There's nothing like being in a workshop with 2000 people (all with MDs, PhDs or Master's Degrees) and having the moderator ask everyone to answer three questions privately. One of those questions has to do with sexual abuse as a child. When the responses are tallied up, generally between forty and sixty percent of the participants admit to childhood sexual abuse. If you add in physical and emotional abuse, the total edges upwards to eighty-five percent. What that means is you can tack at least ten percent onto those totals since people tend to carry their denial into adulthood with them. It's protective; but it also keeps us from growing. Takes a lot of energy to hide secrets.
But this blog isn't about molest. It's about all the myriad unhappinesses we carry on our backs and in our hearts that tend to rear their ugly little heads when we are forced to spend time with our families of origin. Some really important things to remember are:
1. You can say no.
2. You can stand up for yourself.
3. You can get up and leave if you're uncomfortable.
4. You don't have to do things like they've been done since God was young. You can create new traditions that feel healthier.
5. You can make your expectations known ahead of time. For example. "Dad, I'll always love you, but it makes me really uncomfortable when you start drinking. So, if you do that, I'll quietly excuse myself from Christmas dinner." When you do this, you're giving the other person a choice in terms of their behavior. Yes, I know it doesn't feel very good when they choose alcohol over you. But they've probably been doing that all your life. And, it's NOT your fault. In fact, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
While there's still a spot of time before Christmas (or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate), think a bit about what you'd like over the holidays. If you think your kids get way too many presents, do something else. If your partner works through every holiday, book a vacation somewhere. It doesn't have to be fancy. You can drive to a neighboring town.
It may take some experimentation, but try to come up with things that will fill you up during the holidays, rather than draining you. Don't be afraid to tell people what you need. No one is a mind reader.
Does anyone have any holiday wisdom they'd like to share?