The holidays are presented to us in the media as Huxtable-perfect with a Hallmark Christmas Movie filter for good measure. This narrative suggests that we should expect holidays full of happy endings and magical surprises amidst a winter wonderland of perfectly wrapped gifts, obedient children, healthy parents, loving spouses, debt-free shopping, and lifelong friends. Yet, in this post-pandemic, trauma-riddled, nearly dystopian moment, the holidays for most of us are a toxic cluster of messy family histories, old wounds, new bullies, and unexpected terrors with all the fixings to provoke emotional eating and all manner of inappropriate outbursts.
How do we move through this holiday season in peace and empowered? Here are seven tools, tips and strategies that will get you back to the house safe and sound minus tears or apologies.
- Honor your feelings, but don’t give in to them. Feelings are a powerful thing. They dictate our perspectives, opinion formation, and our actions, but they are not always correct. This is the power of therapy. It’s designed to give you the tools to process your experiences and revisit your trauma guided by a trained clinician who can offer insight, wisdom, and clarity. The set of tools you receive enables you to continue to examine your life choices, decisions, and make adjustments. To honor but not give in means that if you’re angry and cannot maintain an appropriate comportment in a social setting, then you may have to consider not attending, rather than behaving in a way that is disruptive or dangerous. For instance, as a child your dad and mom divorced. He was a great dad, but soon remarried, dashing your hopes for family reunification. You hate your stepmom into adulthood because you perceive that she destroyed your family. Yet, the truth is – to preserve your love for her, no one will ever tell you that it was your mom who cheated. Feelings are powerful, but not always correct.
- There is no need to revisit old traumas. Trauma is by definition, “a complex response caused by a distressing event that can impair daily functioning and interfere with coping, according to Dr. Taia Willis, Clinical Care Coordinator for Bay Area Community Services Crisis Stabilization Unit. In her private practice, Healing One Mind at a Time, Dr. Willis offers this insight: “Take it one second at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with activity and obligations. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.” Be sure to honor who you are becoming and do not put yourself in a position to be hurt again. If you were mishandled as a child in your grandmother’s basement and that’s where game night takes place, maybe you won’t be able to stay for game night after supper. Maybe your family time will have to be limited to dinner in the dining room until that part of your experience is healed or the venue for the family gathering changes.
- Speak the truth in love. That’s it, that’s the post. Sometimes, your calm expression of your truth will silence critics, bullies and those who feel the need to comment on your: weight, love life, friends, finances and past. As Luvvie Jones says, “my comeback game is strong.” So as Scar sang in “The Lion King” – “Be prepared!”
- Redefine the holidays in ways that are meaningful for you. That may mean that you don’t attend every family function. It may mean that you select different cuisine than is customary. Consider celebrating Kwanzaa or other specific cultural traditions. It can mean that you create new holiday memories with new people and in new places. Host an event for stranded friends. Some people travel to faraway places to escape the weather and the commercial pressure of the holidays. Others create friend-based “framily” plans that are easier to enjoy. Some choose to do nothing at all having grown weary of all the energy necessary to cook, clean, decorate and obsess. Whatever you decide, remember that this season is to be enjoyed, not endured.
- Silence is golden, depart in peace. Family gatherings unearth gossips and backbiters of the worst ilk, especially where alcohol is present. Do not feel the need to participate in any conversations that tear down others or betray anyone’s trust. Remember, even your presence is consent. In the words of that modern day sage Jay-Z, “Don’t tell me what was said about me. Tell me why they were so comfortable saying it in front of you.” Maintain your integrity this holiday season. Don’t comment and if you can’t redirect the conversation to something positive, excuse yourself from it.
- Have a plan of action for the event before you leave home and make sure everyone that’s with you knows it. Sometimes, we have a wonderful time with family and friends, and it has a time stamp. If you know that your limit is four hours with this group, before it devolves into something unhealthy – at the 3.5-hour mark – begin to fix your plate, find your coats, and leave before your allotted time is up.
- Find an ally – someone who will help you through the holidays. Whether your friend or therapist, be sure to have marshaled the moral support and guidance you need to enjoy the holiday season in a way that honors you: your perspective, accomplishments, family relations, truth and expectation for the holiday season.
Here’s to an authentic and joyous holiday season wrapped in love, respect and genuine celebration. We’re proud of you. Keep going!
Michele R. Brown is a freelance writer, lover of dogs and Jesus – not necessarily in that order. Reach her @officiallymicheleonel on Instagram and www.michelespen.com