No matter what progress we may have made in taking better care of ourselves in our day to day lives, we are in danger of leaving that progress behind when we pack for our holiday trips — whether the trip is cross country or just across town. Consider the strange phenomenon of instant age regression when you step across the threshold of your parents’ home. You may be 42 when you step onto the porch, but once inside the house your psyche automatically shrinks to 12. Or think about the certainty with which you feel that you “have to” be at a certain place, or with certain people, just because it is Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukah. You may have been successfully breaking the dysfunctional “have to” rules throughout the year, but when November comes, you suddenly, mysteriously find yourself standing on the all-too-familiar square one.
Well, consider this your reminder that practicing your healthy independence is just as important during the last two months of the year as it is for the first ten months. Take a few notes with you as you navigate the sometimes turbulent and tricky waters of family gatherings. (I suggested that metaphor to a client recently, and she said that going home for the holidays for her was like sailing into the Bermuda Triangle.) You don’t have to have a Bermuda-Triangle-level of dysfunction in your family to benefit from a little refresher course. Put these reminders in your pocket, and/or write a list of your own.
• Remember that every day has only 24 hours — no matter what you call it.
• Love them (family, friends, whoever), but don’t take them personally.
• Break some family rules just for the fun of it.
• Keep a list of supportive friends’ phone numbers with you … and use them.
• Take a walk periodically by yourself, or with a relative you really like and feel comfortable with.
• When in doubt, say something bizarre. (Again, for the fun of it. For instance: proudly announce that you have 90 days clean in your Homicides Anonymous program.)
• If you really don’t want to be somewhere, don’t be. Check the birth date on your driver’s license to remind yourself you are an adult. Make decisions based on what you think and feel, not what your family might think or feel.
• Write a brief holiday mission statement for yourself — something like … “I will treat others with respect, starting with myself” or “I will enjoy myself by spending time with people I really want to be with.”
• Add to this list, and share it with others in your support system.
THE HOLIDAY GRASS is often greener on the other side of the fence. Some people grumble about “having” to spend time with family while others are hurting because they don’t have family to be with. Whatever your circumstances, remember to express gratitude for what you have, and look for opportunities to be of service to others. Have a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season.
Thom Rutledge, LCSW, is the author of Embracing Fear: How to Turn What Scares Us into Our Greatest Gift. For more information visit www.nutshellwisdom. com.