Monday, December 16, 2013

Holidays Home Alone

For many of us, the holidays represent a time of warmth, family closeness, and delicious foods. Whether it’s the cueing of Christmas music, the arrival of rarely-seen relatives, or the scent of homey favorites baking in the oven, it often engenders joy and excitement for those with healthy family relationships.

Others, though, face a different holiday experience. For those of us with dysfunctional families, close members who have passed on, or perhaps severed connections, the holidays bring reminders of our loss, pain, and scars, and often create havoc in our thoughts and emotions. As someone who has struggled with holidays home alone, I know it can seem overwhelming and frustrating, if not downright unfair.

But there is a way to have your holidays and enjoy them, despite the absence of family ties and holiday blues.

Let go of unrealistic hope. Dr. Martha Beck points out that often it comes down to letting go of our hopes for what our family experience could be, and accept what it is. This may be easier said than done, but there is something to slowing down and considering what your expectations are. Are you being unrealistic? Can you adjust them so you can enjoy what your family members have to offer? Sometimes we ask more of people than they are capable of giving, whether because of their own hurtful past or the limits of their personality. Being able to understand and accept them is the first step to receiving that for ourselves.

Have a conversation. There are times when we've wrapped ourselves up in our irritation, and we forget that we haven't actually talked to the person (or people) who have our ire up and our hearts torn. Filmmaker Betsy Chasse suggests using “I” statements over “you” statements, and keeping the conversation as gentle as possible. Be receptive to their viewpoints and concerns, and if possible, see if you can come to a compromise or understanding. If you are able to build a tenuous new bridge, that’s fantastic! If you do not make any progress, take heart: at least you made the effort. From this point on, you may have to make some tough decisions, but you'll be doing so with a fuller understanding of the situation, and the knowledge that you've done everything you could.

Embrace what can be. Create your own traditions. While there is something lovely about the Hallmark-channel holiday movies, they aren't reality. Many of us have difficult family situations that will never yield a pleasant meal. There’s no requirement to hang out with your relatives. So give up on the Hollywood ending, and create your own tradition. For me, this meant discovering my main love of the holidays (sparkling lights, classic holiday music, hustle and bustle) and using that to create my new focus around the holidays. My best friend and I do our “Christmas Light Car Hike,” I venture into Manhattan on Christmas Eve to revel in the celebration, and I spend the holiday with friends more often than family, and it’s wonderful.

As difficult as it may be, our joy during the holiday season is subject to our ability to embrace it. Whether you are newly struggling with family dysfunction, or an old hand at handling holidays on your own, know that you aren't alone. There are local groups where you might join and find support, as well as online assistance. You might volunteer or join in with another friend’s family. No matter what you choose to do, you have the power to make the holidays your own – sometimes it’s hard to make the first step. But once you do, you'll be amazed at the wonder and cheer available to you around this special time of year.

What alternate holiday traditions have you created in your own family? How have they changed or shifted as years have passed? I look forward to reading your responses!

Contributing Writer

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