‘Tis the season when some of us will face family, tradition, obligatory appearances, and even the grief that surrounds choosing not to engage in these holiday stresses. Whether you are slapping on a smile and visiting family, creating a new tradition while navigating grief, or simply being paralyzed as to what path to take this year, just know you are not alone.
For those avoiding the potentially toxic family scene, there can exist relief and grief at the same time. Knowing what is best for your heart and mental health does not always mean you aren’t wishing things could be different. And for so many people this week, there have been deep losses and immense trauma that the past few years have carved into our lives which feel churned up during this time. For these folks, cultivating belonging during grief can feel cumbersome.
My hope for you, spinning in the grief of what was, what could have been, or of what is that doesn’t feel like enough or what you deserve…I hope you can rest. My hope is that whatever tradition you decide on, let it be one that looks and feels like nostalgia, holds you like a new friend with open possibilities, and warms and soothes you like deep healing. If you are staying home and making a taco bar (my chosen holiday tradition this year), seeing a movie at the theater, creating new memories by sharing stories with people, or even just taking a hot spa-like bath…please know that your grief is valid and proof of your ability to love. These holidays can mean more than one thing at the same time, and that dynamic possibility is yours to play with. It is through play, rest, wondering, and resilience that we find new meaning-making and an even more embodied sense of self.
For those taking the path leading back to a home, a family, or a history that feels heavy, tense, and ripe with potential conflict, I hope that you breathe. The secret to holidays is to know where you are in your own comfort, and then inform your choices based on what you can sustain, not tolerate. Making game plans about how long to visit Grandma, or what the escape word is are vital. There exists a possibility that we can interact with these spaces that feel so ready to explode without ensuring they do. That begins with a great understanding of yourself and your wellness. It’s vital to know how much stress you can tolerate, and what changes within you once you are saturated. It’s important to determine whether what you will hear and feel that harm you are worth the need you have to be in community with those doing the harm. Some of us have circumstances that don’t afford us to walk away from complicated situations and interactions simply because they hurt. I acknowledge that complexity while I wish for you a protected heart.
Here is the running list of tricks I use for the holidays as a person who has chosen many ways to engage with family, tradition, stress, and grief:
- Acknowledge what you are inside of – we choke down a lot to save face some days and it ends up backfiring hours before or weeks after
- Be able to acknowledge when you have hit your threshold– this is well before a conflict if we are honest with ourselves
- Know what you need holistically – family or new traditions aside- do you need quiet? Are you experiencing skin hunger? Do you need to grieve? Can you access playfulness? How does a walk in the woods or a hot bath sound? Somatic needs being met can unlock a less activated body
- Create an insulated you – your worth is not dictated by whether a family member can accept you. Your belonging isn’t changed by a holiday without a lot of folks around. There is no moral, value, or worth assignment to the choices that you make for your own self in regard to your boundaries. You are valid, loved, held, witnessed, and worth it just because you are here
- Fighting the people doesn’t change the game – racism, violence, trans people, religious weaponry, all the hot topics you may literally personify while being argued with. Disturbing your peace to take on Uncle Jim won’t change his values; it will only change your peace. There is a curious cycle I have even found myself in when the holidays and my own stress and hurt have made me laser-focused on the bait set at the table. Don’t take the bait, and don’t be the bait. If you are positioned around people with violent values this holiday season, simply accept that is a choice being made every day of that person’s life and then decide if that is a tolerable situation to enter. While I used to focus on the person, I have now realized my efforts always should have been focused on the source and institution- and that doesn’t ever happen at a bigot’s 8-seater table. Be more intentional with where you place your emotional effort. And get fed where you can.
- Breathe – relax your jaw and shoulders. Uncurl your toes and spine. Stretch out your arms and legs. Roll your neck and touch your own face. Stay here. There is beauty in confronting what needs to change and choosing our own wellness. Make that the focus of the holiday season and may it show you a new version of yourself and what is possible to cultivate.
You belong. You are loved. You are held. You are home.