For however lovely the holiday season and Thanksgiving can be, there are many of us for whom the impending holiday brings up a world of dread and sadness.
This dread can be triggered by sad memories, toxic relatives and historical family conflict, obligations and too many commitments, disordered eating, eating disorders, depression, and loneliness to name a few.
The reasons are too varied to address them all here, but I’m sure that for those of you reading this who dread the holidays, you don’t need a list to qualify what you know and how you feel.
That being said, I wanted to say a few words about the importance of taking care of yourself and creating your own path through what can be a challenging season, let alone, one night event.
Things To Know
You don’t have to do things the way you have always done them, because that’s how you have always done them.
You can change it up, choose differently. For some of you that might mean skipping the family dinner. For others it might mean, going to the potentially tense and volatile family dinner, but with a plan and specific boundaries to make the event safer for you to attend.
This requires sussing out what it is that is hard for you on this day and other holidays throughout the rest of the year and then very specifically outlining what you need to make them better for you.
You can do that. You can. Even if it’s just one small thing, you can make it better for yourself just by acknowledging what it is that is hard for you about them and what things you need to make them safer, easier and perhaps even enjoyable.
I’ve said this before in other chapters and other books, this isn’t the time to make massive dynamic changes to family habits or patterns. This time of year is simply about finding a way through that is as healthy for you as you can. Only you can find what that pathway through looks like and sometimes the help of a professional can do wonders in this area as well.
Think ahead, journal about and make a plan for yourself before the day arrives.
Examples Of Ways Of Creating Your Own Path + Safety
- Drive yourself so that you can leave when you need to. I did this on many holiday gatherings in order to have the freedom to leave when my father’s drinking started to show in his behavior. When I first announced that I would be driving myself that I might have to leave before everyone else, it caused some commotion. I stuck to my guns even though it was so hard and met with huge resistance and guilt tripping. But after the first year, it became less and less of an issue in the subsequent years that followed, and it left me with less negative memories of my father being drunk at the holidays.
- Ask a friend to be your holiday debriefing support. This is great for a number of situations. If you are spending the holiday alone and it brings up sadness and depression, having someone to connect with via phone for support is so helpful. A debriefing buddy is also great for talking you off the ledge in the middle of a family gathering that is getting a bit to tense and you’re wanting to keep grounded. And of course, after it’s over, nothing beats curling up with some soothing tea on a couch with your phone and just breaking the entire evening down to process the event. I recommend this be different than a professional/therapist, as friends and support lend us a sense of connection that reminds us we are not alone. This is a very different affect than someone that you pay to help you. However, see the next example:
- See a therapist. Friends can only do so much, and they are critical to our spiritual health in life. However, they are not our therapists, nor should they be. When things are so hard that you are having a hard time moving through the reactions or pain or feelings caused by the anticipation of this holiday gathering, please please please, seek out professional help. An objective and trained profession is there to help you navigate the deeper emotional and psychological waters that can be stirred heavily during this time of year. You can pay for one out of pocket which can be costly, but possible, go through your medical insurance, or call a local community mental health clinic that can refer you to someone on a sliding scale. But do it. A therapist can help you plan your way through the holiday season and they can help you debrief and work through any issues stirred up and caused by going home for the holidays or being alone during the holidays.
- Pick a different option. Some of us have more than one option on where and how to spend the holiday. I’m suggesting here that you pick the best option for you even though the gathering you’re not wanting to attend might be offended, might guilt trip you, might have a meltdown. I suggest you turn them down on the phone, not in person, to make things easier on you and a simple, “I’m going to be spending Thanksgiving somewhere else this year, but I wish you all a lovely time.” works, even though you might have to repeat that line several times. It will be hard. You might feel guilty and for some of us, turning off the ringer after that call is made, might be a reality. But you’ll have spent your evening in a safer, more celebratory and enjoyable place, and you deserve that. Everyone deserves that. You have a right to that. Yes.
- Another option? One that I made a few times is choose no event at all. There were a few years there where I opted out completely. I said I couldn’t come and because I was still learning boundaries and not very skilled or finessed about it, I simply said, “I can’t come.” which I repeated while also evading the admission that I would be home alone. I evaded, avoided and kept that detail a secret because to have admitted that would have created a guilt storm the likes of which no one has ever seen. I know a few of you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Staying home alone, eating food I loved and fed myself while creating my own meaning for Thanksgiving was the healthiest, most peaceful and less damaging option I had at the time and I gave that to myself. I have to tell you, it was lovely largely in part because I had given myself the freedom to do what I needed for me.
- Invite only those you really want to see. This one can be hard. If you are hosting, there is always expectation on peoples parts that they, of course, will be invited. And if you invite your cousin Kelly, of course, you’d invite her father, Uncle Bob, who is a heavy drinker and ends up ruining just about every event he attends. Right? No.
- When I started hosting my own Thanksgiving meals, I turned to my family of choice. These were the ones I wanted to spend time with, that I loved that had cocreated with me over the years a culture of respect and love and mutual support. I was lucky in that most of us were holiday orphans in that they were either far from family or estranged from family so there wasn’t a lot of challenge to spending the evening together. By far, it was this choice that brought back into my life all the things I loved about the holiday. We all contributed to the meal, came together for an evening of great conversation, laughter, dancing around the dinner table, (because you must always have this) and amazing food. It healed me.
- Bring back-up. If you can’t back out of the dreaded gathering and you have a plan but don’t know if you can actually follow through with it (this might be with regards to boundaries to set, or not over eating or drinking to get through the evening) bring a friend as a date. Having someone there that you trust can be a lighthouse in a storm and help you make it through a bit easier. Just their presence can buoy you in a way that nothing else can.
The point is, think about what you need to feel good, to be in a mental, emotional and physical state of celebration, gratitude and safety. With those things in mind you can start to make a plan to achieve that.
This week, before Thanksgiving, journal and process through the following:
- If you have some anxiety about the upcoming holiday, what is it about? What causes this holiday to feel tense for you? List everything that comes to mind up, no matter how small it might seem.
- What would be the ideal situation for you in order to not feel this way? What would make you feel safer, healthier, calmer about Thanksgiving dinner this year?
- What 3 things (or more) can you do to help mitigate these things in a healthy and supportive way?
Make a plan to achieve at least one of those things for yourself.