This time of year can be difficult. I hear the same phrases over and over. “It’s a stressful time of year.” “This is the hardest time of year for me.” “I can’t wait to be through the holidays.”
I’ve said them. All of them.
Dreading the holidays
For some the difficulty is in trying to cram too many things into a few short weeks. Shopping, decorating, partying, and more. You become physically exhausted. For others, the difficulty is in the obligation to be around toxic family members. The negative energy stealing any potential joy. Then there are those who have lost a loved one and find the holidays bring forth a wave of sadness and loss. Grief at its finest. For others, this time of year can bring an almost unbearable sense of loneliness. A reminder that you have nobody to shop for, to decorate for, party with, or even any family that you wish you didn’t have to see. But the most challenging scenario is a combination of all of the above. Putting forth tremendous amounts of work to be with toxic family members and still feeling completely alone.
I’ve danced gracefully through every one of these scenarios.
As a child, the holidays were one of the most contrasting times of year. We had beautiful decorations, tons of food, no shortage of gifts – combined with an unearthly amount of abuse. More than any other time of year. I remember being so conflicted about the holidays. I knew from movies, television, and popular songs that I was supposed to love Christmas. I wanted to love it. The house would be decorated with yards of lighted garland, big glistening glass balls, and velvet ribbons. Trees decorated with beautiful German ornaments, piles of beautiful presents beneath. It always smelled like the finest French patisserie. Cinnamon, clove, and allspice wafting through the air and tantalizing the senses. But just beyond the kitchen was a series of bedrooms. No Christmas joy found there. And outside the back door was a wooded area. Where the afternoons were spent being hunted, scared and cold. Child prey. Adult predators. How do you reconcile the beauty of the kitchen and the living room with the terror of the bedrooms and the forest?
Christmas was something I wished would just go away.
The manufacturing of Christmas
As a young adult with small children, I threw myself into the game of making sure things were perfect at Christmas. Decorating the house to resemble a winter wonderland and buying perfect Christmas attire for the whole family. I would spend hours creating the most complex delicacies that would have Chef Ramsay begging for my assistance in one of his Michelin Star restaurants. As Christmas day approached, my fatigue at maximum level, I would realize that the joy I was trying so hard to manufacture had been lost. Buried somewhere beneath a mound of glittery paper and red satin bows.
Then came the point when I left. I left “the group.” I left my birth family. I left the abuse. I left my marriage and discovered that I would have to share my kids. Every other year I found myself completely alone. This was a new kind of sadness. Being alone at this time of year had a way of cracking my heart open and leaving me with the feeling that I had no value. No more abuse, but also no purpose.
Where are you Christmas?
In the 2000 version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” little Cindy Lou Who sings a song called “Where are You Christmas?”
“Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away?”
My song went more like this: “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you never come for me?”
How many of us can resonate with these words? Longing for an emotion that we believe should be attached to the holidays. A sense of love and belonging. I know I did. Don’t get me wrong, I could find moments of joy watching my kids open presents or snuggling on the couch watching “A Christmas Story” for the 100th time. But I was never able to really let go of the hurts and unmet desires of the past. Even the joyous moments were iced with reminders of what was. Resembling a gingerbread house crumbling beneath the weight of the royal icing. Trying to be beautiful, but toppling under the decorations.
This is a scenario that most people struggle with throughout the year. We place expectations on people, events, and holidays. And when those expectations are not met, we are left feeling sad, lonely, angry, used, and unworthy. We tie our happiness to outcomes. And if things do not unfold the way we planned, our emotions jump on the roller coaster. And it’s usually a big fall.
So how do we stay off the Candy Cane Express roller coaster during the holiday season? How do we not become overwhelmed with all there is to do? How do we manage the frustrating mother-in-law or the Scrooges that are a part of our life? How do we handle being alone? What do we do with the hurts of Christmas past that show up in our minds like an intricate scrapbook of pictures and stories to remind us of our pain?
Finding Christmas (and myself)
It took a lot of work. A lot of time. And a lot of self-exploration. But I found Christmas. And it is a completely different experience now. I look forward to Christmas. I enjoy the whole season. I figured out how to get off of the Candy Cane Express.
First, I learned that my biggest problem was expectation. I dare say that expectations are the leading cause of disappointments in this world. We create the belief that things need to be a certain way. And then when it doesn’t happen, or happens differently, we are disappointed (cue the start of the Candy Cane Express).
Let go of expectations. Hopefully by this point in the blogging journey, Shanon and I have helped you begin to see that your life is unfolding exactly the way it needs to. The good, the bad, and everything in between, are creating the experiences that are necessary for your evolution and growth. Don’t judge them.
When we paint in our minds what we think the perfect Christmas should look like, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Cookies get burnt, adult children can’t make it home, someone gets sick. Stuff happens. It doesn’t have to ruin anything. It simply changes the experience. And you can always find love in the current experience.
Second, stay in the present. Be in the moment. Put the scrapbook away. Don’t forfeit today’s experiences for the painful, or even joyous, reminders of yesteryears. This was a hard one for me. I was constantly trying to make the present better than the past. But in order to do this, I needed to compare. Looking at the past constantly to assure that I was doing it differently. The problem with looking backwards is that you miss what is in front of you. Your life is giving you experiences all the time. Don’t miss them.
Third, look upon everything (this includes yourself) with love. Recognize that those around you may be short-tempered because they haven’t figured out how to do number one and two. And that they may be sifting through that old scrapbook of past pain.
And finally, recognize that even if you don’t have any of the traditional Christmas fanfare or any family – even if you feel all alone – you aren’t. You can choose to stay home alone and suffer or you can take love out into the world. Once I learned this lesson, Christmas changed for me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started sharing love. I have spent Christmas passing out care packages to homeless people, visiting nursing homes to bring love to the elderly who have no visitors, taking care packages to animal shelters. Nothing helps you feel love more than loving.
I no longer stress about decorations, gifts, or even people at Christmas. I enjoy every minute of it.
I won’t say that I don’t bring out the mental scrapbook on occasion. Because I do. But I try not to stay there long. I mostly just glance at it now and allow the gratitude of the present to well up inside of me. I never ride the Candy Cane Express anymore!
I spent the majority of my life searching for Christmas. “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you?” Like so many, I was searching for a feeling and I was looking in all the wrong places. I was looking in tall brightly lit trees, fumbling in carefully wrapped packages, searching inside of decadent treats. It wasn’t hiding inside any of those things.
I finally found it. I spot it everywhere now.
I see Christmas in the joy of my rapidly growing teenagers. I see Christmas in the curiosity and delight of my little nephew. I see Christmas in the stability of my best friend. I see Christmas in the compassion of my yoga family. I see Christmas in all of these beautiful faces that I love so dearly because they are my mirrors. I found Christmas. It is Love. And it is inside of me.
Merry Christmas Dear Ones. Onward and Upward.
Have you ever wished you could break the chains of fear and step fully into love? Shanon and Kim share their journey of healing from trauma, abuse, and programming through acceptance and love. Do you want to step out of fear? Subscribe and follow their journey.