I don’t know about you, but the holiday season is not always one full of joy, laughter, and happy memories. In fact, I have had my fair share of holidays in the past that were filled with anything but those things.
I used to get pretty anxious when it came to the holidays in the past. A fair amount of fear, stress, and overwhelm would build up as I begin to anticipate my family dynamics at the time, the amount of work I had on my plate to close out the quarter and the year, and the cost of everything and how I just wasn’t financially in a position for the strain.
Holidays before my parents divorced were tumultuous, tense, and sometimes downright scary. My dad notoriously swung between the states of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and you never knew which personality would show up.
I remember I used to love when he invited single airmen on the base to join us, those who weren’t able to be with their families, as you knew he would be on his “best behavior.” It was afterwards that the shit shows would happen.
I can remember coming up with every way to entice our guest to stay longer, to delay the inevitable. I would invite them to have another piece of pie or to tell us a story. Anything.
Because once they left, something always set my dad off. And, holidays were when he was the the worst (that, and when he was drinking). It was like we tried to pretend we were this happy little family and stuffed it down so much that eventually there was an implosion point.
You never knew what shit would hit the fan.
After my parents divorced, when I was twelve, the tension in our holidays took a different turn. My mom tried her hardest to do everything she could to make the holidays nice. She would overextend herself, often times almost to the point of being beaten down. She would overcompensate, only creating greater financial strain on our already trying situation.
And, my dad still caused a host of issues. From irrational demands on time he spent with my brother and sister, to not paying child support, to still being more than scary and on the brink of implosion at any time.
We fought a lot. I mean a lot. We said ugly, horrible things to each other over the holidays. We all were hurting so much, and we definitely didn’t know how to deal with it.
So, we took it out on each other.
It’s not to say that we didn’t have good moments. The Core Four (me, my mom, my brother, and my sister) really did try. Unfortunately, sometimes we tried too hard. And, the more we tried, the more the walls came crumbling down around us.
In college, I used to find every reason possible to avoid coming home for the holidays. I would take extra shifts, and I spent Thanksgiving with friends (aka, my “adopted family”). In fact, I dreaded anytime I found myself traveling the three hours south from Milwaukee to my hometown in Illinois.
I share all this because I know the how hard the holidays can be for some people. And, right now, with our continued pandemic on top of everything that normally causes stress and overwhelm this time of year, the anxiety is running even higher.
The level of grief, stress, apprehension, and uncertainty is at an all-time high.
I share all this because the holidays can be hard. And, right now … harder than ever for some. You never know what someone may be going through. On the surface, people thought my life was fine. Only a few people knew, or had an idea, of what really was going on with my family back in those days.
And, I never asked for help. I never wanted anyone to know. I carried a boatload of shame and embarrassment my entire childhood. It wasn’t until I hit a few hard (really hard) rock bottom moments in my life, and was faced with some kick-me-in-the-ass defining moments that I even started to acknowledge the ghosts of my past.
Once I did, then the real work began.
Talk about needing to step into my own inner work. There was so much to heal. It took time for my family and I to find our way back to each other. And, I am so fortunate … we did.
Now, I am so blessed and grateful that I am spending the holidays with my mom and sister. That we have done so much work, individually and together, that we are able to really connect with each other and enjoy each others’ company. That we are looking forward to being together.
And, we are looking at visiting my brother and his family next Christmas in Philadelphia so we all can be together again. Now, that’s something my heart is super grateful for as it’s been years since that happened.
So, my request this holiday season, as someone who knows some of the challenges the holidays can bring, who has experienced the dread when it comes to celebrating, to putting on a happy face, to pretending all is “fine” is that we extend and offer as much compassion as possible to others around us.
Let us be gentle. For you do not know who may be struggling, who is stuck in an abusive situation, who may be homeless and barely getting by, who is grieving, who is scared, and who is just plain lost.
Take this time to extend your hand, open up your heart, and reach out in love to those who may need your light.
Let’s remember what the holidays are meant to be … a space of gratitude, love, compassion, kindness and grace. A time of forgiveness, understanding, empathy, and peace. A space for connection and community. A space to lean in.
Wherever you are, however you are spending the holidays, please know that I am sending you love, light, and many blessings. I am beyond grateful you are in my life and part of this community.
With love and deep reverence, Candy