Yesterday was Thanksgiving and for most people dealing with childhood issues, it is fraught with a mixed bag of conflicted feelings: past hurts competing for attention, unfulfilled desires for closeness and our life reality contrasted with the widespread societal fantasies about family holiday traditions. Luckily, I am old enough to not be constrained by familial obligations as both my parents have passed, and they were the main people for whom I dutifully followed difficult roles. I miss them dearly, but I must say, that I am relieved to be able to reinvent my Thanksgiving ritual to suit myself.
It’s been several years since I abandoned the mandatory trek to a family members home amid tensions and stuffed resentments. I had already started the process while my mother was still alive; it is just that now, I feel no guilt. I planned to spend the holiday alone and prepared a day for myself. Being alone is not my first choice but I am still in sore need of a chosen circle of family (not necessarily biological). However, I suspect that will change in the future as my former isolating ways are now being replaced with attempts at connections.
In my recovery, I get to listen to many folks that are still ensnared in obligatory familial happenings that are trigger land mines for their PTSD. And while I empathize with their situation, I am immensely grateful to myself for having gotten off that bandwagon. I am facing the holiday more soberly and seeing the facade where once I punished myself with self reprisals. I no longer blame myself for feeling uncomfortable and beat down by family expectations; and I try to not put myself in those same situations anymore. Sounds basic, but it took decades of self awareness to implement and I still struggle with putting my recovery first in all other areas of my family life.
Now a days, I get a little sad with the holidays but I am relieved to know I am seeing my personal history with more clarity and that it is a continuing process. This is a huge accomplishment considering we live in a society that compulsively props up fantasy versions of history. Whether it is an NFL team posting an insultingly saccharine Thanksgiving tweet or your ‘uncle Joe’offering you yuletide wishes in between fondles under the dinner table, we are brainwashed into complicity with the false ‘happy history’ created by media and people around us. I urge you to evaluate what your reality is and what you want to celebrate and how. Don’t retraumatize yourself by going along with inappropriate behavior in the name of a fantasy.
Yesterday, I grounded myself with meditation, exercise and visualizations to bolster my inner sense of safety. I prioritized comfort for my younger parts and was able to to look past former difficult holiday moments to the sincerely loving intentions of my parents over countless holidays. And that, I held onto. I had agreed to meet an estranged family member who had reached out to me for Thanksgiving company and it turned out OK. I chose the venue and activities and it felt great to set the plans rather than conforming to plans that I did not want to do. We did not discuss any volatile issue and both kept it light and easy and that was just fine with me. Recovery means new starts. The evening ended early and, overall, it was relaxed. This was a huge difference from past Thanksgivings. Today I am going to indulge my inner kids with Christmas decorating in my home. I am grateful for this no-drama approach to the holidays; and the best part is that it brought forth fond memories that otherwise would not have been enjoyed as i would have been focussed on “just getting through” it with a mask on. Celebrating is a great time to find out what you really like and to listen to your younger parts in regard to how they want to celebrate. May you hear them and enjoy them!