Emotional Health•Recovery • 4 minutes to read
Holidays: what a loaded word. Which version of it should we tackle first? Because everyone can’t possibly be on the same page all the time when we hear this word. In all likelihood, my background and experiences are going to conjure up a lot of different reactions compared to yours. We’ve all got some baggage here and a lot of it probably looks more like a beat up duffle bag than a high-end set of Samsonite.
Here are my first few thoughts when I hear the word “Holiday.” You know those thoughts that come fast, before you have a chance to try and edit them to something more civil or acceptable.
Overplayed Christmas songs for a month straight, usually with a few terrible modern interpretations. Look, the time for Little Drummer Boy has passed, so please don’t think you can come up with a clever musical arrangement to take my attention away from that ridiculous pretend word salad of “Pa rum pum pum pum.“
The movie Elf. It’s better than any Hallmark movie out there and probably better than It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s okay, we can disagree and still be friends.
Tinsel. Yep, I grew up in a family where we were allowed to carefully place strands of metal-like plastic on the Christmas tree. In our town, it was an annual grudge match between flocked trees and tinseled ones. And though Team Tinsel was severely outnumbered, I think we had the edge on style.
But there is one particular holiday that made a bigger impact on me and my family than any other. If you want my wife’s side on this one, you can find it here. The extremely condensed version: the secrets I had worked so hard to keep from her finally came to light. But out of this horrific experience came a healing journey that would help me move from just getting through the holidays to making them special and allowing me to engage in them with my family.
Since you’re a constant reader of these blogs, you are most likely expecting tips and tricks on how to survive the holidays and all the stuff that goes along with it. We focus on health and recovery, so it would make sense we would want to help you just get through the next month without blowing up your entire life. Let’s not count existing equal to living! If my legacy with my family is surviving and existing through this time of year, I’ve missed the mark.
Here are a couple of the important things I know keep me anchored in health through these times.
I finally realized I need to simply acknowledge that this time of year is different from any other time of year. There isn’t one other time of year when I want to give a present to every family member on the same day. It’s the one time of year when we break out the special plates. This is a unique break from our typical routine. If it’s going to be different, it’s better to acknowledge it and be real about it.
I now know that routine is a really important part of recovery and sustained health. We engage in healthy routines to meet our own needs and the needs others have in healthy, practical ways. It’s easy to let things slip as the season gets busy, but maintaining those healthy routines and activities is important. For years, the problem for me was that I really had no idea what my needs were. And as much as we preach about self-care and how important it is, if I don’t know my needs, I can’t possibly care for myself.
Part of the way I deal with the realities and difficulties of life is by serving others. It has always helped shift the focus away from my self-image (unworthy of love and invisible) to my desired image of being valuable to others and appearing to be kind. If I don’t remember this about myself, I’ll end up over-committing, over-serving and in the end become resentful because people didn’t respond the way I wanted. That’s not a very merry Christmas!
It is important for me to slow down and listen. It would be impossible for me to count the times I’ve asked a question, only to immediately check out mentally and start thinking about the next thing on my list while the other person is answering. It really started to sink in when my wife would reply to my question with, “We just talked about that, Dan.” I didn’t remember the answer, because I didn’t remember asking the question.
I try to make a point of putting away whatever has my attention and engaging fully. It makes a difference. When I stop, slow down, and listen, I’m present. I move from hearing to listening and this leads to engagement. When I’m engaged, I don’t make judgments and assumptions nearly as often. These judgments and assumptions are almost always the source of my conflicts.
I’ve got a lot to be grateful for and can actually look forward to the season rather than getting through it. Who knows, maybe I’ll hit the dollar store, grab some tinsel and throw on a few Christmas carols while bringing back that impeccable 70’s style Christmas tree. But don’t think I won’t hit the skip button when that certain song comes on.