For many people this time of year is loaded with triggers and painful memories, with the desire for something lost, or something yet to be experienced. We have this Norman Rockwell image of “how things should look”. And there are people who do a decent impression from the outside, but every family has its stuff. Because every family is made up of people, and people are complex and vulnerable. Often confused and scared and motivated by their own desires, sometimes unknown even to themselves. But if you’re feeling alone already, there’s nothing like the idea that everyone else has this safe haven, this warm fold in which they’ll be embraced and understood, heard and celebrated, to make you feel like the loneliest person on earth. Few things get us in greater trouble than the picture in our head of how things should be. Things are as they are.
If you talk to people with happy families about heading home for the holidays, they’ll still roll their eyes and let you know they’ll need to sneak away to do their yoga in order to stay sane. And those are the lucky ones. There are people who don’t want to go home, because home sends them back in time, to when they were fifteen, feeling belligerent and powerless all at once. Grown adults with children of their own can revert back to bickering with their siblings like they’re reading from a tattered, ancient script. Old competition for attention or affection can rise to the surface, and even those who’ve done lots of work on themselves can be thrown off center.
There are people with nowhere to go, because going home just isn’t an option. I have a friend whose parents won’t accept the fact that he married his boyfriend. He’s not welcome home. I can’t wrap my head around that. You have a child. Your child is healthy and happy, or trying to be. It’s not easy when your own parents reject you, no matter how much work you do to be okay with it. But sometimes you simply have to make your own family. Just pick the people who know how to love you for who you are. And learn to live with the pain in your heart that the people who brought you into this world can only love you and accept you if you do what they want you to do. If you feel and think the way they want you to feel and think. If you want what they think you should want. That isn’t love. Those are people who don’t understand how to do it. And it’s an incredibly sad loss for them and for you. But it’s not a reflection on you, it’s on them. Let’s drink to that, shall we? Raise a little non-alcoholic, or regular, or vegan eggnog and toast that idea.
And don’t get me wrong. There are people who love going home. People who have healthy relationships with their parents and their siblings. Once in awhile, a couple of people come together, and they figure out how to make it work. How to see each other and hear each other, and feed the love between them so it grows. People who guard and prioritize their love because they understand what a gift it is. When that happens, you have the foundation for something amazing. When you start bringing other people into a mix like that, you’ve got the makings of a happy family. You may not have had one growing up, but you can create one if you want to. My point is, much of our pain comes from our own thoughts. Not all of it; there are things in this world that can just gut you. But a lot of the things we suffer over are our own creation. Our own fantasy of how things are for other people, and how much we don’t have that in our own lives.
I would say compassion for yourself is the number one gift you want in your stocking if you’re having a tough time this year. If you’re spending the holidays on your own, and the sight of people bustling around humming holiday songs to themselves, or cutting you off in traffic on their way to the mall for that last gift is depressing you beyond words, give yourself the gift of some yoga. In fact, I’ll give it to you. Sign up here if you’d like a free 15-day trial to practice yoga with me and all of our amazing teachers. Sneak away from your drunk Aunt Marge, fire up your laptop, and center yourself. Because creating some space between your thoughts is often a lifesaver when you’re in a mental tailspin. It’s like hitting the reset button, so your attention and awareness shift away from what you don’t have, and back to what you do have. The feeling of lack, of longing, is so painful and debilitating. It makes us feel sick. The feeling of gratitude is so beautiful. When you start to focus on anything that is right and good, like maybe your health if you have it, or the love of at least one person who really knows you, or a place to call home, or food in your refrigerator, or the ability to watch the sunrise or set, or to take a deep breath, or go look at the ocean, or hear the laugh of a little kid and remember yourself at that age, your tender heart and your curiosity and your belief in yourself and in other people, your expectation that the world would be a safe place–if you can get a hold of any of that, even for an instant, you can start to feed it.
Don’t let your past hold you hostage. Also, you’re not alone. Really, you’re not. We’ve all had holiday seasons that tested us and made us feel small and scared and sad. It’s called being human. Don’t let it make you hard and closed. Let it soften you. Let it soften your heart so you can be kind to yourself. So you can acknowledge and hold the feelings of heartache or despair or rage or resentment. If you lean into them you’ll see they won’t kill you. Avoiding them could, because that’s when you have to back yourself into a little corner and squeeze your eyes shut, and cover your ears and hold your breath. Let it be how it is, because how it is now is not how it will always be. Sending you love, and hoping you’re having a beautiful holiday season, but letting you know there are people who care if you aren’t. In case you weren’t sure. Ally Hamilton