Okay folks, the holidays are upon us and you know what that means. Yes, hours spent with people that are related to you but generally drive you up the freakin’ wall. Yes, the Nuts you would normally be willing to roast are now sitting at your dining room table while everyone is pretending to like one another and get along. Now, if you happen to be from one of those families where everyone really does like one another and really does get along, you can just quit reading right now. This post is for those of us who had the great fortune to grow up in wildly dysfunctional families, thus providing us with endless fodder for our later creative endeavors and a well-developed, twisted sense of humor- particularly as it relates to the holidays. For those gentle readers who are loaded to the gills with creative juices, read on for my suggestions on how to survive the following five weeks without needing to rely on medication or calling 911. And yes, you get a free bonus tip right up front! Try to laugh at yourself and the whole Holiday mash-up. It will make the Season, and this rascally post, a whole lot merrier. 😉
1. Know you are not alone…and you are not crazy.
Knowing you are not alone in dreading the media/consumer-culture juggernaut know as The Holidays is in itself, a great comfort. Yes, it would be awesome if the members of our Family Of Origin (FOO!) actually had enough skills to process their own emotions instead of making their discomfort/misery/paranoia everybody else’s problem, but they don’t…and it’s not your fault. I will never forget the day my wonderful therapist pulled a thick tome off her shelf (later found to be the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Revision) to discover someone had been spying on MY family! How did they know about my Dad? Mother? Extended Crazy Bunch of Relatives? It was a profound relief to realize that if they knew about my family, then logically there had to be others and by extension, I was not alone! Woot….well kind of. I mean, I would never wish that kind of crazy on anyone, but at least now I knew smarter people than myself had ferreted out the “crazy”. These Smart People surely could light the way so I too could get the heck out of the Nut House for good some day. Which leads to the second part of this equation: Is it hereditary? Am I crazy too? Well, God bless the dear woman who hauled the DSM-IV off her shelf. Jean gave me the tools to get free and get happy. Short answer, no, it’s not hereditary and if you ever wonder if you could be the crazy one, there’s a pretty good possibility that you aren’t. It’s the ones who are so completely certain of their sanity that you really have to be wary of! Ha!
2. You don’t have to fix everyone. Let the crazy-makers own their own emotions and be sure to get the heck out of the way!
The underlying premise to this survival tip is:
You are only responsible for your OWN emotions and choices. (AND if you have children, you need to protect them from the Crazy-Makers as well.)
So how does this play out?
Mom is upset she was only asked to bring rolls from the store because Mom has food safety issues. Guess what Mom? I hope you enjoy being upset…and please remember to bring the rolls.
Husband is angry because you didn’t make his favorite dish? Oh so sad, but since you don’t cook and I do, then you’re going to have to be miserable and eat what I cook.
Grandma is pouting because she didn’t get an invite? Well Granny, the last time you were here you relentlessly criticized and humiliated my children- your grandchildren- so I guess you’ll have to be happy with whatever arrangements you can make on your own.
Does this sound harsh? Do you get a small pit of fear just thinking about the consequences of standing up for yourself? Well, guess what? It’s normal to feel afraid when you first start setting limits with people who wouldn’t know a reasonable limit if it smacked them upside the head BUT DO IT ANYWAY. Why? Two reasons. The first is that you deserve to be treated with respect, even by your Crazy-Making relatives. And two, here’s the zinger no one tells you….nothing happens. Seriously. All those emotional bullies simply back right down and shut the hell up. And if someone is SO out of control you are physically afraid of them, do not invite them to your home. Even if they are related and everyone gets mad. It’s your home and your rules and they don’t have to like it. And all those emotional tantrums? Since when can anyone be in charge of another person’s happiness? Is that really your job? How about the emotional bullies pull up their Big Girl Panties and deal like everyone else has to in the Real World? Yes, that means YOU are OFF THE HOOK. Little tip for your own personal sanity: When the Emotional Bullies don’t get the expected reaction from you, expect their behavior to escalate in an effort to get you to cave in to their unreasonable demands. Ahem…does this remind you of anyone? Say two-year children when it’s time for them to go to bed? That’s right. So don’t argue, try to persuade, or cajole. Simply smile, picture that grandparent/husband/sibling in a big ole diaper, breathe, and wait for them to run out of steam. They will eventually get discouraged (and confused) and shut up.
3. Find Your Own Tribe
So what happens if the FOO is just too damn crazy to reasonably deal with for a holiday event? Well, make up your own family. That’s right. Who made it a Rule that Family are people you are related to by blood? Aren’t Real Family the people who treat you with lovingkindness and respect? And isn’t that cozy-roaring-fire-turkey-dinner-version-of-the-holidays really about spending time with people you love and who love you back? If you need permission to fire your FOO and find your Tribe, I’m giving it to you right now. You get to be happy too and that means surrounding yourself with folks who treat you as the precious person you are, not some lame excuse for an argument. Go get ’em!
4. Go Easy on the External Solutions
Don’t get me wrong, I love Bailey’s Irish Cream as much as the next person, but I know better than to buy the Costco two-pack for the holidays. I need my wits about me if I’m going to deal with the passive-aggressive MIL or the uncle with inappropriate boundaries. It’s a whole lot easier to stay on top of your game if you have all your mental resources at your disposal. You can always drink in January with your GFs after all the chaos is over…and work the latest “crazy” into your new novel.
5. Remember to be Grateful
So your family isn’t a Norman Rockwell postcard? Remember, you are not alone. If you need a reminder or if you just want to feel good about yourself, volunteer at a local soup kitchen, deliver Meals On Wheels, or get a group of friends together and make cards for the shut-ins at a local nursing home. The most invisible in our society are the most powerless. Giving a small piece of your time is a beautiful gift without measure. And for an immediate pick-me-up? How about the following? Get out a pen and paper and write out the following: 10 people who have helped you in the past, 10 people you have helped, list all the good that has come into your life in the past 5 years and 10 things that make you happy. It’s a good reminder that maybe, despite all the Nuts we’d love to throw into the fire, we are still surrounded by Good and supported by Love. If you have read this far, please respond to this post with some of the things YOU are most grateful for and spread the love!
And on that lovely note, I bid you a Thanksgiving full of love and laughter and food and Family. Namaste!