Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Survival Guide

Christmas is a time when relationships take the front stage.  This is a rich, joyful time for many people, a chance to remember what great people they have in their lives, and feel gratitude. 
Others dread relationship time year round.  There are many who are kept up at night fearing the obligatory get togethers; being forced to play nice with people they secretly don't like, or have been hurt by for years.  Christmas can be messy.  Because, relationships can be messy.  And we have a way of trying to solve our relational hurts with geographical space or dead air space, instead of solving them by steeling our guts and addressing the hurts. Those hurts are best dealt with by cleaning out the infection and applying stitches, rather than trying to graft over the abscess.  Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not poisoning you from the inside out every day.

For me, Christmas is also a break from a stressful time at work.  Sometimes holidays make me feel like Indiana Jones.  You're approaching the exit as the walls start crumbling around you, and you just barely make it out as it all turns into rubble at your feet. Or this.

You get out, but just barely.  And then the first few days of holidays, you're wound so TIGHT that it's all you can do to decompress.

And therein lies the challenge.  The temptation is to cut the corner.  Bypass the processing - the follow-through on why you left work frustrated, or why you're moody every time the family reunion is brought up.  And skip straight to the drinking and World Junior Hockey broadcasts, or whatever your thing is for dis-engaging (Twitter is my cable tv...).

But in the words of Brene Brown, who I know I've mentioned a few times,


When you numb stress, you numb joy.  When you numb broken relationships, you also numb your feeling of belonging.  When I disengage from my family, I may not have to deal with the fact that I'm out of sorts with them, but I'm also slowly building tension within the family unit, because they don't have my attention. 

Here's the sucky part.  Engaging?  It's hard.  I mean, not always.  Engaging with a great family over Christmas dinner and having a great conversations over drinks and presents? That's wonderful, and you wouldn't get it if you were sitting in the corner checking who 'mentioned' you just now.  BUT, engaging also means being honest about what's distracting you.  Being straight about why your feelings are hurt, so that you can make appropriate boundaries and salvage some christmas cheer when that difficult parent or in-law comes over.  It means that you don't get to ignore the bad stuff. 

The reward for taking on your baggage?  You get to enjoy the full joy of the good parts.  When you're not conflicted, emotionally hung up, or distracted, you are there - RIGHT THERE to watch the kids toboggan. To laugh with your friends.  You're aware of and prepared for the hurtful behaviour of that family member, so you are quick with forgiveness should it come.

So you could go through the holidays with your escape mechanisms intact.  And you'll keep people at a distance and return to work just as stressed as you left.  And for some, the hurt is so bad, and the emotions of the season at such a fever pitch, that it may not be such a bad idea.  OR, you could decide to start processing all that baggage. And at the end of it all, when you've put in the hard work, you will exit the holidays feeling energized and refreshed. 

Most of the time we know what the right thing is to do.  It usually still takes a 2x4 to the head to get us to do it.  A lot of the best ways to improve our lives are extremely simple.  But they are anything but easy.

Good luck this Christmas.  Wish me luck too.

1 comment:

  1. Several years ago at a family gathering you said something like "It all comes down to expectations, doesn't it?"

    It was profound, and stuck with me.

    Some families have very clear, mutual expectations. These have been arrived at through repeated ritual, tradition. These families know what's coming, and work toward the same goals for the same meanings.

    Then there are families that don't have strong rituals and thus don't have clear expectations. These families have to work much harder at shared expectations and the intended meaning behind them.

    Implicit expectations held over someone else's head are most often behind why holidays are hard. (Though I don't deny that there are also legit reasons beyond that of acute relational stress.) Stating our wants and needs (and not mixing them up) takes a great deal of humility, self-awareness and practice.

    But if we know what conversations to have, then I can say with confidence that taking initiative is at least less painful than a whack from a 2x4. :-)