Okay, I know the thing these days is succinct posts with practical bullet points and sound bites. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m going with
My object here is to invite you to use the holidays for your becoming, not for a habitual replay of old stories and bygone identities. Use this time of festivity, connection, and sacred renewal to honor your healing and evolution.
A Story of My Hapless Mother and Holiday Misery
In my growing-up story, the woman who played the mother character was both beautiful and flimsy. She had no concept of her own beauty, no solid grasp on her own goodness and inherent worthiness. (Both of these had always been constantly, in clipped comments and spiteful tones, thrown into question by her own mother.)
Once, when we lived in France (I was maybe seven), I remember creeping into the living room during a gathering that featured grown-ups speaking French and English with more accents than I could track. My eyes flashing across the room, I captured a live snapshot of my Arkansas mom taking a drag off a cigarette. My mom didn’t smoke! But hey—in 1960-something, just anyone can reach for that prop in a smoky social scene and get away with it. I was struck in that unforgettable moment by her beauty. She could’ve been a movie star, from where I stood in semi-hiding.
There were other such moments of brief, dazzling light shone on the subject of my mother, but they never stuck. She would always go back to her fretting self, probably jerked into that known place by the mother an ocean away whom she kept close in her mind, whose worn voice played in shrill loops over anything new my mom might try to tell herself. No certain opinion, no clear creation (she sometimes stripped old furniture and infused it with new life), no authentic laughter startled out of her in an unguarded moment ever ushered in the woman she wanted to be.
Nope, she reverted every time to the frazzled mom who could cry for days or scream for hours, because it was all too much for her. Dad’s work called him away, a lot, to spend two and three weeks at a time in Spain, Portugal, Italy—wherever; wherever the women were sexier and stronger than she was. She was stuck in a small Normandy village, alone and adrift among the Frogs, inept in every way, challenged even to ask the grocer a question.
She didn’t trust her capacity to hold her husband’s attention, to be a good mother, to put any kind of beauty into the world, despite the fact that she could and often would do all three—or dabble at least, till her insecurities ridiculed her in my grandmom’s voice into getting small again. (If she were really so small, she wouldn’t have felt so trapped and miserable there, but she didn’t have that interpretation at her disposal. She didn’t have tools for moving from her habitual thoughts to something kinder and truer.)
Holidays during the years in France actually still glitter in my memory. I believe these were actually fun events, with warmer-than-normal family feelings infusing the festive scenes, and a smattering of gifts wrapped in gold and doused in magic. But then, just before I turned ten, we moved back to the U.S., and that put us in driving distance of my mom’s childhood home, or what she still simply called home (not yet having been able, with all the corporate moves, to truly make her own).
This launched years of dreaded and dreadful holiday events. There was no choice, or any concept of possible choice, in the matter of what we were doing for the holidays. That decision was made by cultural expectations upheld with a vengeance by upright human beings: we were going to be with family. This would include predictable church scenes, predictable meal-preparation and meal scenes, predictable gift-opening scenes. Some of these things were just fine on the whole, or seemed to be, but for my mother, it all represented nonstop encounters with her demons. I learned to discern, over the years, the constant subtext in things said by her mother and sister and the increasingly obvious preference given by the one to the other. My mother always paled in comparison to her more glamorous, more confident sister.
Once returned to our nuclear-family reality, we then cycled through the predictable scenes of my mother processing the self-esteem trauma reactivated by holiday events. First, she was just pissy, peevish, prone to small explosions. As the pressure built, she started giving my father hell for all he didn’t do for her—and not that she was wrong, especially with Uncle Pill and Aunt Glam so freshly in view. As with the glaring contrast in the love my grandmom doled out between her two daughters, no one could miss how the diamonds and finery Aunt Glam uncovered from her husband's gift boxes put to shame the not-much and not-memorable stuff my mother pulled from hers.
From there, she moved to giving her kids hell for all that we thought of her (we thought she was our servant; we thought she should do everything for us that we would never have even an ounce of gratitude for; we thought that she had no right to any happiness of her own—actually, all wrong, and all very confusing to the kids involved, stated as trembling facts, punctuated with slaps). There were predictable scenes of her going silent, crying over slow, morose ironing or tense chopping of onions and slapping together of casseroles. There were the quiet moments she got lost in a book—an activity that allowed her to pretty much disappear and maybe feel only half-bad about it. (I liked the books best, feeling maybe only half-anxious about them.)
In the culture my mother grew up in, stepping from ill-favored daughter to hastily taken wife with no transitional time to know herself and choose her path, she certainly had no choice over how to spend the holidays. She had no concept of her guidance system that let her know which way to head through inner tugs, through sensations of contraction versus expansion, through emotions to pay attention to for the information they bring. She knew only rules in a punitive Universe, embodied by a paternal white-bearded God figure that she was not allowed to question, and wouldn’t dare re-envision.
I’m so fortunate for where I am in time. I’ve noticed a million times over, throughout my adult life, that I’ve got a wealth of resources my mom didn’t have. I even smoked freely for a brief time and inhabited my own beauty guiltlessly, if not with total comfort. I rejected the religion of my childhood categorically and took years of trial-and-error experimentation to rebuild a belief system that honored the spiritual truth of my being—something I was entirely and effortlessly in touch with as a child. (It helped that the France years meant virtually no religious constraints, as there was no Baptist church in spitting or driving distance, and my parents trusted no other religion.)
My Invitallenge to You.
If your holidays are miserable and your holiday choices are based in obligation or some lie you tell yourself about having no choice, I want to sweetly ask: what are you doing? This is not 1960-something.
Please gauge the evolution. Like me, you have healed and evolved beyond your parents. Would you like to keep evolving? Are you willing to use anything and everything to keep coming closer to your guidance system, holidays included? Will you practice presence anywhere and any time of year, especially since presence is simply about tuning in to what’s here right now, and the here-and-now still exists during the holidays? Reminder that presence allows you to access choice, because your connection to the felt, sensory experience of this moment, as it actually is, allows you to bypass autopilot tendencies; question antiquated assumptions and stories; and reach right now for a choice that actually makes sense (to you).
Actionable Bullet Points.
I just talked to a brilliant and beautiful friend who's staying away from family of origin this year during the holidays. It took her years to get to this level of self-permission. I invite you to it. What I invite you to, more specifically, is just the level of permission and boundaries you need. And if you choose to engage with anyone at all who brings up stress for you or in any way makes you question your goodness or well-being, please get lots of supports in place. (Here's a solid holiday support I offer, an audio program with written supplements, priced at $22 for 2019 Holidays.)
Why not use this time of festivity, connection, and sacred renewal to honor your healing and evolution?
Love & blessings, Jaya
Seriously: Check out my Holiday program, Before They Drive You Crazy, TAKE THE WHEEL. It's chock-full of spiritual-meets-practical supports.
And here's my free pdf that offers a formula and script for holding your boundaries during hard conversations with difficult people.
Get the free pdf lays out the premises for an experiment in conscious dating.