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Unwrapping Holiday Trauma

Every year I face November with dread and guilt.

The dread is a longstanding, entrenched reaction to the upcoming holidays, and specifically Thanksgiving.

The guilt is because people I love were born in November, and it feels ungrateful to hate a particular month so thoroughly. There are November days I enjoy. Warm, sunny days where the leaves are glowing, or are crunchy underfoot, but most November days, it seems, are overcast, cool, damp with the hint of rain about to fall or the remains which are the aftermath of a good soaking.

When I was younger, and then much older, I spent holidays working. I took the shifts no one else wanted so they could have it off and I would be relieved of any holiday obligations.

Early in my life, I questioned the legitimacy of Thanksgiving as a pilgrim thing. Look to indigenous authors and speakers for more on that. It seems shitty, though, to celebrate an undertaking that cost so much human life.

The gratitude part, well, I try to sneak in as much gratitude as I can muster on any given day. Sometimes it’s overwhelming how much I have for which to give thanks, and sometimes I’m really scraping around the bottom of the barrel to come up with the basics, such as they are. Food, housing, transportation, health.

No one wants to hear of the trauma bearing down on the holiday love. Nor should anyone have to listen to that year after year.

Trauma identity may eventually morph into survivor identity which may eventually grow into thriver identity, but if you’re not there yet and the holidays are raw, painful, and full of gloom, it’s okay to step back and not participate.

Self healing and evaluation can take many forms. When I stopped working holidays and had the days off I was at a loss for a while. I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so how would I spend the day?

I took to the internet at times, posting random stuff I was doing that day, cooking or taking things apart. Hoping to be a cheerful-ish presence for anyone out there quiet and struggling, while maintaining that whatever someone feels at the holidays is valid. Sadness, grief, loss, love, joy, numbness, apathy, bitterness, guilt, peace. It’s valid. It’s okay.

Year after year of experiences both lovely and difficult, and everything in between, can build up and intertwine around turkey and stuffing and pie and arguments and cheery twinkle lights and magical trees, and mysterious presents, and shouting and embarrassment and broken glass and cinnamon.

Healing sets its own pace. No amount of therapy can undo what’s been done.

The best that can be done is to allow the feelings to flow and to develop strategies for self-care, self-connection, and meet the emotions when they show up drunk and unruly, or robed in death, or staggering with haphazardly hastily wrapped memories.

The crying and the missing and the pain of being separated from loved ones. Valid.

The unpacking, unwrapping of a forgotten treasure or repressed nightmare. Valid.

Isolation or solitude. Valid.

Reading and resting. Valid.

The anger and hurt and disappointment of what might have been, what could have been, what should have been. Valid.

Because you should have been loved.

You could have been loved.

You might have been loved.

Here’s the real thing though, and I hear this from people, and I see it in myself sometimes, that you can be blind to the love in your life. I owe this insight to my children.

You can be blind to love in your life by focusing on the people who didn’t love you when the might have, could have, or should have.

I evaluate my days.

I observe how I behaved, what I did that was good, what needed more work, what opportunities I may have missed, where fear overruled intuition, where instinct sabotaged sense.

I try to envision how I might try something different. The ever evolving experiment that is life begs and answer to the questions what worked, and what didn’t?

How can I bring more joy, and peace, and happiness into my life? Where can I give something away, give something back, add some kindness into to the world?

I write it down.

I mull it over in my mind.

I practice.

I try it out and see what happens.

Sometimes, it is by not participating that I reach peace. I will hole up with a good book and a mug of cocoa and let myself be.

That is a freedom.

No one gets to tell me how I feel.

Feelings come and go.

Anyone who tells me how I should feel about anything, they can just step back. If I’m struggling with difficult emotions and someone says, just be grateful. I’m unlikely to be grateful.

Let me struggle. If I can’t feel it, I can’t address it.

I write a lot of poetry about growing and hope and striving and opening, but the path to get there has been fraught with darkness and suffering and painful realizations interspersed with joy and love and acceptance.

I set forth with my life trying to reach my highest intentions, to develop beyond the limitations of what I have survived, but when the shadows roll in heavy, I grab my blanket, my flashlight, a box of tissues. There’s a system of meeting the dark, developed through experience, and the best I can figure out is to meet it, greet it, and deal with it as gently as possible.

The holidays can be hard. From losses to joys, and the roller coaster that can come emotionally calling may be overwhelming.

Being around others. Valid.

Taking time for yourself. Valid.

I hope the holiday season comes in gently full of soft, wonderful surprises and meaningful connections.

I hope that if you’re struggling through grief, and ups and downs, and working through stuff, that you find a way to make yourself a soft place to land, a safe place to sort it out, a loving place to just be.

It is enough to just be.

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