Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Had to Get Real About the Holidays That Were Not Often Happy and Some Tips to Deal When You'd Rather Not

Making New Traditions:)

For years I'd tried to figure out how to survive the holidays with my dysfunctional family. In the end I realized that it wasn't about surviving but learning how to live beyond it by creating a new tradition - for myself. 
Holidays are one of those things that I did for years even though they were never not often anything to celebrate. My body would tell me it was that time of year again as my muscles tensed, I would start to shut down and be unable to function. I'd start feeling irritable, lashing out at those around me. Many days I'd not be able to get out of bed as the days on the calendar slipped from summer to fall and finally halloween marked the beginning of the worst time of year for me.
I slipped further and further down as I knew what was waiting for me at our "family" get togethers. Finally I made a choice for myself to not go.
It was hard. But for me the only option as my family refused to respect my new boundaries and continued to shame me, make me the brunt of their jokes and cruelty. They would often tell me that I deserved to feel bad because I was such a worthless person and had not met their expectations, that I was the cause of their anger at me and if I was just somehow "different" - then they wouldn't be mad and would love me.
I was constantly reminded that I was not "enough" and could never be "enough" to win their acceptance and love. I was often reminded throughout the year that I was not good enough for them to want a relationship with me. That I should be grateful they even spoke to me at all.  
So for me - as over the years I noticed this same pattern in my life and my dread for what the world touted as a happy time - I decided to create some new traditions for myself.  I started declining invitations to these family get togethers.
I didn't explain myself to them because that gave them power to again question my decisions and tell me something was wrong with me for not wanting to spend the holidays with them. And in the end they did that anyway - but I no longer felt the obligation to apologize and try to fix it.
This year will be my second year of my new Thanksgiving tradition where I volunteer at a local charity.
And I don't want to leave you with the impression that making this decision for myself came easily - or quickly.
It in fact came at a very high price as I realized that there was absolutely nothing I could do to be good enough.
That my family would never love me just because I was me.
That they would never celebrate my accomplishments; that I could never share my joy or my sadness with them and know that I would be heard or cared for in this way.
That there would be no Hallmark card moments, no sense of belonging, no laughter, eggnog or picturesque moments around the table or joyful trimming of the Christmas tree the day after.
Making this decision took time as I moved myself from the magical thinking of childhood to the harsh reality of my life with my family. This was moving from where I could somehow make it better if I was "better" - or just different -to the reality that while my family may not recognize their behavior as abusive – they are still responsible for their behavior. I had to realize there is nothing I could have ever done in my lifetime that would ever justify this kind of ongoing abuse and there is nothing I can do to make them stop it.
I had to grieve the family I never had...
The family I had always hoped to have and mostly...
I had to let go of the idea that there was anything I could have done or could do in the future to make it any different.
Realty sucks - but not nearly as bad as the reality of what I had lived for a lifetime believing I "had" to spend the holidays with a family that that served me up as the main course. 
So this wasn't an easy thing to do. I still feel angry at the way my family treated me. I still sometimes wonder if I couldn't have somehow worked it out with them. I still feel sad over the realization that there was nothing I could do to "work it out" and that to be a part of their lives meant I had to sacrifice myself, my sense of well being and self worth. 
You are not alone. It is not your fault; you are doing nothing wrong and whatever way YOU decide to handle your dysfunctional family, to go or stay away - its ok. 
Heres to making new traditions be it serving others, taking a vacation to a new place, hanging with new friends...:)
In admiration of your courage to keep going when it gets so damned tough.

Related reading:

How do I love thee... This post is about learning to respect ours and others boundaries - seeing them as the defining line to a valid sense of "self" and healthy, interdependent relationships.

I am now "enough" Learning to see myself as all I needed to be "ok".

This is how we do it....the "hard work" The title speaks for itself:) Its not rocket science either:) Hard work yes. But not rocket science.

Whoops! I did it again!  This post speaks to how I used creativity to connect with myself and heal my own wounds.

Express yourself!  This is another version of my post above (Whoops!) that I did as a guest at Heal My PTSD.

How do we get "there" when here sucks so bad?

By putting one foot in front of the other.

There is ALWAYS a solution:) 

 Seek Knowledge, find Wisdom, live your Truth!


From Tracie said...

Holidays can be such a triggering time - especially as we are under added stress - having to deal with family on top of that is hard.

We spent a quiet day this year, with all of our family out of town. There were phone calls to some family members, one of which did not go well...I recognized what was happening and took myself out of that call. It was a healthy decision for me, and one that several years ago, I would not have been strong enough to make.

Susan said...

Holidays can be very difficult for survivors, I agree.

And its good to hear about how you've been able to make some changes for yourself, Tracie. :)

thanks for sharing:)