the aftermath: holiday drama and trauma

I recently figured out why New Year's is a drinking holiday.

Because everybody's just spent 6 weeks engaged in family holiday drama and trauma.

That sounds like I'm joking, but I'm kind of not.  The holidays can be a seriously difficult time in family relationships.  

It's partly the expectations:  peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and everybody supersuperthrilled with The Magic of The Season.  Which happens perfectly, like, never.

It's partly the proximity:  let's just admit that it's easier to love some people when they are far, far away.  And during the holidays, we're close enough to traumatize one another thoroughly.

It's partly the system:  we all tend to revert to our prescribed family roles when we gather together.  We've worked and worked to be sane adults, only to find ourselves losing that sanity slowly but surely as the holidays wear on.

It's partly the anxiety:  if we've changed what we think and how we live so that we no longer conform to the hopes and expectations of our families of origin, that causes anxiety.  And when people feel anxious in relationships, they do all sorts of things to force engagement, push for compliance, or just cause trouble to divert attention from the anxiety.

So, what can we do about all this, aside from drinking a lot at New Years and thanking God that the holidays only come once a year?

Well, I'd suggest that between now and then, we do some work to understand our own particular situation and our place in it.  Process those emotions.  And then consider where we might make changes that could be more sanity-supporting when next year rolls around.

I have recommended The Dance of Anger any number of times in the past few weeks.  There's some pure genius stuff in there about boundaries, triangulation, and how to step back from the craziness without (hopefully) blowing your world to smitereens.

You can dig into the Archives here, where a search on "boundaries" will reveal that I pretty much never stop talking about those suckers.

And guess what?  I wrote a book on forgiveness just recently that might prove useful for some of us, in this period of recovery.

One of the things I talk about in Debunking the Myths of Forgive and Forget is the necessity of releasing people from the obligations that they are unable to to fulfill:

  • We might need to release friends who take and take and take and never give.
  • We might need to release a beloved organization or a church that takes a turn for the worse and can’t find its way back.
  • We might need to release parents whose own emotional pain keeps them from connecting as we hope.
  • We might need to release siblings who just can’t seem to let go of the past.
  • We might need to release a spouse who is lost in addiction or abuse...

Releasing is a sad, painful, and difficult task.  While it may bring relief eventually, releasing a relationship often creates its own world of hurt.  When we rip off the bandage of denial, the truth of our hurt and disappointment can be agonizing.  In the midst of that pain, the wealth of God’s love and care for us can seem like a mirage created by a madman.

Many times we participate in the myths of forgiveness, spinning through a prolonged and impossible process that never results in healing or change, specifically to protect ourselves from letting go.  We’ve built and sustained this forgiveness-myth monster to keep an even bigger monster at bay:  grief.

But we can do hard things, right?  And so, at last, we unclench our fists and we let it go.

And this is what we find to be true:  Love works for healing in our lives even if those relationships are never restored. 

As we release, we create space hearts for others who can be trustworthy for us.

We trust that God will continue to be at work in that other person’s life, even when we can’t.

So.  I hope your holidays were as pretty as a Norman Rockwell picture.  But on the off chance that things went more like a Jackson Pollock splatter-shot, I hope you'll find some help herein for a more sanity-sprinkled season next year.

And if all else fails, you might want to go ahead and book that Christmas cruise now, before reality wears off too much.

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