Holiday Ambivalence

Those of us who have experienced trauma, which is almost every member of the human race, have experienced it on holidays. In families with histories of emotional, physical or other forms of abuse holidays can produce an excruciating ambivalence. Growing up in my family, I hated holidays because emotions ran high and a single misstep, or illness, or innocently spoken word could produce a Vesuvius of hot, sticky words that burned permanent scars in my psyche. One of the most devastating aspects of abuse is it’s unpredictability. Something that is perfectly fine one day is worthy of scathing sarcasm, humiliation or shame the next. As adults we can be proud of ourselves for breaking this cycle, but the feelings may still be there prickling like static electricity on our skin. Nameless anxiety or grief can wash over us like a tidal wave, leaving us disoriented and dizzy with dread.
We can try to create the kind of holiday we wish we could have had, or try to block out whatever trauma we have associated with a holiday. Recreation is fraught with opportunities for disaster though, because if we can’t pull it off with perfection we may create more fodder for our already damaged sense of self. Typically blocking has its own long-term consequences for our mental and physical health. Finding support, even a crisis hotline, can help immensely. Self-care is critical, nurturing ourselves in healthy ways or allowing our loved ones in if we have enough trust that they will be there for us. My wish for all of us is that we feel safe and happy, that we can find something, whether it’s an affirmation or a song, that gives us strength to get through the next few days. To all, know that I am engaged in Tonglen for all of us. Tonglen is a Buddhist practice of taking in pain, breathing it in, and sending out/breathing out space, healing, relief. It can be a powerful tool, and most importantly for us, it begins with ourselves. Tonglen begins with taking in and sending out for ourselves before moving on to someone we love dearly and then moving on to the whole world. Merry Christmas. May this day, and all our days ahead, be days of healing rather than destruction, affirmation rather than desecration. We our united in the possibility to heal. May it be so.

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~ by janetlandis on December 25, 2008.

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