Ah yes, the Christmas holiday. A time when many of us shove as much as we possibly can into a carry on (and then insist to the flight attendant that it will fit in the overhead compartment just give me a second!) and make the long trek back “home.”
While some of my married or coupled up friends are braving the crowded airports and awkward family chit chat (“Oh, you’re a Democrat? How…interesting. You young people are all Democrats. It’s all so very… interesting“) together, I’m going solo this year. And while I don’t mind my unattached status too much, I freely acknowledge the fact that going back “home,” without reminders of one’s new life, can often cause a very unique set of issues to arise.
The main issue? Regression. You may think of yourself as a spiritual, grounded being in your new life, but nothing turns the tables on a budding Buddha like walking into a house so full of childhood memories that they basically sink into your skin through osmosis, forcing you into pinching fights with your brother or arguments over how long to take a shower with your mother. And if there was trauma in the house, the regression process can be all the more powerful.
But don’t worry. Because I’ve had time a lot of time to think about this and discuss it at length with my therapist. I’ve even come up with a name for all my thoughts: Operation Preemptive Peace.
If this helps even one 20-Something during the holiday season, then all my manicure-ruining, tearful talks during my weekly sit down sessions were totally worth it.
Operation Preemptive Peace
First – Take time to remember who you are NOW: Some of us will need 10 minutes before we walk through the door, and others will need a week of meditative preparation – whatever time you need, make sure you take it.
Ground yourself, breathe into your body, and then remind your brain and soul just how much progress you’ve made in the area of becoming your own person. Write it down if you have to. Keep it in your pocket where it’s always available. However you need to remind yourself of who you’ve become, separate from those who raised you, take the time to do it. It’s essential to keep yourself from slipping back into old habits of listening to someone else when it comes to your person.
Second – See your parental units for the people they are: Sure, they raised you, and at one point seemed super human, but let’s be honest: they’re no more or less than you. Yes, they’re older, but that doesn’t always mean they know best or are even the most rational people you’ve ever met.
Instead of judging them harshly, simply open your eyes and see them the same way you’d see a coworker or stranger on the street. Realize they’re just as imperfect as you are, and then let the memories of who they used to be fade into the background. It doesn’t matter who they were when you were 5 years old. What matters now, in the moment, is who they’ve become.
Third – Understand your boundaries: Are there certain subjects you don’t want to talk about with the people from “home”? Are there familiar, age-old arguments that you refuse to rehash? What about unwanted advice or co-dependent behavior? Make it clear to yourself what you will and won’t deal with, what you will and won’t take part in, and then stick to those decisions.
It doesn’t matter how much Uncle Harry wants to pick apart your sexual orientation or how funny your cousin thinks it is to remind you of your chubby days – if you don’t want to be a part of these family antics, don’t. Explain firmly where you stand, ask for a mutual respect, and if you don’t get it, walk away. The more secure you are in your answers and personal comfort zone, the harder it will be for family members to rope you into unhealthy discussions or behaviors. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see” and break those stupid family patterns.
Fourth – Forgive and rise above: It takes time to shake off even a moderately difficult childhood, but this year, do your best to rise above the old hurts and let grudges go…at least as much as possible. Remember, you’ve created your own person, and the past is only as important as you make it. It sounds cheesy, but Love is always stronger than jealousy, anger or fear – especially Love that’s gentle, firm and grounded.
So this holiday season, open your heart to the possible positives of “home,” remember all the hard work you’ve done on you, and stay away from the spiked eggnog.
…That stuff spells trouble with a capital B-A-R-F.