Tina Bartleson mug

Tina Bartleson

The older I get the more I realize that the holidays, as wonderful and joy-filled as they may be for some, are not so wonderful and joy-filled for others.

There is something about this season that brings feelings of nostalgia for most of us. We remember our childhoods, our pain, our joy, our abuse, our loves and our loss. These things can color our holidays and impact our experiences, for good and for bad.

For some, holidays mean family and friends, warmth and joy, companionship, peace, love and all the trimmings. For others, the holidays are a time of loneliness, pain, emptiness and uncertainty. The older I get, the more I realize that the holidays are most likely some combination of joy and pain, companionship and loneliness for most of us.

It is important that we enter into this season with some sense of awareness about what this time of year calls forth in each of us. It is only with awareness that we can change what doesn’t work. By raising awareness, we can see patterns. If we recognize patterns, we have the information we need to look for solutions, find a path through dark times or even find renewed joy.

Grab your coffee and tea and maybe a pen and paper. Sit with me for a moment as we take this last collective breath before extreme busyness hits. Please note that this is a “no shame” kind of exercise. These are simply questions to raise your awareness, no shame, no blame, just a time to remember.

♦ What holidays will you celebrate between now and the end of year? What meaning do they have for you? If they were joyful and bring warm feelings, what made them so?

♦ Think about the past celebrations or holiday events that were simply horrible. What happened? Was it a onetime incident or a repeating pattern? If a pattern, what do those events/celebrations have in common? If you could change some piece of it all, what would you change?

There is a myth about this time of year: that we must follow traditions. We think we must do the things that we have always done, go to the places we have always gone, eat the same foods, see the same people. We certainly have that choice … and we also have the power to “change it up.”

If holidays are grand and glorious for you, wonderful! Celebrate and reach out to others in love and care. However, if this season is typically not so grand and glorious, know these two things:

1. It is okay that holidays are tough. You aren’t strange. You are not alone. Holidays are painful for many folks.

2. You can change the narrative of your holiday. You can make new traditions. You don’t have to go to the same places or hang with the same people. There are some people who are in a place that isn’t healthy, even if you love them. Their actions make it painful (and sometimes even dangerous) to be around them. You don’t have to repeat the same pattern as in previous years. It is okay to find new places to be, take a trip, volunteer, come up with a new tradition or spend the holiday with different folks. If you find yourself in a place of loss (maybe you’ve lost a family member to death or this is the first year after a divorce and children will be away from you), do things to take care of you. Seek out other friends or family. Look for ways to give back to others. Find listening ears and reach out to a counselor or trusted friend for support.

If you are like most of us, the holidays are some combination of joy and pain, companionship and loneliness. It is important to understand what it is for you, reach out for support, change what you can, choose what is good and remember that you are not alone.