Preparing for holidays usually runs along the lines of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and making sure any fancy outfits do not need ironing. For me, prepping for the holidays means being very clear on where I am standing emotionally.
I am still not a big fan of holidays due to the "prep" required by me, but I no longer dislike them intensely. And interestingly, it is the day before the holiday that catches me up the most now, not the actual holiday itself. Lastly, I am actually beginning to enjoy holidays. Never thought I would ever say that!
Growing up, the major holidays (major meaning a family gathering/marked on the calendar) were approximately seven days out of the year: Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I was excessively uncomfortable with any amount of attention either directed toward me or anywhere in my near vicinity. I tried very hard not to be noticed, and attempted to blend into the wall. I did not enjoy being social with family. I did not enjoy being social with friends. I just did what I thought I was supposed to do: shut up, hold my breath, look casual, and then relax on the drive home.
As I got older, I began to notice how my mom got through these social occasions when entertaining in her own home: she would be the hostess who never sat down. Most of the day for her was in the kitchen. "Oh, I'm all set in here-go enjoy the time in the living room" she would say cheerfully with a wave of her hand. HA! She was hiding, and she was hoarding the only reasonable excuse not to participate.
Following my mom's example, I then began to take on the task of serving the beverages and went around the room refilling drinks and taking orders; when all glasses were full and this option was gone, I began to refill the appetizer trays placed on the coffee table. "What a helper," I would hear. HA! I was trying to get in on what my mom was doing. Walking out of the crowd and into the quiet kitchen with only my mom was a breath of relief compared to the hotbed of conversation out there in the living room.
I simply did not know what it meant to relax and enjoy the company of another. I was cautious, on-guard, ready to run, ready to crawl out of my skin and under my covers.
As a teen and into my twenties, I continued on in my mode of "helping and assisting" to get out of "socializing." By all appearances, I may have looked just fine. Inside, I was a wreck.
My anxiety around the holidays may be different from others' experiences. My general anxiety was always in play year round; it was only on the major holidays that I would tune out and disassociate completely. I do not have many memories of holidays, never mind happy ones.
Today, for example, with the next holiday less than 8 hours away, I can feel that I am more jumpy than usual. I need to talk myself through such feelings, give them their due, and then focus on the reality in front of me before it escapes my full grasp.
Right now, I am feeling a bit tired and a bit grumpy. Overall, I am feeling edgy. And I know why I feeling edgy. I am feeling edgy because I can still feel a residual rage within me for what major holidays used to mean in full: the time of year when I would be sexually assaulted by a family uncle. He would molest or rape me only six or seven times a year; however, they were the same six or seven times a year: major holidays. (This occurred for five years beginning around the age of 2.) Holidays used to produce fear inside me. Now, it is more about my subsiding rage. This rage may never fully go away. I have responded to this rage differently, however, within the context of good therapy. With every passing major holiday since my PTSD diagnosis, I have begun to reframe what holidays stand for, their intrinsic meaning, and I no longer solely identify holidays with assault.
With every passing year, it is up to me to decide how to respond to the fear, how to respond to the triggers, how to respond when even now I would still like to know that if I felt like it, I could spend the afternoon under my covers. All of these issues are beneath the lingering rage. I am not good at feeling rage. It makes my insides crawl. As I move through today, look at my outstanding emotions, take a look at them for what they are, honor them for why they showed up in the first place, and then honor myself for still standing and gaining a greater perspective on the whole of the life that is waiting to be lived by me, I may process on through such days as these in order to get to the actual holiday gathering! I also need to remind myself that the intensity of these feelings pretty much shows up the most just before the holiday marked on the calendar. These moments need only be temporary if I approach them in a way that works well for me.
Doing so requires some space and time. Sometimes it means doing art work to remove myself from the swirl so I may see it for what it is. Sometimes it means playing loud music and singing each and every word until I am hoarse. Sometimes I need to journal it all out all over again and then take a nap from the effort. Each time I do so, I remove just a bit more of my energy given to my past. When I realize I am caught in my emotions, I require detangling. Detangling can be frustrating if I think about it too hard. Once I notice my edginess, I need to start doing something about it. Today may just be a day where I jump right into the journaling with my big fat sharpie pen to write largely and boldly.
Once I let the cap off the pressure cooker, I am more at ease, and better able to interact in a social setting. Turning down the volume on the emotional anxiety enables me to remain present. When I am emotionally present, I am engaging with others in a real and true way. I am not thinking about what I look like. I am not thinking about what others are thinking about me. If I am triggered, I can more easily step out of the room for a moment to do a few moments of dual-awareness to support me in staying present as well. By being cognizant of where my consciousness is, I may then actually enjoy what it is I came to enjoy-a day of blessings and thanks, good friends, and comfortable socializing. I was not able to enjoy such a concept in my early years; I am now grateful for the knowledge of what "prep" time means for me. Now, I am able to participate fully and in the spirit of the day set aside on the calendar.
Published On: November 21, 2007