Since the holidays are here, I’ve had a couple good conversations with people about what they do – or don’t – like about them. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, their current feelings have everything to do with how things were during the holidays in their childhood. If they had happy experiences back then, with traditions they enjoyed, they still associate holidays with that happiness, and vice versa. This is not news. But it did bring up a question for me: if one dislikes their past experience, how does one go about changing their modern-day experience? There has to be a way, since the question regarding the holidays is really just a small micro-section of the recovery journey in all other areas.
My childhood experience of the holidays pretty much matches my childhood experience of every other aspect of life, growing up, in every way: chaotic and disorganized. As I got older, there were no specific traditions that my family employed over the years. Nothing was consistent at any other time of the year, and holidays were no different. When one of us did take the risk of suggesting something new to try, there was nothing so grand, so creative, so ordinary, or so sentimental that a whole bunch of arguing, fighting, and general nastiness from everyone, to everyone, couldn’t ruin.
I’m sure there were some enjoyable things that occurred over the years. Unfortunately, most of those things probably happened when I was too young to remember them without diffusing into alters. As I grew up, I can remember a whole lot of strife between my parents. The years where nothing happened became the years I considered “good” because if anything happened, it was generally bad. But years where “nothing” happens are not memorable. So perhaps there were many of those, but I don’t remember them.
At any rate, these thoughts begged the question for me: if I dislike the holidays based on painful recollections, how do I go about changing this? What keeps me from starting my own traditions?
Well, a few things, actually. Firstly, practically speaking, a lack of awareness of even what the options are. I’d never heard of a cookie exchange to save my life, until I was a grown adult. I also typically dread things like white elephant gift exchanges, because although I don’t come across as a delicate person, I can be sensitive to situations where humor borders on embarrassment of someone on account of something. (Yes, even something as stupid as that.) There’s also an existentialist mentality that I can’t quite shake. Maybe it’s better labeled as depression? I tend to call it existentialism because that’s more fun than trying to understand that I might be depressed. It’s that mentality that steals the joy out of everything done spontaneously; the thought process that says, regarding something like Christmas caroling with friends (or taking a car ride to view Christmas lights): “Why am I doing this? What is the point, exactly? I’m annoying the neighbors, I’m wasting gas, I’m singing songs when we could just listen to them on a cd, and gazing at light displays because…why?”
More persistently, there is the disorganization inside me. It’s not something I have, per se, it’s something that has me. There must be some kind of life-regulator that quote-unquote normal people have, that keeps an internal schedule. They get up, they shower, they get dressed, they clean the kitchen, they check the mail, they walk the dog. Fairly consistently, and fairly predictably. They take the same route to and from the same grocery store on a generally consistent timeline. They dust things, because they remember that dusting exists and probably needs to be done more than once every few years. They water plants, because they remember that they own plants.
I don’t have this regulator, whatever it is, that I believe theoretically exists inside some normal people. I never do the same thing in the same way twice, OR I do the same thing for months and then abruptly stop doing it, for reasons that are unknown even to me. I never wake up at the same time on the weekends, I never go to the same grocery store twice in a row and I don’t necessarily take the same route, or even the route that makes sense in the situation. Other than understanding that I didn’t inherit this regulatory thing due to my chaotic family life, I have no idea what to do about it.
So it bleeds over into the holidays like it bleeds over into the not-holidays, and drives me up the wall. Any suggestions are welcome, and I have to end here because I’m actually not done with the workday yet but I really can’t write any more at this moment. Cheers. ~J8