This may not be the post you are expecting.
This Time of Year, is weighted with a nearly inconceivable number of expectations, traditions, possibilities, hopes, tragedies…it just doesn’t stop. It is exactly that weight (and its impacts) I wish to discuss.
I am now going to speak the unspeakable…for many people, this is a profoundly unhappy Time of Year. If you aren’t one of those people, that is fantastic but if you are, you need to know, you are not the only one. I might even venture to say that this Time of Year is unhappy for something approaching most of us.
There is a terrible disconnect here. Every cultural message says exactly the opposite. We are supposed to be happy. We are commanded at all corners to be merry. We celebrate and smile, consume and contrive. We hide in the kitchen with our head in our hands and utter our favorite lie when someone asks what is wrong. “Nothing” we say. Nothing indeed.
We cannot admit we are part of the collection of human misery. We separate ourselves from “those unfortunate people” who need “help” this time of year. They are the other and we define ourselves in opposition. They are sad, we are not.
And, if we are one of the “unfortunate” we collect our hampers and toys and winter boots and jackets, needful of the help and so often, also ashamed of our need. Yet we can’t voice that either because just as the “fortunate” must be happy, the “unfortunate” must be grateful.
What has gone wrong here?
Before this turns into a rant worthy of a Dickensonian character, I want to speculate about all the good intentions that got us into this place to begin with.
I believe this time of year has always been problematic for human beings in the northern hemisphere. It’s dark, it’s cold, nothing grows, nothing to harvest. It’s about acknowledging that the winter can kill us and the hope that it won’t. We hope we have made enough provisions and we pray for the potential of the new year. We formalize these hopes into ritual. We celebrate the return of the sun, the birth of the Son, the preservation of the light. There is the potential of sustaining magic in the variations of all traditions. Sharing bounty, shedding of old habits, embracing forgiveness, these are all positive and growth inducing.
Yet, somehow sharing bounty has mutated into excessive consumption. Giving, which used to ensure survival of all the members of the community, has become an orgy of expectation. Worse still, if we resist the tide we feel ashamed of ourselves, Grinch-like, alone.
Our family dynamics buckle and break under the expectation of harmony. We deny our authentic sadnesses, losses, disappointments and desperately pretend to our own selves that we are a happy, “normal” family. We are disappointed and shame envelops us once again.
In my line of work, shame is a sly and intractable emotion with tremendous power. It can be staring the client and I right in the face, doing a little dance on the desk, swinging from the lamp, and we will not acknowledge it. To acknowledge shame is to feel it and it is one of the most horrible feelings people ever invented for themselves. It is worse than anger, sadness, fear or grief. It hangs around making us miserable because we don’t want to name it for what it is. The client won’t name it for their own sake and I often avoid naming it too. My understanding of my own shame makes me very hesitant to invoke it in others. Yuck.
So, I’m going to give some of you a little gift this Time of Year. You may not like it. I sure don’t, but I’m tired of feeling ashamed of myself and being in a healing relationship with so many others who struggle similarly.
I feel shame that I can’t celebrate this Time of Year the way I perceive the rest of the world does. I am ashamed that I do not exist in perfect blissful happiness at the appointed time. I am ashamed that I do not like this Time of Year very much. It often sucks.
And now the magic. When I look at my shame or help my clients look at theirs, it is the first step to subduing it. It is okay not to be happy or merry or “finished your x-mass shopping” or “going away for the holidays” or “having family over” or “spending it with your kids” or any number of other things suggested by the clerk at Best Buy that you should be doing at this Time of Year.
It’s okay to be divorced, childless, parentless, poor, alone, abandoned, miserable, trapped, depressed or driven insane by your mother. These things are a normal part of the human condition. One or another of them happen to us all at some point in living. Do not dwell in the shame of it. Care for yourself in the ways you can. Grieve, cry, and be disappointed. Then pick up and keep on living. This Time of Year passes. There is potential in every moment to grow and be, make amends and heal. But none of that will happen if you are stuck longing for what you think you ought to have, or do, or say or be.
I do not ever wish my clients a merry x-mass or a happy new year. I tell them to take care of themselves. It seems a more realistic option.
So if you are not a client and haven’t heard it from me yet. . .please take care of yourself this Time of Year. Be good to the parts of you that are struggling and celebrate the resilient bits that each one of you can find if you look. You are perfect as you are and as long as you remain on the journey of life, there is hope for better.
(see, I am NOT as Grinchy as you thought)