“If the Holidays are supposed to be so joyful, then why am I so sad, mad, numb, overwhelmed – stressed out?”
This time of year holds many hopes and dreams, memories of a perfect past, and expectations of things being as they “should” be. These internal visions of what we want to achieve, how we want to relate, having the perfect reunion, trying to uphold traditions under trying circumstances, all have an impact on our emotional outlook on life. If any one of these expectations go awry – we start to feel out of control, we get disappointed, frustrated, and often very sad.
When “the Holidays” are negatively impacted by memories of past grief events, loss or traumas, it’s important to be able to honor authentic emotions and then bring life into balance in current reality. One caution we often hear is to “stay in the present.” What this means is if we focus on handling what is happening in any given moment – that is possible to fulfill.
For instance, dates are just dates on the calendar – a factual marker of the month and day of the year – until something traumatic happens, then that date often is forever imprinted with the attached memory of the trauma or loss. Then as this date rolls around again, same month and same number – is it now brings up thoughts and nightmares of past traumas – even though the calendar year is different.
Several years ago there was a movie showing called Groundhog Day. The main character got into a time warp and for many repetitions he woke up again on the same day – February 2. He replayed the same experiences over and over again. Finally he learned to take control of his circumstances and to change or adapt his behavior to influence the circumstances in a positive and responsible way. In the movie – this broke the spell. In real life, when we take charge of our internal thoughts and external behaviors – we can break the spell of the negative past.
This is not denial, it is not ignoring what happened, it’s not shoving our emotions into a corner and putting on a happy face! This means we honor our emotions and give ourselves and others grace to process appropriately. This means we learn from the past event so that we will be safer, wiser and more proactive in the future. This means that if there is anger indicating we need to set better boundaries or take action to protect our self and loved ones – we do that.
“OK – so how do you do that?” Good question. The answer is about taking charge and governing those expectations we mentioned earlier. It is about pausing and taking a breath, setting realistic visions for what you want during this time of year. Do you really want to take the 3 little kids on a road trip across country to visit? Do you have to have all of the family for a sit down dinner, even the sibling who gets drunk and ruins the party? Are all of the chores on your list necessary – what if you really decided what is priority, connecting with a loved one or “getting it all done perfectly?”
Pause and think about the traditions that are passed down in families and cultures. Which ones have meaning for you? And which ones are just habits or shoulds from someone else’s expectations. I would imagine many of you have heard of the story of The Holiday Roast by now. So I will give a brief version for those of you who may not have heard the anecdote.
The new bride and her husband were hosting the traditional family Thanksgiving dinner. They purchased a beautiful roast for the meal even though they were on a tight budget. When the bride was preparing the roast to put into the over, she very deliberately cut off about an inch or so off of each end of the roast and put the meat in the roasting pan. The husband was curious to know why she did that, since from his perspective – that was a waste of good meat! The bride replied that was the way her mother always did it. At dinner the husband asked his new mother-in-law why she cut off the ends of the roast before putting it in the oven. She replied, “I don’t know, that’s what my mother always did, so I did as well.” So the husband turned to Grandma, who was also at the table, and asked her why she cut off the ends of the roast. Grandma softly laughed and said, “As a young mother, I only had one small roasting pan, so if I needed to I cut off the ends of the roast to make the roast fit into the pan.”
How often does that happen? What was once a necessity now is just a habit that serves no purpose. So, it is helpful to pause, do an inventory and make sure what you are doing or planning serves a valuable purpose or benefit in current reality – and if not, let the old currently ineffective traditions go into the archives of history. Now you can make new choices and traditions that work for you in today’s world.
When past traumatic events have not been processed or resolved, it is important to take the time to update your data base of history, perhaps seek wise council if you need a new perspective or new tools. Sometimes we are not even aware of what is triggering us today from the past.
Joy comes from the inside of our being, it bubbles out when we connect in a meaningful way to a person, memory, event or experience. The old caution our parent’s taught us when wanting us to be safe crossing the street – STOP, LOOK, LISTEN before you step out. This is a good caution for life. If you get into an emotional melt-down. STOP, take a breath and re-center. LOOK at what is happening and see if you are choosing or if someone else dictating. LISTEN to your inner voice of intuition and wisdom – then you can step back into the flow with internal purpose in a manageable and meaningful way.
Happy Holiday Joy!
How do you do that you might ask? There is a 5 step pathway for dealing with a past grief or loss event where memories have been linked to a certain time of year, or a particular anniversary date.
Have you ever wondered why we feel so much emotional pain about significant grief or loss events?
Without the emotions of sadness or sorrow in response to trauma and loss, our species would not survive.
As we go through life, we naturally make connections to people, and we are drawn to meaningful experiences. Because we have the capability to imagine how it would feel if valued connections were to be severed, we spend a significant amount of time and energy fostering and protecting those things that are important to us, especially personal relationships.
When a grief event or loss happens and the natural strategies are interrupted – grief can be unresolved or left hanging in the emotional system to be inappropriately triggered later in life by dates, events, holidays or other “anchors.”
Moving through grief with grace and dignity, the way nature intended, is the action of getting back into life’s balance after a loss, change, or trauma. After extensive research, Al Sargent has identified the basic phases we go through to come to understanding and balance after any significant change or loss.
Five Basic Phases in a Natural Grief Process:
Event – An event happens in the world which creates meaningful change.
Attention – The event is brought to an individual’s attention or awareness.
Authentication – The person then seeks to authenticate or verify facts and truth about the event.
Introspection – Internal processing moves through each Hemispheric Level of Experience. The number of HI levels affected, the personal connection to the event, and how proactive or reactive the individual’s filter for processing life will dictate the depth and duration of an emotional response.
Understanding – Coming to a place of proactive choice, wisdom, balance and internal peace.
During Introspection the person asks, “How does this event affect me Body, Mind, and Spirit, now, and in the future?” During this evaluation time a plan of action for healing evolves and true emotions can be experienced in a healing way.