If you have never seen the movie called “The Family Stone,” I highly recommend it. It is my all time favorite holiday movie, because of the chaos that is family and the emotional context that is portrayed in nearly every scene. We see Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), a high strung career woman initially fail to bond with her boyfriend’s family. Everything she does is considered “wrong,” or perceived like she is trying too hard. Finally, she bonds with her boyfriend’s lackadaisical brother, Ben (Luke Wilson), who tells her, “You have a freak flag, you just don’t fly it.”
Here’s the deal: Holidays are fucking tough. I’m not sure about you, but whenever a family holiday is approaching it’s a cue for me to go into “severe breakdown mode,” and cry for DAYS– Literal DAYS leading up to the event. And then after I barley survive the ordeal, I go home and think about every single little thing that occurred during the get together and I question myself over and over again on whether or not I performed well enough: Did I dress the part? Did I actually not cry for once in front of my family? Did I seem like me and my whole family were “put together,” well enough? Was my kid on her best behavior? Did I parent appropriately? Did my husband make that joke about the Texans again? Because lord only knows if any of this was a misstep that is a reflection on me and I can’t seem crazy, or weird, or out of sorts.
Heaven forbid I am human on thanksgiving, despite the fact that in August I had a break down. I’ve got to get it together for today or my life will inevitably fall apart because I am such a disappointment to my family, dear god what else can I do?
Well, not this year. This year was different. I had my breakdown early and my whole family knew about it. Instead of bottling it all up, I reached out. I’m not perfect. The events that ensued weren’t exactly what I would call pretty. I did learn from it all, though. And to me that’s what matters most. I got my medication schedule corrected and I bit the bullet hard and actively sought out help. Sometimes that is so scary. Sometimes it’s terrifying to say, “hey, guys! I need help. I’m really struggling and I can’t hold on much longer.” My family rose to the occasion beautifully. They all rallied behind me, offering support, advice, hugs, and of course their love. Unconditional love. So this year, I got to witness a thanksgiving with new eyes, and though I was exhausted, I learned a few things that I want to share.
(and for the record, I didn’t cry on Thanksgiving. That has been a first in at least ten years.)
Everyone is putting their best foot forward during the holidays, but even in day-to-day life, people are doing the best they can do at any given moment. People aren’t out to get you, and if they are being mean just to be mean, imagine how mean they are to themselves. It literally has nothing to do with you, no matter how you spin it. If someone is constantly picking on you, it is because they are insecure. I know that people know this but I really learned it this year. The rules that apply with bullies at school ALSO apply to bullies in your family. You have to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that it is not all about you. Oh, imagine that!
Also, I’m slowly learning that no, I do not need closure on every little event that has transpired in my life. Closure does not mean that I get to vent my feelings at some unwilling victim. It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to talk about it, just make sure you find the right time to discuss it.
Another key element here in communication: Choose your battles wisely. You don’t have to argue over every little thing. Arguments come up with family members. It just happens sometimes. The important thing is to listen because most people shout when they don’t feel like they are being heard.
Most importantly, I learned that everyone is truly fighting a battle that you don’t know about. Even within your family. You might be peas in a pod, but while we share moments in life together, we are all living our own individual lives alone. This epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks in the middle of the night last night. I was dreaming about my family and all the major events between me and one family member and then WHAM– I woke up. And the first thought that came to my mind was that I have been looking at all those moments through my eyes. I haven’t even given a thought to looking at the events through their eyes. So, I did. Do you know what I saw? Fear. The same fear and anxieties that I have during the holidays, they have too! And they have their own stuff going on. Just like me. We are more similar that we would ever give each other credit for.
So this all goes back to “the family stone.” It’s okay to simply be yourself during the holidays. As a whole, we have to stop judging each other, gossiping/ “expressing concern”, and trying to “fix” each other’s problems. It’s okay to say, “hey I’m not feeling like coming this year,” and not needing to explain yourself. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to not show up. It’s okay to say, “I’m overstimulated right now!” It’s okay to take walks when you need to breathe. It’s okay to read tarot cards in the room next door. It’s okay to laugh while watching the little ones cover the counter in sprinkles. It’s okay to simply eat and watch the game before you go to bed. It’s okay to do all the clean up quietly to decompress. It’s all OKAY. And we shouldn’t bother expecting the others to get it. Just be you and let that freak flag fly. You do not owe an explanation to anyone. Just do you.
Families are messy and chaotic. Some are quiet and more reserved. Mine just happens to be very loud in life and in love. I am personally going to let my freak flag fly and love my family to bits while doing it! So, if the holidays get you down because family can be a total pain in the ass, I hope this post helps you. You’re not alone and sometimes the answer is right in front of you. Sometimes the answer is the very thing that unnerved you to begin with. Hold on tight, and just enjoy the ride.
Remember to be kind to yourself and if you or someone close to you is in serious distress or simply needs to talk to someone, please call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741.