Happy holidays! Joy to the world! Peace on earth! Happy Hannukah! Merry Christmas! This time of year, season’s greetings ring out everywhere. But as a therapist, they can ring a little hollow, because this is also the time of year when my phone starts ringing…
In the midst of a season advertised as joyful, a therapist knows the truth: suffering doesn’t go on hiatus for a season. In fact, it is often intensified by the season. But a therapist also knows:
We get to our happiness by admitting our crappiness.
Revealing is the beginning of redeeming.
Confession is the birthplace of connection.
What if, this holiday season, instead of trying to be extraordinary, we let ourselves admit, reveal, and confess the ordinary struggles of our human lives? This is easier said than done, because when we’ve been told our whole lives we should be a certain way, we sometimes need permission to be a new way. So, from a therapist’s office, here’s some eight-fold permission to be more fully human this holiday season:
1. Emotions come and go. No one feels joyful for four consecutive weeks. But, this time of year, we beat ourselves up for not having fun all the time. Emotions are like a roller coaster. If we try to attach ourselves to one, we will be sorely disappointed. You have permission to feel like a roller coaster, to experience the many lows, and to be surprised by the moments of joy.
2. We feel like kids again. And not in a good way. Someone once said, “If you think you’ve moved beyond your childhood wounds, just go back home for a couple of days.” At the holidays, we return to family and, despite our best efforts, we often feel like we’re back at square one. We’re not. We’re simply learning again about the work of forgiveness. It isn’t a single event. It has to happen over and over again. You have permission to be a work in progress, to forgive yet again, and to feel a little more free to move one.
3. Mile markers. Rituals and traditions knit us together from season to season, but they also provide a distinctive landmark at which to ask, “What was life like last year at this time?” And the truth is, since last year, most of us have lost something dear to us. Someone we love. Our health. A job. A house. A faith. The holidays are an occasion for celebration and grief. That’s okay. Celebrations often end in hangovers, but grief ends in acceptance and an abiding sense of peace. You have permission to grieve, to feel the loss, and to feel your way, eventually, to an enduring peace.
4. Black Friday. Giving and gifting is a beautiful thing, but this is the month we’ll all go into more debt trying to do something good, and debt enslaves us and weighs us down. So why do we do it? Because we’re afraid of disappointing anyone. What if, this year, we gave ourselves to the people who want our presence, not our presents? What if we stayed in the black and took our freedom back. You have permission to be frugal this season, to be a presence instead of a present, and to enjoy those things which are totally free.
5. Speaking of gifts. By the time the tenth catalogue arrives in the mail, our kids seem freaked out and entitled, and we start to wonder if we’re doing something wrong as parents. But the only thing we’ve done is forgotten. We’re big kids now, with jobs and paychecks, and if we want something, we can usually find a way to get it. Kids have to wait. You have permission to let your kids be kid, permission to be an adult who has forgotten what it was like, to remember that the waiting is at least as much fun as the gift, and to wait on the good-but-not-yet-present things in your own life, with anticipation instead of despair.
6. Food. Let’s be honest, no one in the history of humankind has ever woken up and said, “My goal is to overeat repeatedly and constantly for the next month.” Most of us value health and moderation, not overconsumption. Yet, over the holidays, we live it. And then we can’t experience peace, because peace is the wholeness that happens when what we do is consistent with what we believe. You have permission to live according to what your heart—not your stomach—wants, to mess this up because chocolate tastes like heaven, and to start over again when you do.
7. Parties. It’s a season for gathering together, looking our best, and putting our best foot forward. But, if we’re feeling a little cracked beneath the happy façade, a festive crowd can become a place of seeming isolation. You have permission to be honest about your cracks until someone responds, “Me, too,” to find a corner and a conversation with that person, and to ignore everyone else.
8. Energy is contagious. Have you ever been in a mall during the last dwindling hours of the shopping season, or waited in a block-long line for Santa with tired and hungry kids, or stood at the deli counter while the ham was running out? The negative energy is a dis-ease that spreads quickly. There are a few angels among us who can transform this negative energy into love. You have permission to not be one of them. You have permission to want to be one of them, permission smile at the grim-faced stranger, to buy coffee for the impatient guy behind you, to remember the store clerk is overworking herself for peanuts, and to give her a gift, even if it’s as small as calling her by name.
You have permission to be the best and the worst in humanity, to feel crappy, to feel happy, to be you. All of you.
From a therapist’s office, Crappy-Happy Holidays!
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