Column: Here come the boogie men
The four boogie men are creeping on up us. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah-Christmas-Kwanza, and New Year’s Eve.
We worry about the fattening food, family hassles, failure to reach our dreams, and fear of exposing our disappointments to family, friends and even ourselves. The season feeds the monsters inside us (anxiety, insecurity, and depression) and around us (violence, abuse, poverty) both real and the ones we invent in our minds. Memories of simpler or easier times intrude on the reality of our situations today.
Instead, let’s try to think “freedom.” Be satisfied with what is rather than what could, should or would be. Think “fun.” Take these events more lightheartedly. Ignore today’s downers and focus on your blessings. Be frivolous!
Holidays don’t have to be tests of our worthiness or success. These moments become monumental when we give them that meaning or power. As a culture which has lauded excess, we have finally begun to focus on downsizing, from our drive-thru portions to our fuel consumption. As economic struggle has moved many of us from the expense of a weekly date night out at the movies to Netflix or a DVR, so too can we downsize our expectations of this season.
From October to the first week of January there is a schism between what we want, what we had, (or thought we had) what we expect of ourselves and loved ones, and what is possible. Our disappointments are illuminated and augmented by the illusory media and retail frenzy that accompanies each of these observances.
The fairy tales we cherish of our sweet, happy, or pretty childhood memories are embellished by our active imaginations, our denials, and our age. Nothing now can ever compare. Foods we forbade ourselves long ago, from candy corn and caramel apples to Yule logs, potato latkes and New Year’s champagne re-emerge and tempt us. We feel both guilt and longing.
We forget the family holiday fights of the past. We hope that our children don't expect what we can’t provide. We hope they will be grateful for what they receive and blame the media, and “our times” when they are not. Perhaps if we’d focused on the natural beauty and opportunities around us, our small, daily successes and joys, simpler living and holidays might be more readily available.
Let’s plan ahead for personal joy. We cannot be entirely responsible for each other’s happiness, even our children’s. What small or brief activity can we plan for ourselves and look forward to realistically? Let’s ask our children—both grown and young— what small pleasure will they look towards. Breaking the emotional impact of a whole event into bite sized pieces helps us focus more purposefully and easily on the good moments.
Some of us run away. We travel, or hide our disappointment when family is no longer there for us, literally or figuratively. When the season’s spotlight is on family, so many of us feel we can never measure up to our own expectations. We’ve fully bought in to the beliefs of what holidays “should” be.
At 18 or 30, we were young enough to anticipate that our New Year's Eve bash would truly rock; at 6 or 12, that our Halloween candy would last till Christmas; at every age, the Thanksgiving dinner and gathering would arrive without the stress of getting there, accompanied by gently falling snow and a lit fireplace or maybe Bing Crosby.
So . . .don’t stay on the holiday treadmill. This year, vote instead for frivolity, fun, freedom, and forgetfulness! There wasn’t and is no real perfection, or standard by which we must hold ourselves accountable this season.
Here’s permission to skip the turkey if you’d rather have pizza, or play Monopoly on New Year’s Eve or enjoy the solitude of a great book. Plan a bubble bath before the gift giving. You can write the rules. Simplify. Downsize. Give the gifts of your time, companionship, forgiveness, listening, playfulness, compassion and humor. They will last forever.
Allison B. Spitzer, MA, heads Trumbull-based Periwinkle Health, providing children and adults short-term, creative, pragmatic and alternative strategies for stress management and life challenges. Reach her at 203-218-2200 or periwinklehealth.com.