A holiday post from Sarah Hewitt, LMFT
The holiday season can result in an influx of new clients seeking out therapy. It is common for emails and voicemails to be left on Christmas evening looking for an upcoming appointment, as the holiday just brought on too much and became overwhelming. I cannot help but picture where these individuals are physically, on a day of giving and cheer, where their internal functioning is not matching their surroundings. Part of me also understands. Holidays can bring on sadness, amplified by grief, loss, among other stressors. When people are able to reach out for help, from a therapist’s perspective, it is such a brave choice, and is a display of the courageous hope they hold, even if they aren’t feeling very hopeful in the moment.
This time of year, I observe a lot of extreme behaviors with their accompanied deeper meanings. For example, financial strain from overspending, in efforts to “provide my child what I didn’t have” or to simply relieve some guilt from a year of overworking, in order to make up for lack of quality time. Another example would be cancelling the holidays or breaking tradition, “no one cares anyway” I hear from many clients who often host the holidays. However this is often in replacement of communicating “I don’t feel appreciated, so maybe they will realize how important I am now”.
The holidays make me think of a paper I wrote in high school, that described my view of Christmas from a little girl’s perspective. She expresses some confusion around having to wear itchy tights and too-tight shoes to a Christmas mass, while wondering why church is more full tonight (where is everyone every other week?) But in the end her confusion is clarified by the real comfort and connection of what holidays are supposed to be. She observes the lights on the alter, the smile of an older woman the next pew over, and an indescribable feeling of love inside of her.
I believe as adults, our young little girl and little boy selves get lost and we can be overwhelmed trying to recreate these moments for ourselves and others. It is easy to get “wrapped” up. “Stuff” doesn’t make memories, memories make memories. Laughter sticks with us, hugs stick with us, loving energy sticks with us.
As an adult child of divorced parents, I have put in effort over the years to manage my holidays so that there is room for these memories to take place. One year in my twenties, I went to TEN different places in two days! I understand it was to please many people, but, there was no room to enjoy any of it. I now protect my holidays, and keep good boundaries around how I spend them, so that I do not get lost in anything other than time with the people I love, the exchange of thoughtful gifts, and being in a mental place to really receive the gifts others have selected for me. I make sure I am truly present in order to take in the energy around me and enjoy watching my niece and nephew’s innocent joy. I make sure to give my fiancé a squeeze, as this year brings us marriage and so much to celebrate as we are building our own traditions.
To me, the holidays do more than culminate the year on a calendar. It allows us to reflect on the past year: did we work too much? Did we have enough time for our loved ones? Do we treat others well? Did we reach personal goals and grow? Instead of using the holiday to dwell or fall further into our anxieties if we did not, we should use this time to reset with good food, good people and peaceful energy if we are so fortunate to have it.
I encourage all my clients during this time of year, whether it is difficult because of family stress, financial hardship, or reminders of those who we have lost, do not make these emotions part of your tradition. Try to not attach these holidays with hurt and heartbreak, but instead with honor, gratitude and love. It makes getting through them a little easier, year after year, which is a great internal tradition we can hold onto ourselves.
And also somewhere, there will always be a little girl, with itchy tights, too-tight shoes and a curious little heart, who notices the love in the room. And that is what she will want for Christmas every year. That is something we can always be available to give.