Wow. There are a lot of advice essays, memes, and listicles going around right now on how to survive the holidays with family. I jumped into that my own self in the past, with a Thanksgiving BINGO game I invented for giggles over gravy. Giggles and groans. Groans and gravy. (One of those will be the title of my next country album- I call it).
Truthfully, one of the things that made me most nervous about giving up alcohol for a year was anticipating family time without it. I tend to drink a lot when with family. Something about gathering with loved ones makes me want to dull me down, down, down. It pings all my anxiety cords, trying to understand my place and to please everyone, and to navigate potentially fire-starting conversations. I’m clearly not alone in feeling like this. Families are notoriously complicated and holidays are often high-pressure, tense situations.
Going ‘home,’ we wish we felt the most welcome and known, but often we feel isolated, wrong, ashamed, overwhelmed, and misunderstood. Very few people I know feel like their families fully know or fully get them. Family often hangs onto a version of us that is frozen in time. Like the expectations of who we’re supposed to be, or who they supposed we would be, or the memory of who they thought we once were, are more vivid in the family space than the real us.
And also, we grieve. Being around family brings up people we miss. People who aren’t at the table anymore. It also forces us to face stuff from youth that we can ignore the rest of the year. (Even if that’s just how we were super awkward from ages seven to….well, thirty-nine and standing).
It’s…a lot. This doesn’t even cover those people who faced genuine trauma within their families. Some adults I know have had to move from the families they were born into to families they created because there’s too much pain and danger for them at ‘home.’ They’ve had to do a lot of personal work to choose themselves and spouses and friends who shine light on them and acknowledge their worth, who help them thrive, who progress with them, who build them instead of limit them. It almost always feels like a betrayal along the way, and it makes you examine selfishness and self.
Oy. The weight of expectation when we’re trying to do right by ourselves, but also everyone else. Figuring out our identities doesn’t ever stop. Understanding who we are and why is an ongoing chore. And since everyone is doing this constantly, it’s a miracle we ever spin in the same orbit as anyone else for long.
It’s hard to person, but personing with other people!? Forget about it.