Finding Your Zen for the Holidays in Spite of Everyone Else

I'm really fortunate in that this year I will be spending another Christmas with my amazing significant other, and doubly so that his family is joining us for the New Year. There's even a good chance that my parents will be here, too, and while in the past this may have been something of a mixed blessing, I'm proud to report that we are all in the process of checking ourselves before we continue to wreck ourselves, so this is now something to celebrate, although it's slightly terrifying that my mother and I are now each other's Sane Person.

In short, it's shaping up to be a good holiday. A busy one, and I'm trying to avoid thinking about what it's going to be like to make menus and cook and clean for that many people without incapacitating myself, but as the anxiety starts to rise it really helps to remind myself that they're good folks, Brent, and they're not like my first ex's family who hated me largely because I was Jewish.

...Let's just say I've had plenty of crappy holidays before this point.

I'm still trying to come back from previous years. It's all a matter of re-learning that just because my ex-mother-in-law called me trash for microwaving frozen vegetables and I once had my head put through a wall for daring to have chipped nail polish during a religious holiday service does not mean that's going to happen again. For a long time, I hated the holiday season and just wanted to hide in my room until the festivities were over; it simply wasn't safe to do so before then.

There is still one person in my life and the lives of my loved ones who I sincerely wish was not there. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to remove them, although I would love to do so, preferably through a plate glass window on the top floor of Nakatomi Plaza. They will not be coming to our home for the celebrations, but I will still have to see them at least in passing, and their continued existence on this planet is enough to send me into heart palpitations. I have lost sleep over how much I despise this person due to their abusive, narcissistic behavior and the way that they keep being rewarded for it. Yes, I am a tiny ball of anger with a history of going what scientists refer to as "ape-shit" on those who cross me or the people I care about. I tried a yoga-and-meditation class once and had to leave early because everyone seemed so smug about how peaceful they were that I was feeling that familiar twitch in my right eye (I have since determined that I was just in the wrong yoga class for my personal needs). The thing is, I would probably not do well in federal prison, and chances are that neither would you. So how do you keep it together without the felony assault charge, especially during the holiday season, when stress levels are sky-high and you're face-to-face with whatever bigoted uncle or body-shaming aunt has tormented you since childhood with nowhere to go?

I'd like to point out here that I'm not a mental health professional, nor do I claim to be, although I'm pretty sure I've paid for college for the children of several of them during my lifetime. These are simply things I've found that help me, and maybe they'll help you, too.

The Most Important Thing: Someone Sees You, and Your Feelings Are Valid

Sometimes it feels like you're screaming into a void, especially when you've made your feelings about a particular person known and you still find them on the invite list for Christmas dinner. How many times have people told you you're being ridiculous or that you just need to calm down and count to 10, as if either of those things have ever actually brought anyone back from the brink at any point in time ever?

Feelings are not the enemy. We all have the right to feel whatever we please. We are not weak for being scared or sad, and we are not broken for being angry. If someone or something sets off those alarm bells inside your head that say "DANGER, DO NOT WANT," there's a reason for that, and it is a valid reason. Period. Why some people want to tell us otherwise is beyond me, but I imagine back in caveman days, their ancestors were the ones telling Glorg to stop freaking out because there were definitely no hungry wild animals hiding in the tall grass and were then summarily mauled to death while Glorg high-tailed it back to his cave to stress-vomit for another day.

You're not alone, as you may have gathered from my lead-in. I get it. In addition to the current source of toxicity in my life, I've cut multiple friends and family members in the past from my life for similar reasons, although not without a lengthy waiting period and plenty of suffering around it. I know what it's like to be in that limbo and I know what it's like to not have anyone you can go to about it. If you have nobody else you can talk to, talk to me. There are contact links at the top of my blog, or you can leave an anonymous comment, however you're most comfortable. I'm here for you.

You Don't Owe Anyone Respect

The corollary to feelings being valid is that unfortunately, we cannot go punching people in the teeth all willy-nilly. The only thing we need to control is how we express those feelings. While going up and over the table at Racist Aunt Millie may feel pretty cathartic in the moment, the consequences to those actions will cause us more trouble than they're ultimately worth.

Note also that I'm saying us and not them. If someone has treated you like crap for your entire life or makes you feel unsafe or bad about yourself, they do not deserve your consideration. Consider yourself. Go with the bare minimum of civility. Put Vaseline on your teeth if you need to keep a polite smile up. Do exactly enough to keep yourself as far from the center of any drama as possible; remember, if you're the one who's being polite and not ranting and raving, you aren't the one who looks like the jerk.

We're taught as kids that everyone older than us automatically deserves respect and that rebelling against them makes us Bad People. The problem with this mentality is that it's too general. By that logic, we're doing something wrong by standing up to abusers or making our own choices about who we want to allow in our lives. I use a modified version of it: everyone starts off with my respect, and then keeps it or loses it based on their actions. Once respect is lost, it's incredibly hard to get back -- as it should be. If you don't want to talk to your biological father because he was and still is a violent drunk, and you have determined that forgiveness is not in the cards, that is completely your right and your decision, and you are not a less kind person for it. Being kind does not mean being a doormat.

Worst case scenario, I grew up in the South. "Bless your heart" and "I'll pray for you" are two of the most devastating insults you can throw at someone while maintaining the guise of politeness. If, however, your family is Southern, the magic here is sadly lost and you should not say these because they'll know you're really telling them to go pound sand.

You Are (Probably) Not Under Any Real Obligation To Go

Guilt is a harsh, harsh motivator. My grandmother is the master of the Level 3 Guilt Trip. I understand that not everyone has a passive-aggressive old Jewish woman from Queens to help them develop an immunity to guilt, so let me put it bluntly: unless your life would be in danger by not going to dinner, or they're threatening to cut off vital assistance if you don't go, or a very tiny number of other edge cases, you do not owe anyone the pleasure of your attendance.

There are plenty of good excuses that don't involve flat-out telling someone that they suck and you hate them:
  • I'm too sick to go -- that holiday flu is awful, you know
  • I have to work a mandatory shift
  • I already made other plans which I can't cancel
  • It's too far to travel (probably only works if they actually live far away and not, like, down the block)
If you're confident enough to take a stand and tell them exactly why you don't want to go, good on you. Do it. They will huff and puff and stomp their feet and act much like a child throwing a temper tantrum, and then they will get bored when they realize that they're not getting their way or the attention they so desperately crave and move on.

In the event that you do really need to go, reach out to a trusted friend. Let them know the situation and ask if they can be your rescuer in case things get really bad. Worst case scenario, leave early, even if that involves having them call you with a pretend work emergency or something similar to give you the excuse. I've walked out of a bad home situation and walked down the side of a major freeway while sobbing to a friend to please come pick me up on more than one occasion. That's the great thing about friends: they're friends.

And honestly, if you can't get past the guilt and go anyway? That's okay. You are not a loser, or a failure, or weak. You are doing what you need to do to survive no matter how awful it is, and that is an admirable thing.

Remember That We Get What We Give

Warning: this one is easier said than done.

Call it karma if you want, but terrible people who do and say terrible things usually do not end up having happy lives in the end. It may seem that they're getting everything they want out of life, but eventually the sort of folks who are absolutely awful to other people will do something to screw up their own lives. It may take a long time to happen, but trust me -- it will. 

Some people may say that's a terrible mentality to have, but I say it's a worse mentality to chastise victims of abuse or harassment for being upset with the people inflicting that sort of suffering upon them. This is not Minority Report, and there are no thought crimes. If there were, there would be nobody left to police them, because I guarantee you there is not a single person on the face of this earth who has not seen someone doing or saying something awful and at least thought "Man, I hope every single Chipotle order they make from here on out is dry and unsatisfying."

So if it helps you remember to breathe, by all means, put your faith in the universe to take care of its own. If you want to expand that to be a specific deity you follow, that's great, too. Or if you simply want to remember that even the most skilled manipulator can only keep their mask up for so long and that it's only a matter of time before their own horribleness gets them into trouble because that's how deception works, yep. Do that. 

Ask For Help

Maybe you've done everything you can possibly think of to cope and things are still bad, and you're having trouble keeping your head above water.

That's where the best of humanity comes in.

Please, if you are having trouble this holiday season, here is an international list of suicide hotlines staffed by caring people who really want to help you make it through this. If you have anxiety related to talking on the phone, you can hit up the Crisis Text Line or 7 Cups of Tea, which is online chat-based. If you're in the US and are deaf or hard-of-hearing, there's a TTY crisis line here. There's also the Trans Lifeline which covers the US and Canada.

If you're in a good situation this holiday season but know someone who isn't, please pass these phone numbers on to them and let them know that you're there for them. A simple hug or a friendly face can go a long way to remind someone that they have someone in their corner -- be a beacon in the darkness they're dealing with.

I Love You, You're Fantastic, and I'm Proud of You

I just really wanted to get that message across in big letters so nobody misses it.