Lonely for the Holidays: What Happens When We Change but are Still Connected to Our Unchanging Pasts

Holidays are tricky. They can be exciting times, filled with a frenetic break from the norm. With a mounting gift list to buy and mounds of food to make, it can be exhausting, but also satisfying. On the other hand, it can also be a time where we get together with the people we know, maybe more than we’d like to. This can be stressful to say the least, but for some of us, this is an unavoidable reality.

If you’re like me, you’ve made some fairly drastic changes in your lifestyle while also worked diligently on keeping your mental health and well-being a priority, while maybe your family… not so much. So how do we walk the line of being present with what may be an excrutiting experience, of being with the unchanged reminders of our pasts, while keeping ourselves safe and accounted for in the present? It takes skill, but it can be done without revisiting some old ghosts.

The key is to maintain healthy boundaries between where you end and those whom you’re interacting with, begin. This isn’t always easy though, especially if you haven’t had healthy boundaries modeled for you while you were growing up. I know for me, I didn’t even know what a boundary was. It was seen as being disloyal to be a separate emotional self from those around me. It was taken personally, as though they were being rejected in some way if the family didn’t take on what they were experiencing.

This is unhealthy. First, it’s important to set some boundaries for yourself. Another way to see it is setting up some rules, for how you will, and will not accept being treated, by anybody. What are the things that people do, or say that make you feel poorly about yourself. As though you’re not adding up in some way or maybe feel ashamed about who you are if you’re not meeting some impossible standard? These are the places you may want to visit while establishing your boundaries.

It’s important to know and understand this aspect of your relationships because the longer you’re exposed to these influences, the more likely you are to take these views and ideas of yourself on as your own. But also while you’re enduring these manipulations of feelings, you’re also unwittingly setting the standard for how you will tolerate being treated. This is likely how poor boundaries were established to begin with.

That being said, it’s crucial to understand how you’re feeling while you’re in the midst of what may be, an emotionally challenging environment. Strong opinions may be thrusted around or overly rancorous and mean spirited gossip may be forced towards anyone who is listening, are a few examples of unhealthy expressions of communication and bonding. So in order to know how you are feeling in the middle of what could be a confusing scene, it’s important to take some space and check in with your feelings.

Don’t be afraid to take space. Go for a short walk if you are some place that is scenic, or maybe you have a favorite coffee shop nearby where you can grab a calming cup of herbal tea. Even if it’s just a corner out of the flow of people gathering around you, take some time and space to see how you’re feeling.

Also, don’t be afraid to take this space as your own. If someone asks to come, or finds you while you’re checking in on your own, don’t hesitate to say you’d rather be alone. This is your time, and you will need some quiet to check in with yourself.

Once you’re alone, you can start to do the work of getting to the core of how you’re dealing with, and feeling about your current situation. For myself, I find a helpful place to start is by being kind to myself. It helps to allow for the emotions that are bound up for fear of being surrounded by what feels like an unsafe place to be, come to the surface and feel heard. If you’re used to an environment that is ripe with aggression, this may take some practice.

I didn’t have a lot of kindness modeled for me in my youth, towards self or others, so it took a lot of practice and getting used to. And on top of that, I was raised to believe that kindness was not only a feminine trait, but also a sign of weakness in Men, and not for the human trait it is. So understanding the beliefs we were raised with will also help to uncovering our emotional selves.

Because this is vulnerable work, sitting with our emotions and understanding how we’re feeling about, or towards our situations and ourselves. If all that was modeled for us was a sense of judgement and criticism, then vulnerability can be a scary and raw feeling. One we will most likely want to numb or avoid at all costs.

I know I did for a long time, and I learned how from my family. And it’s equally as important to know that it’s not your fault. It’s not your family’s fault either. But we can only focus on ourselves and knowing that these feelings are difficult in the first place, something we instinctively want to avoid, helps a great deal to relieve some of the guilt we may be feeling in how we’ve avoided them in past and maybe some of our aversion to them in the present.

This whole process is something that takes a lot of patients, and a lot of courage. Standing up to your family is no easy task, but if they are locked in unhealthy patterns, it is paramount that you put yourself first, and take care of your emotional health and mental space. And sometimes this can feel selfish.

Some places I get hung up on is wanting to help, change or “save” my family from the unhealthy habits I see them wrestling with, as I had or still am but maybe seeing them from a different perspective. You can’t make someone want to change. That’s important to understand, especially if you’ve, like I have, grown up having your emotions manipulated by caretakers. Knowing that we are solely responsible for ourselves is important to helping us create a healthy boundary between our emotional selves and those of others.

It’s equally as important to remember, too that just like you, everybody is capable of making healthy choices. I used to write people off, as though they were disposable, if they crossed me. This black and white way of thinking left me with a lot of burnt bridges and hard feelings, with few friends to call on for support. But it was also a way of keeping myself safe from potential sources of harm. Knowing we can keep ourselves safe while in relationship is an important step towards not only building healthy, lasting relationships, but also helping those whom maybe want something different, as you do.

That being said, leaving the door to our vulnerable selves wide open can lead to hurt feelings or feeling taken advantage of. So there may be a balance to strike somewhere between not writing people off, but also not letting them continue to practice old, unhealthy patterns of relationship. This is a place I explore with the help of my therapist, and something I definitely suggest seeking professional support and guidance for. These are not places I wanted to visit in the first place, but to go alone, and with no tools seemed overwhelming.

And finally, have a plan for what you will do if you are feeling stuck, or overwhelmed. Knowing that you have a plan, even if it’s just to take a walk and get away for a bit, helps to give you some sense of agency. Like no matter what happens, you are in charge of keeping yourself safe. You can rely on and trust yourself to take care of you, maybe in the ways you never were before.

I hope this helps in some way. The holidays can be tough and having as many resources around as possible will hopefully help to ease some of the tension they can bring. Be safe, be well and happy holidays. Peace : ]

Image Credits: “Backpacker Night Shift” by mallix is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Intentions: They’re More Than You Think

Lately I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and how much I couldn’t disagree with it more. I’m pretty sure it’s intended meaning is something along the lines of, actions speak louder than words. But what I feel isn’t being accounted for is the connection between actions, and the reason behind the actions.

Actions are indeed an important part of the equation, but it’s not the only part. More so, I feel that intentions are what actions are born from. I feel that when our intentions are in line with our actions, then we are being motivated from a place of integrity, where our bodies are carrying out the deeds of our ideas. And there’s a lot to be said for acting from a place of wholeness. The ease of your intentions aligning with what you say you will do.

I think one of the reasons I disagree so strongly with this phrase has a lot to do with my yoga practice. If you’ve read my post on “self care” you’ll know that yoga has become a part of my self-care routine. I practice at home now, but when I started my practice, I would go to classes at a studio. The instructor would usually start the class with the phrase, “set an intention for tonight’s practice”, and to be honest, I never did.

I thought it seemed silly at the time. “What do intentions have to do with my body” was how I initially saw them. But as my practice developed, and my relationship to myself became stronger, I realized that intentions are really the base of all actions. Another way to put it, you can have an intention without an action, but not an action without an intention. And the more you repeat your intention, the stronger it gets. Just like working out a muscle, your intentions are the “muscles” behind your characteristics, or what you value.

If your intention is to spend your free time in front of a screen playing games, then you will most likely develop the characteristic of lethargy (this is one I’m very familiar with). But maybe it’s not always our intention to get stuck behind the screen, or what if we get wrapped up in something to avoid the difficult work that may be wound around our intended action. If that’s the case, what’s making it so difficult?

From my experience, if intention is the birth of action, and if we’re unable to follow through with our intended actions, self doubt and fear are usually at the heart of our stalling. So if you have an intention already set, all you need to do is to get over the fear and self doubt. Easier said than done, right. So how do we get over these stumbling blocks that are in the way of reaching our intended goals? I’m not sure that we ever really leave them behind, or get rid of them all together, but we can find some ways of responding to them that makes it easier for them to be in the picture. And it starts with a little kindness.

Fear and self doubt are two feelings that we shouldn’t demonize. Too often we use them as a way to beat ourselves up. A good example is, if you’re trying to mend a relationship, but find the work of going through the difficult emotions that are tied up with the process seem too overwhelming, than you may feel as though the relationship is unsalvageable. Or fear that the same breach of trust may happen all over again.

This is precisely where treating our fear of being hurt again, or the self doubt of not being up to the challenge, with kindness will soften the difficult emotions and make space for confidence and strength to grow. So when we treat difficult emotions with compassion, we are sending the message that, we’re here, we care, to ourselves. Which over time, builds up our resilience to what we find difficult to be with. Working out the “muscle” of our compassion.

A good way to look at it is: good intentions, fostered with gentle and kind compassion, leads to compassionate actions; “An intention is intended to flow through our every word, thought and deed“, Emma Newlyn. What I like about this quote from Emma Newlyn is that it illustrates how our intentions are woven around our deeds, actions and words, and over time makes up the fabric of our character. It also shows how connected everything is, words, thoughts and actions. All just extensions of how we are in the world.

The takeaway? Compassion, and lots of practice. And that’s not to say that we avoid the difficult emotions by covering them over with kind thoughts, but rather to respect the emotions that are arising, while staying strong in who we are, from a place of love and kindness. To be conscious enough to act from these places, and not let the difficult emotions take over.

And of course it’s not easy. But hey, few things worth the effort in life usually are. The good news is, it does get easier with practice. This is where I leave you my friends. I hope you are having a safe and joyful holiday season, considering our collective circumstances. So be well, be safe and until next time, peace :]

Image Credits: “Woven” by arbyreed is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Self-Care Physical: Read the Labels, No New Clothes Well Maybe

Off and on I get the urge to go shopping for something new. Now a days I mostly I get candles or something to read or a new type of soap. But I always feel a bit weird walking into a store that’s trying to sell an image. The sleek lines and the bass driven rhythmic thumping of music. The smell of slick cologne or perfume laying heavy in a thick haze across the open concept display rooms.

Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to go into one of these stores once and a while to get the experience. But for me anyways, it only lasts so long before the fatigue sets in. If you’ve read my Mission Statement you’ll know where I’m coming from when I say I’m slightly nostalgic for this experience in a borderline unhealthy way.

This got me thinking about the clothes that I do own. Most very plan with only a few pieces that have some sort of writing or brand name blazend across the front or back. I have a shirt that sports the name of the city I live in, one with the name of a place I went to while on vacation and a few others for sure. Oh, the “MT. WASHINGTON 6,288′” shirt I got when I climbed Mt. Washington. But most of the clothes I own have little to no visible brand name affiliations. What can I say, I like plain clothing.

Recently on my way back from an appointment in a neighboring city I stopped into a thrift shop. The shop supports a sober living community and I stopped in to look at some clothing while waiting for my train home. I bought a pair of jeans that would have cost 70+ dollars retail and a sweater equally as expensive for about twenty dollars. I felt good afterwards. Not contributing to the cost of generating new clothing and feeling as though I helped in some small way, the mission of keeping alcoholics sober. Not to mention I saved a bunch of money to boot!

Also I realized that I hadn’t shopped for second hand clothing since high school. This seemed strange because one of my life goals is to live as zero waste as possible. Shopping second hand just seemed like such a no-brainer that I’m surprised I haven’t started doing it much sooner.

So what if instead of every time we need a new piece of clothing we don’t go shopping where we are supporting big, name-brand clothing companies. But instead why not buy from one another in the form of thrift markets or online used clothing markets like Ebay, Poshmark or Swap? Or how about going out to a good old-fashion yard sale. This builds community by connecting individuals whom are trying to express a facet of their personalities while also repurposing old clothing that would have gone to a landfill. And the need to purchase new clothing would perpetuate the unhealthy cycle of consuming for the sake of keeping up appearances. So it’s a way to recycle and break some of the fast fashion trend.

But thrift stores aren’t only relegated to buying and selling clothing. Another versatile use for thrifting is sustainably gifting. This past Christmas I was thinking about going to various thrift stores and buying people convenience kits. Something that would be useful everyday and practical while maintaining a sense of the person’s style. Like in one kit for my stepmother I may buy a travel coffee mug, water bottle, cloth bag, a pair of sunglasses, a book and a pair of gloves if I’m giving it in the winter. Or something summer related for a summer gifting.

With seemingly unlimited options the list is only limited to the stuff that people have donated. Not by a season or a product line. I know from my own experience that I’ve donated thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff over my lifetime. Odds are someone found a good home for the things I traded in. And that’s a nice way to think about it because I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I get a little sentimental over inanimate objects.

I’m also a big fan of upcycling clothing. Like old tee-shirts into bandanas (some self disclosure: I wear a lot of bandanas). There was a period in high school when I made my own patchwork corduroy pants that had 36″ cuffs. Asides from them being comically big on me, it brought me such a sense of joy and accomplishment from making something that I wore every day. It helped that I was a dirty hippie and often wore articles of clothing over and over without a wash 😀

Self expression is about finding what it is about you that makes you shine. If it’s clothing, why wouldn’t you want something that had your name written all over it instead of some designer you don’t know. And who’s making mounds of cash off people trying to buy acceptance at the price of others? And in some cases, the environment. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t buy the clothing we like new, but let’s make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. Let’s try to get back to what matters, connections and curating something that makes you more you 🙂

Me in High-School
Evidence of my bandana wearing hippie ways in my early years. Me (on the left) with my then girlfriend and friends on the front page of our town paper complaining about how strict the school was that year 🙂