I was sweating my recurring holiday anxiety the night before Thanksgiving. I SO want this year to be different. I really, really want to enjoy the holidays again.
But I drove to Thanksgiving lunch Thursday with a sense of dread in my stomach.
Anxiety is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You worry about the possibility of feeling anxious which makes you feel anxious and you think, “Well damn! Here it comes again.” Which makes you feel anxious.
So as I tooled down I-20 West with a knot in my stomach, I finally took a deep breath and said to myself, “OK. You’re smart. What is it that you’re really dreading? Be honest.”
So I thought for a while, and I realized that going to my grandmother’s house makes me feel anxious, first, because the whole atmosphere at her house is a bit cold and tense. She’s not a huggy, “make you an apple pie” grandmother. She’s a “get mad at you for sitting on her bedspread” grandmother. She’ll tell you you’re fat. She’ll tell you she doesn’t like your hair. After all, wearing it that way makes you look manly. *sigh*
Secondly, half the people there don’t WANT to be there and spend the whole time making snarky comments about my grandmother. And that makes me feel bad.
Finally, as Grandmother’s gotten older, she can’t hear much and so my mom spends the whole day yelling at her trying to communicate. It’s not intentionally confrontational, but they start to get irritated with each other and between the yelling and the frustration, the tension rips the scab right off my confrontation anxiety.
I thought about those things after I let myself admit them and said, “You know. Hating those things doesn’t make me a bad granddaughter, daughter, or Southern woman. It makes me human.” And I felt better.
Then I asked myself what made me uncomfortable about going to my mom’s house – the house where I grew up. And that one was easy. Although I’d never really admitted it, I feel such an yawning emptiness there since my dad died. My mom is amazing and I love her and I like spending time with her. But there is a gigantic love and laughter and warmth hole in that house since Daddy’s gone.
I thought about that for a while and realized that it doesn’t mean I don’t love my mother or that I’m a bad person for feeling some negative emotions when I’m at the house. It only means I love my daddy, that I was blessed to have a magnificent father, and I miss him at the holidays. There’s no shame in feeling that. And I felt better.
I realized that it doesn’t make me a bad person or a Scrooge to have things about the holidays or my family that make me uncomfortable or sad. It’s OK to feel negative feelings. Feelings can’t make you a bad person. The world is not perfect; the holidays can’t be perfect; my family isn’t perfect; and I don’t have to be perfect. “It’s OK,” I thought. “It’s all OK.”
Then it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I took a deep breath. My heart didn’t race and there was no hint of hyperventilation.
I went on to grandmother’s and had a good time. I let it be what it was. And we ate good food and we had good conversation. My cousin and I put up Grandmother’s Christmas tree and we watched a little football. And I felt satisfied and relaxed, not like I needed to escape.
Then I went to my mom’s for a while and hung out. And my dad wasn’t there. And I didn’t like that. And it was OK. We watched TV and fed the cats and put her big, light up, plastic Nativity scene on the front porch. Then we kicked back in our recliners and watched the lighting of Macy’s Great Tree. And it was OK.
Back home last night, I decided to put up my two-foot tall fiber optic Christmas tree and my tiny figurine of Snoopy and Woodstock decorating their Charlie Brown tree. I was hurting so much and feeling so bad last year that I never put them out.
And as I turned off the living room lights and watched my little tree spin and change colors, I was content. It was beautiful. It was a little tacky. It made me smile. And at least for the moment, I didn’t fear Christmas coming.