Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all you beautiful people!
Well, we made it. The big day, the penultimate summation of 2018, when everyone joins together to celebrate family, friendship, good times, and good memories, is over.
Presents have been opened, feasts have been devoured, and now, hopefully, we all have lovely memories to warm our hearts for many cold months to come.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on everything that went into achieving that lustrous dream of a perfect American Christmas. All the planning, the driving in holiday traffic, the shopping in holiday crowds, the extra housework, and perhaps the convincing/cajoling of family members to come to your Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner.
All that extra is why for many of us (most of us?), the holidays, and especially Christmas, is a time of extreme physical and emotional stress. In fact, the risk for a heart attack peaks on Christmas Eve – right about 10:00 pm – because of intense emotional stress.
Isn’t it a relief that it’s over? It is for me. So much of Christmas 2018 did not go quite right. I stressed my husband out by not going to the grocery store soon enough. I stressed myself out by spending too much money. Things happened that caused intense emotional stress. And, of course, there was the societal pressure to reconnect with family.
I choose not to see my family around the holidays. I put my sobriety first instead. But I do miss them, and I still feel the obligation from society to recreate that American dream of the perfect family coming together around Christmas.
I believe one of the reasons the holidays become so stressful for us is because expectations around the holiday season are so high. Expectations are dangerous. I’ve heard so many times in so many meetings that “Expectations are nothing but future resentments.” There are three ways expectations build up in my life.
1. Expectations of Others
For many years I held expectations of my family. Instead of accepting them for what they were, exactly as they are, I expected the holidays to change them from the family that I had into the family that I wanted.
Something about the magic of the season – the sparkling lights, the festive music, the glittering decorations… – it all makes me feel like everyone around me, especially my family, should suddenly become absolute angels. The fact is, they’re still going to be who they are, even if I am making the effort to be SUPER HOLIDAY CHEER GIRL.
It’s freeing to accept a person for who they are – freeing for them and freeing for you. Instead of trying to control what they say and do, you begin to find joy in who they are as a person. You begin to find ways to love them in spite of their faults.
So this year, I practiced acceptance of those around me, and dropped my expectations.
2. Expectations from Society/Family
Ah, that perfect, magical Christmas experience. None of us can ever quite reach it – and that shouldn’t make us feel inadequate or that we have somehow fallen short.
At this point, my family doesn’t even bother inviting me to their holiday gatherings. Which, honestly, hurts. But I recognize that they have expectations of me that I cannot fulfill for them anymore.
They expect me to behave a certain way, say certain things – be a certain way. But I’m not that person anymore. And, for the sake of my sobriety, I must put myself first. Which means I can’t be around them right now.
So this year, I accepted that society and family hold expectations, but I also accepted and honored my own limitations and boundaries.
3. Expectations of Myself
I set a high bar when it comes to my behavior and my accomplishments. This Christmas season, though, I kept my expectations of myself simple. Just.Stay.Sober.
I had enough going on with work (4th quarter was stressful!) and life that I did not need the additional expectations of making sure Christmas was perfect.
I didn’t beat myself up for not getting all of the presents perfectly wrapped. I didn’t berate myself for not getting to the gym every day (or at all). I let myself rest. I allowed myself to feel emotions that needed to be felt.
And because I gave myself the space to do all of that, this Christmas season was completely different for me.
Because of this…
Because I was able to manage my expectations, I’m sitting here enjoying a post-Christmas glow. Boxing Day football (Liverpool vs. Newcastle) is on the TV, Bodhi is dozing peacefully beside me. I’m sick, but I’m not hungover. And I’m sipping a wonderful Blackberry Jasmine Green tea.
I survived Christmas by lowering my expectations and realizing that there’s nothing I can do about other’s expectations. I have no control over how other people interact with me or receive me – but I do have control over myself, my boundaries, my own thoughts
Because I made the choice to honor my boundaries and lower my expectations, I have a small piece of serenity today – and I’m going to hold onto it for as long as I can.