I’ve started off the new year with a cold. Four days of sniffles, aches and pains. I’m in no state to make lofty proclamations about how this year is going to be so much better than last because I’m not going to eat any sugar. Truthfully, I stopped doing that years ago.
I was, like many of us, caught in a habit of getting really off balance during the holidays and then committing to some extreme form of discipline that would transform me into the perfect person I’ve always wanted to be on January 1.
For many of us the pattern looks like this: it all starts at Thanksgiving, we see family (or we don’t), we may have nice moments of connection, and we might also feel some old feelings from our past resurface. We may also find ourselves around more food and alcohol than usual while with said people (or not). The combination of past triggers and abundance of food and alcohol can lead some of us to overdo one or both.
This circumstance continues on to Christmas and Hannukkah (or whatever holiday you celebrate), often with overeating, drinking, acting out, or other behaviors that don’t serve us, continuing. We tell ourselves that come Jan. 1 it will all change so we might as well enjoy it now. That can fuel even more unhealthy behavior. Some of the unhealthy behavior is situational: there are more parties where unhealthy food and alcohol are available, and some is emotional, being around family or reminders of our past can be hard so we distract or numb ourselves with food, alcohol or other old behaviors. Then on Jan 1 we proclaim that we will never do these things again. That may last a week or 2, but usually we end up back at status quo.
Why is that?
Likely it’s because the cause of our behavior isn’t addressed. Why did I overeat? Why did I drink too much? Why did I pick a fight with my sister? Why do I shut down? The numbing or acting out behaviors we engage in during the holidays are usually related to feeling that we may be able to avoid during other times in the year. Many of us only see certain family members during the holidays, and that can trigger old feelings and behaviors. Going on a diet only addresses the symptom of our issue, not the cause.
“If you think you’re enlightened, go hang out with your family”
I love this saying. I know that, for me, there are parts of me I only confront when I’m with my family. I deeply love my family, yet when I’m with them all at once, I connect with parts of me that feel younger and less mature. I find that I’m more likely to shut down, be defensive or irritable. We all work hard at breaking these patterns, which, we know, are old and outdated. Every year we make small strides, and I’m optimistic that with each year we will shed the cobwebs of the past and step into more authentic presence with each other.
With all of this in mind, I’ve been in the practice of creating my “resolutions” before the holidays start. I think about how I want to show up with my family and friends. I think about what I need to do to be able to be present to the difficult stuff, as well as the beautiful stuff. I know that if I prioritize self-care, I can be more present and open. Breaking past habits is like swimming upstream- it feels counterintuitive, and even dangerous, but it’s necessary if we are going to heal the wounds of our past, and what better time to do that than the holidays?