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Keeping the home fires burning bright

Posted Nov 25 2012 10:21am

Keep the home fires burning bright.

We got back late last night from my Thanksgiving trip to my parents’ place. All the (living) siblings descended from points throughout the USA, with all the kids (plus a few friends) in tow, and we proceeded to completely overwhelm each other. It was all in good fun, of course, which is a big change from how things have been in the past, and for that I am very, very grateful. I’m even more thankful now than I was on Thanksgiving day. It was a good visit, this year. Much better than in the past. Many a year has come and gone with me (literally) writhing in emotional and physical agony over the holidays.

The Top Ten things that set me over the edge in the past were:

  1. Not taking good care of myself, eating all the wrong things in very large amounts.
  2. Not pacing myself with all the activity.
  3. Getting bent out of shape over things that people said or did.
  4. Not getting enough exercise.
  5. Not getting enough alone-time”, but staying in the thick of everything ALL the time.
  6. Deciding to “take the bait” when siblings wanted to argue and tangle with me, because somehow I thought that this time I would “win.
  7. Trying to intercede to make sure that the arguments between my spouse and my parents didn’t escalate.
  8. Trying to make sure my spouse was always comfortable and felt welcome (a losing battle, if ever there was one).
  9. Getting upset over people saying and doing things I did not agree with — AT ALL — and trying to debate issues, getting turned around, and melting down, either privately or publicly.
  10. Pushing myself to do things when I was over-tired or over-stressed.

None of those things happened this time — that is to say, I chose to do things differently, so that none of the above had to happen. There were a couple of close calls, but I just noted them and moved on.

The Top Ten things I did that kept me well back from the edge this year were:

  1. Making an effort to take good care of myself, eating the right things in the right amounts. I brought my own cereal and rice milk, so I could be dairy-free, and I steered clear of a lot of bread.
  2. I paced myself with all the activity, being active at times, and stepping away from the pandemonium at others.
  3. I didn’t bother getting bent out of shape over things that people said or did. I figured, there was a really good reason they think what they do, and I haven’t the faintest idea what those reasons are, so leave it well enough alone.
  4. I started out each day with exercise. Either I walked up the big hill from the place where we were staying to my parents’ house — about 3/4 mile all uphill — or I walked my sibling’s dog when I got to the house. I took the dog for a lot of walks – it was very cool.
  5. I did my best to get enough alone-time. Granted, with 9 kids and a dog running around at top speed the whole time, and all the nieces and nephews wanting me to play with them or hang out with them, it was a challenge — because I really wanted to be in the thick of everything. But I did step away at times. Everybody did, actually.
  6. I didn’t “take the bait” when siblings wanted to argue and tangle with me. When my smart-ass, condescending siblings would start in on me, I would just nod and smile and make some vague comment that told them I wasn’t “going there” with them. There was just no point. I think they were glad of it, too.
  7. I did not intercede to make sure that the arguments between my spouse and my parents didn’t escalate. They have major differences that rankle my spouse to no end, but after 22 years, I’ve finally realized that that’s “their thing” — they actually enjoy wrangling with each other, sparring and testing each others’ boundaries. It’s taken me two decades to get used to it, but finally I’m fine with things never being fine between them.
  8. I literally quit trying to make sure my spouse was always comfortable and felt welcome. Through no fault of anyone, that’s a losing battle. My family can be very judgmental and alienating, so no matter who is with them, there will always be an element of “You don’t belong”. That applies to me, as well, but it’s very difficult for my spouse to take. They really feel that judgment sharply, and they take it personally. And they get combative when they’re not comfortable or feel like they’re being attacked  — which they do, around my parents, because, well, they are being attacked. So, I’ve spent way too much time over the years, trying to find common ground and let them work it out with each other. This time, I just washed my hands of it and let it all alone, figuring that they were all adults and could reach some agreement, somehow, without my meddling. One other “bad” thing that turned out to be helpful, was that my spouse was sick with an upper respiratory infection, so they were laid low for much of the time, anyway. I did what I could to make them comfortable, but they just weren’t, so I let them “do their thing” with sleeping a lot and stepping away to take meds and such, and I just got on with my own visit. I feel bad that my spouse was not feeling well, but they’ll have their time with their family at Christmas, so then they’ll get to be involved and feel accepted and welcomed and not judged. It’s a balance, this time of year, and there’s always going to be “emotional collateral damage” so let’s let it go it at that and be happy for what good we do have.
  9. I didn’t bother getting upset over people saying and doing things I did not agree with — AT ALL — and trying to debate issues, getting turned around, and melting down, either privately or publicly. I’ve tried the debate thing for I don’t know how many years, and it’s always been a losing battle. I just lose my train of thought in the midst of heated debates, and then I get bent out of shape because I can’t think clearly and all my TBI-related issues come flooding to the surface. And I get sucked down into that “I am so eff’ed up – what is wrong with me?!” Which is never good for anyone, because then I take it out on my spouse or anyone else who is nearby, including myself. In the past, I’ve actually hurt myself over it during meltdowns, slamming my head against a wall or hitting my arms or legs so hard that they bruised. It was the only way I could find to get my brain to stop cycling down into the pit of despair. Giving up on the negative self-talk from the get-go works a whole lot better, I’m happy to report.
  10. I quit pushing myself to do things when I was over-tired or over-stressed. This was the only thing to do, in the face of all that activity. Yes, I missed valuable time with elderly relatives I may never see again. Yes, I missed out on conversations and activities with nieces and nephews. Yes, I missed out on things I would probably regret if I knew exactly what was happening. But my internal barometer has gotten so much better over the past couple of years, and now I can tell when my stress level is pushing me, and I need to stop the pushing. This is so important, because when I’m over-extended and stressed, I say and do things that I deeply regret (like saying obnoxious things… starting arguments over nothing… babbling when I should be quiet… falling down and sustaining injuries – including brain injuries… and pointing a real-but-not-loaded rifle at my youngest sibling after a long family trip and pretending to shoot them).  Bad things tend to happen when I am overextended and keep pushing. So, I stepped away and stopped doing things, even the things I wanted to do so badly, because it wasn’t worth the risk to myself and others. Better to have fewer moments with an elderly relative that I want to remember than having a lot of moments with them that I want to — but cannot — forget.

Bottom line about this past Thanksgiving: Gor the sake of myself and others, I just let a lot of sh*t go — I have a number of very elderly relatives and friends, who may not be alive the next time I visit, so I just wanted to focus on the good — and feed that side of my attitude.

I also didn’t beat myself up, if I couldn’t do certain things, like stay up talking when I was exhausted, or go do things when I needed to do something else. I just went with what happened, and tried to find the good in it.

Which was an early Christmas Miracle — some of my relatives can be politically and socially obnoxious, and they are convinced they are 100% right and everyone who doesn’t agree with them is an idiot. Also, half of my family is very connected through in-laws and marriages and churches and shared connections in their communities, so there was a lot of talk about things and events and people and ideas that I wasn’t a part of. I did feel very isolated at times, and I felt sad that I wasn’t part of that world, which is very close-knit and supportive for those who belong. But there is a price for everything, and I have never been willing to give up my independence and personal convictions, to go along with the group, So even though I don’t have those community connections and widespread support, and I was very much on the outside many times, at least I have myself. And that’s what truly matters.

It was really hard being around people who believe that their world is the only right one — and everyone else is wrong and stupid and ignorant and corrupt. Because that puts me on the outside, and when everyone is all together, that feeling of being marginalized is even more pronounced. But then I thought about all the other people in the world who feel that way, for one reason or another — and I didn’t feel so badly. Because even in the midst of a supportive community of common values, there are many who feel secretly alone and isolated.

It’s not just (about) me. We all feel that way at times. It’s just how things are for lots of folks.

So, by putting my emphasis on the experiences of others, I was able to get away from my own self-pity — and I was also able to see how even the folks who were the “ïn crowd” were still very much on the outside.And I was able to really have some good conversations with family members who have been pretty estranged for many years. So, all in all, it was a good visit – mostly because I got the hell out of my own way.

This holiday season, I feel more motivated than ever to really do justice to this blog — not focusing so much on ME and MY problems, but talking about the issues that so many of us have in common, and sharing solutions that have worked for me, so that hopefully others can benefit as well.

This is a season of giving, no matter what your religion (or no religion at all). Yes, it’s over-commercialized. Yes, people are behaving really badly. Yes, it has lost a lot of deeper meaning in the mainstream culture. But each of us, in our own small way, can supply our own meaning and do what we can to honor and support that within ourselves. Whether you are celebrating the birth of Jesus, or a Season of Lights, or Principles that guide you in life, or the turning of the Wheel of Life, each of us can make of this season what we will. We can choose to wring our hands and shake our heads over videos of Walmart cell phone brawls, or we can look for ways we can reach out to others and give what we can from what we have. We have a whole range of things we can look at and wonder about, and each day we see a broad spectrum of behaviors we do or do not approve of. It’s our choice, how we relate to those things, and it’s our choice how we respond.

I, for one, would rather be part of a solution and bring hope in a time when so many feel hopeless and alone. This blog is one small way I can do that, and I hope to do some good, this holiday season — and beyond that, each and every day.

In many parts of the world, it’s getting cold. That doesn’t have to happen in our hearts.


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