My Toxic Family Ruined The Holidays For Me

Photo: Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock
sad woman near christmas tree
Self

Thanksgiving. For most people, the day’s festivities entail watching the parades or football while waiting in a cramped relative’s house for a large meal where they commune over stuffing and turkey. I, however, am not most people. I am currently content as a clam while staying home alone.

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For those who think this sounds sad, your untraumatized extrovert is showing. Fear not, I am having a ball.

How did I end up alone for the holidays?

Partially by choice and partially by circumstance. All of my friends and chosen family are either busy doing their things or too far away to make it worth visiting for one meal.

If I wanted to, I’m sure I could find a Thanksgiving table that would pull up a chair for me. But for transparency’s sake, I’ll admit that I don’t want that. I want to spend the day lounging in my comfiest clothes, eating my favorite foods, and clacking away on my keyboard. Ergo, that’s what I’m up to as we speak.

To be real, holidays have always sucked for me.

Being raised in a dysfunctional family effectively ruined this season for me. When it comes to my past, I don’t use the word ruin lightly. The happiest Thanksgiving memory I have is the first year I had friends where I spent the whole day wishing I could be with my friends. It was happy because I knew something other than misery was out there.

Up until that point, I’d only read about positive friendships or watched them on TV. That might sound pathetic, but I’d rather have watched loving interactions from afar than never witnessed them at all. Holiday specials from my favorite shows contrasted my experiences and probably motivated me to seek functional friendships outside of my family of origin.

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Everyone in my biological family has trauma and grief related to the holidays. Despite our best efforts to make it a good day, unresolved issues sparked fights about cooking, sports, politics — even discussing the weather could prompt a heated debate.

Some family members pull up a chair and find the sh*t show entertaining. Personally, the public screaming matches frazzled my nerves. Some folks have a family to be thankful for. I am truly glad for those lucky ducks. As for myself, the absence of my bio family inspires deep gratitude.

Finding the holidays triggering and unpleasant is all too common for survivors of childhood trauma.

I wish I could say I’ve gotten over the negative effects of my first twenty-some holidays or that I’ve reclaimed these traditions but I haven’t.

Some survivors put on a brave face and create new traditions to paint over the painful memories.

I’m not quite there yet; I’m not sure if I’ll ever arrive at that point. Rather than rallying against the current state of things, I’ve accepted that I might never truly enjoy the holidays. I want to normalize struggling with the holidays and doing what you have to do to get through the day.

If you’re also spending the holidays alone or prefer to keep things low-key, take this article as your permission slip to follow your bliss.

I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: there’s no point in putting together a fantastic holiday gathering if you can’t even have fun with it.

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Those who matter most should understand if you need a break from the big to-do’s.

Since we’re still technically in the middle of a pandemic, you can always whip out the convenient COVID-19 excuse. Heaven knows I’ve justified my introverting time with science and safety during this global crisis.

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So, I’m making the best of it. I’m taking the pressure off myself to act happy for everyone else and decided to focus on what brings me genuine joy. This year, that’s solace and puttering away on my hobbies.

Next year, who knows? I might be throwing myself into a full-fledged feast.

I’m keeping an open mind and listening to my innermost desires to find what feels good. After years of following the crowd and entering the holiday equivalent of a lion’s den, it feels good to move to the beat of my own drum.

Maya Strong is an intersectional feminist. Follow them on Medium.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.