Healing Through The Holidays
It’s not just the holidays. It could be other days as well. Birthdays, a remembrance of a look or a smell, a season or anniversary or when that happened. It is, however, all about connection. That’s what we miss most when the holidays make their appearance.
Connection with others and at times connection with ourselves. Sometimes we don’t allow that “I hate this, I miss them, when will I move past this?” part of ourselves to feel. Instead, we count the days until the holidays are over with or that one day in between Christmas and when Valentine’s Day promotions begin. Getting through the days can be grueling, our soul blistered from loss.
Healing through the holidays? With so many reminders of what is not present. Is it really possible? Yes, I think it is possible to move toward healing during this season as it is possible to move forward toward healing each day. That is the core of it. We only heal a bit at a time – a day at a time. It can be helpful to ground ourselves in some truths.
Healing takes time. Our society often rushes us as if the grief and loss we bear has an expiration date. No one is “over it” on a time expectation. Whether there is a physical death, an assault of any kind, a relapse that caused great or greater destruction, our bodies and our minds need time to process and they don’t always process hand in hand. So, truth #1: Be patient and gentle with the feelings of loss and the wish that things are not as they are.
Truth #2: We are built for connection. Our entire existence is connected with others. We were born out of connection – literally. And that is what makes healing so hard. Humans have hurt us in some way and other humans in caring respectful interactions can help heal us. However, sometimes, we are so fractured we can’t trust humans and then animals can provide the unconditional acceptance that is needed for healing. It’s not unusual for a resident at Busara to dream about, facetime, or long for their pet. It has been their place of safety.
I often think about how brave people are as they go through life doing the daily of life. Yet underneath there is great pain or loss and we never see it. We see their smile, kindness, or competence on the job. We never know how hard it has been for them to get through the day.
I experienced this last month when I was on a call discussing the provision of services for an organization. The call went really well which I was excited about. When the email came for a proposal of services, I decided to be vulnerable and share that my father had recently died and that I needed a bit of time before I could put some training together. The company representative shared that their father had died the day before mine. We were both being very brave and upbeat on that call, never knowing the mourning that was beneath the smile and professionalism. Sharing that information has allowed our relationship to develop in a very unexpected way.
Truth#3: Sharing helps to heal because it highlights we are not alone. Others are experiencing their own healing journey. Our words of understanding and comfort really can make a difference. Choose those whom you trust to share your story; not everyone needs to know the deepest parts of our soul, but many can provide a soothing touch and it does make a difference. We are connected by the common need to be known and understood.
Truth #4: Honor the memory or memories of your survival and those you love. Honor your strength and the hope that lies within for a better day and a better life. You can do this by noticing your level of peace and balance as you go through your days.
Take these truths, add your own, and heal well my friend.
It’s not yet Christmas and already Valentine items are out. The far future always seems to be shouting before the near future can be fully experienced. One thing that many people are thinking of before Valentine’s day is the New Year. The New Year brings thoughts about what we would like to be different in our lives. We realize that we can’t control the economy and decisions that others have not consulted us on, but what do we want to change? Us personally, about our lives?
Change can mean control or better yet a different, more effective way to respond to something, either internal, like that rumbling stomach and what to put in our mouth, or an external stressor. That external stressor could be who we might be spending the holidays with or any other number of things that show up in our day.
The easiest way to make and keep change in some aspect of your life is to make a very small change. Very small. Make that change consistently so that it becomes part of who you are, integrated into your being and you’ve made a long-lasting change. It has now become a habit and one not easily changed.
I can do that! Yes, you can!
When do you want to start?
In order to make a change, you do have to decide which part of your daily dance you want to change and what you want to do instead. Your brain is in a habit and to change that habit it needs to know what we are doing instead of the response that we have been using for the past 10 or more years. The brain loves structure and to make a change? Well, the brain needs a plan.
So step #1 - Decide what you want to change. Eat a piece of cheese instead of a piece of pie? Respond with a smile? Take a breath instead of a comment you’ll regret later? Take a walk regularly? Think small, very small. Success will be easier to achieve.
Step #2 - Start thinking about all the what if’s and then construct your plan for when those what if’s show up. They will. I find that it’s easier to say no to pie/cake/cookies/ice cream when I’m feeling quite full. When I’m hungry and dinner is slow and pie is leftover and I’m only going to have a small amount, just a tiny amount really….
I need to decide and here is the big helpful piece – mentally rehearse - what I am going to do in those moments when I’m really hungry and tired and it’s dark and I don’t want to cook. Pie/cookies/ice cream is a fast and easy fix. But it isn’t change. Which is what we are after.
Mental rehearsal is what top athletes do when they “see” themselves making the catch, making the basket, making the goal. They do this more than once (hundreds of times actually) and they may have started “seeing” themselves as making the catch or the basket as young children or a teenager. The brain is getting into a mental habit and physical practice and mental practice make change more of a sure thing. The mental aspect of behavior has to change prior to, and along with, the physical responses. It is the way we are wired.
Also, don’t forget to ask someone you trust if they will check in with you to see how change is going. We all need someone in our corner and someone we can be accountable to.
Step 3 – Put your plan in place. You have determined what you want to change and you have decided on a small manageable change. You have thought about all the ways that barriers to changing your behavior dance could come up and decided how to manage them (getting real with yourself and writing down these things is very helpful). Keep in mind that there may be other barriers that come knocking that you hadn’t considered. That’s okay. Incorporate those new or unexpected barriers into your plan.
Step 4 - Finetune your plan. New things will come up. People may knowingly or unknowingly pressure you as you work your plan. They may be uncomfortable with your improvement and put psychological barriers in place. That is just fear of change speaking on their part. Know that their discomfort is not about you. Continue to finetune your plan.
Step 5 - Repeat the steps. I would not recommend more than 1 change a month if you are truly trying to make a change that is going to be long-lasting. Once you have some successes in your change corner, you may decide to vary your pace. Don’t underestimate the power that one small change can make in your life. It is like a line of dominos all lined up – one push affects all the others.
I wish you wonderful change and a happy New Year!
By: Gail A. Chester
Psychologist, PhD, LPCS, LMFT., Author