When Going Home Brings No Holiday Cheer
It’s mid-December. How are you? No, really. How are you?
‘Tis the Season for endless reminders from the culture that connecting with our families of origin—visiting them, buying things for them, eating holiday feasts with them—is a joyous, gracious affair. Or, at worst, a mixed blessing we must dutifully endure, because, after all: IT’S FAMILY. DEAL WITH IT.
Yet many of us, particularly (but not exclusively) in LGBTQ communities, have far more fraught relationships among our close and extended families—if we can maintain those relationships at all. Many of us grapple with past trauma, or even ongoing emotional abuse by one or both parents, or other close family members. For these folks, the holiday season is a minefield of emotional triggers and complicated negotiations. Ongoing mental health challenges and illness (including the common Seasonal Affective Disorder and a general case of the winter blues) can further cloud our thinking, and also impair healing processes and coping strategies that work well at other times of the year.
For those of us with romantic partners, we may have the support and love through those bonds to help fill the gap. In the case of long-term relationships, we may also have, perhaps, adoptive relationships with their families, or our own children on whom to focus. But this may not always, or ever, dispel the grief and disappointment related to the loss of our primary emotional, familial bonds. And there is some added stress when our lovers, partners, friends, and children cannot relate to the complexity of emotion that tend to bubble up at this time of year.
We all have different ways of dealing with destructive familial relationships, and sometimes we choose to let them go. Regardless of your situation, all of us can find the intimate, familial relationships that are so crucial for us to feel secure, connected, and to ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation. If you’re queer—especially among generations that came of age before major shifts in attitudes toward gay people—you likely already know about the concept of chosen family. This is because it was—and still is—so common for queer people to be rejected or otherwise estranged from their birth families. And because laws around marriage and recognizing same-sex relationships have only changed recently, queer communities have created their own models of what functional, loving relationships look like--or eschewed adoption of model relationships altogether.
Wherever you might be on your journey, Naked in Motion wants to say that WE SEE YOU. We are all more resilient than we imagine ourselves to be and we honor those in our little naked yoga community that may be moving mountains on an emotional level to maintain self-care and stay healthy over the coming weeks. We humbly offer some suggestions for coping mechanisms, no matter what your situation may be.
Situation 1: You have not dealt with/seen your family in years
It’s said that time heals all pain, and to some degree, that’s true. Most of us adapt with time and develop coping strategies that serve us year to year. But it’s also true that old negative patterns of behavior and thinking can sneak up on us. We invite you to resist the temptation to bury all remnants of your past as you move forward.
Whether you’re single and on your own, partnered and visiting their family this year, or have children of your own to parent, it’s always worth the time to check in with yourself around the holidays, even if only as an act of self-affirmation. How far have you come from three, five, ten years ago? If you’re a parent, how have you consciously rejected old dysfunctional family models to relate to your children in a way that feels healthier for you?
Celebrate yourself by committing to similar acts of self-liberation! This month, let it be an indulgent exercise: Write love notes to your friends, partners, kids, and then write one to yourself. Take yourself out on dates. Treat yo’self! You’ve made one of the hardest decisions one can ever make, and you did so in order to live and love freely.
Situation 2: You have decided not to deal with your family this year
If you’ve recently cut ties with family, or are opting out of toxic holiday gatherings for the first time, it makes sense that you’d feel especially out of sorts. Many of us who’ve dealt with unsupportive family have had to learn early on how to be independent and self-sufficient. The downside of this is when it becomes hard to show vulnerability or to ask for support from friends and other supportive loved ones in your life. We encourage you to notice, then set aside these fears of rejection or of being burdensome. Check in with your network: who else might not be with family this year? Perhaps you can arrange your own “orphan” party. Even setting up a phone call in advance with one or more friends on particularly triggering days can be a bulwark against loneliness.
Celebrate the positive, brave steps you’re taking to better your life by creating new traditions. Can this be a time for solo travel and/or meditation? Plan in advance: What can you do to further escape settings or situations that may be detrimental to healing? By adopting new routines that prioritize self-care, you’re both grounding yourself with a deliberative process and taking flight into the wondrous open air.
Situation 3: For whatever reason, you have to deal with your family this year
First and foremost, take care of yourself: whatever that means. Don’t be a hero if it means you are sacrificing personal safety. But if it feels right: push back this year. Is there racist/homophobic/transphobic talk at the table? Call it out. Gaslighting? Name it. Fucked up boundaries? Set new ones, firmly. However your family members react is outside of your control, but by confronting these abuses and negative patterns, you’re initiating change that promotes your own sense of self-worth. This is a fork in the road situation: perhaps family will actually hear you and be willing to change, but in absence of that, this can also mean you are beginning to distance yourself. In these moments, it may be helpful to try to stay present and not focus on the future.
If you decide that confrontation is not a safe means to handling a toxic family gathering, then build a fort: seek out friends that are also in the area, form alliances with (or just focus your attention on) other family members who aren’t problematic. Feeling panicky? Walk out of the room, find a quiet space to get into child’s pose, take a walk down the block, go for a drive, take yourself to the movies: if avoidance is what you need to protect your mental and physical health, then avoid the fuck out of those situations. Then, perhaps, take some time to consider what you might do differently next year to take care of yourself and directly address the problem.
We want to hear from you. What are your ways of coping when it comes to end-of-the-year depression and anxiety triggered by the emotional demands of the season? Leave your response in the comments!
Are you staying in town? Naked in Motion is offering classes over the holidays in both New York City and Boston. We invite all of our clients and newbies to prepare for the new year with healing, invigorating, rebellious naked yoga. Check out the calendar and sign up!
Mental Health Resource List:
- National Institute for Psychotherapies
- Training Institute for Mental Health
- Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy
- Talkspace - Text-based therapy
- +1 (800) 273-8255 - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- +1 (866) 488-7386 - Trevor Project Crisis Hotline