"Last year you weren't nearly this busy," FD corrects me.
I had told him that I'm beginning to feel the effects of nonstop holiday happiness.
"Who can remember last year?"
I remember blogging about this once, getting ridiculously busy in October, the drama, the sadness, the relentless desperation not letting up until after New years. I wrote that it had something to do with the stress of planning, how planning extended lengths of time socializing with family brings back memories, and they aren't usually the good ones. Heaven forbid we should remember the good ones.
The thought of Uncle Al getting wasted, Cousin Ina slamming the door, swearing, "Okay, that's it, we're getting a divorce!" This type of family dysfunction-- boozing, screaming, slamming-- anger-- even passive-aggressive anger, "Good to see you, too," especially this-- tends to be a downer.
Add to that the happy family script: We're supposed to like getting together as a family. You've seen the commercials, especially the one with the cousins getting away from their parents to a restaurant for dinner, just the cousins. Delightful, but how often does this happen? Great when it does. I think it was Leo Tolstoy who said,
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."Anna Karenina. He was right, of course.
A prescription to manage the anticipatory anxiety:
a) plan as little as possible, wing it
b) label dysfunctional patterns, but don't argue; discuss
c) have an escape plan
c) expect little
e) accept a lot
f) and when the catastrophic expectations materialize, laugh about them.
Because after all, they were all predictable, the catastrophes. We know our family members well enough to predict their nahrishkeit (rhymes with bar-ish-kite, means foolishness).
So clear the snow off the getaway car and check the availability at the local hotels.
But getting back to FD. He is right. This season has been the worst in years. Something in the air, something other than poverty, although poverty, and the anticipation of poverty, doesn't help; it is bringing people down.
The social scientist in me says it is entirely random, this year, and I'm different, too. It is the luck of the draw, the draw of my particular patient mix, and really, mine is great, but this is work, not cocktails. If you accept a lot of new patients, the complexity, the responsibility, will overwhelm. Never launch them, is the answer. And take frequent vacations.
Maybe, however, there's a global confluence of variables at work, too. The unemployment, terrorism, the economic collapse of governments, the senseless murders and suicides hashed over repeatedly on the ten o'clock news. Kids voluntarily foregoing childhood, sexting. War in Iraq, no pay raises for military families. Riots. Explosions in the Middle East.
Business as usual? Maybe yes, but these nagging toothaches add to what we already have, pain in our own ecosystems, in our own families, somewhere there is pain.
So avoiding the worst of times* is the prime objective.
We could start with ourselves, logically. Others might act out, Uncle Al, Cousin Ina, but we're affected, too. Under the spell of what is supposed to be intimacy, I think the healthiest among us regresses. Where else can we be ourselves, the ones we used to be as kids, if not with family?
We're a little different when we're with them, our siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. We slip into old patterns in the same context, eating and drinking with them, the same dinner table, hearing the same snarky jokes at somebody's expense. The context triggers the synapses, old nerve pathways, thoughts and feelings of childhood come alive, like some ghost of holidays past.
Once we're there, we lose our more mature defenses-- intellectualization, rationalization -- the ones that make us think things through, forgive; and we regress to the childish ones, denial, projection. The ones that blame. The fun started with planning; being together finishes us off.
You might think it isn't worth it, going home, but I think it is. It's worth watching how this happens to us, and better even, it is worth labeling what is going on, appealing to the intellect of others in the family, the ones who might get it, who work programs or have had some therapy, or maybe caught on years ago, as children. Also appeal to the heart of the family, the place in each of the first degrees, second degrees, thirds, that wants this to be a happy family. Enjoy the best of everyone, and fight the regression to denial, projection. Stay adult.
Just don't referee. That's what you spent money on the tune-up to avoid.
Not everyone goes home, goes anywhere is the truth. If we didn't have good holidays as children, if there were no presents under the tree, if there was no tree, if there was no dad, no mom, if nobody filled in, if there was no Santa Claus, if someone died, then for sure, no matter if we have reinvented ourselves, now have a functional family, a home, it is still sad, remembering. And if we haven't reinvented ourselves, if we have successfully abandoned the dream of the happy family, then there is no reunion. No matter, sad.
And if our parents didn't make it as a couple, if there was violence in the home, if there is violence in the home now, then LOSER is written all over us, we're sure. Adult Children of Losers, ACOL's, and sadness. And the expectation that our spouse should have helped us correct this by now, by the holidays, for crying out loud, and didn't, then the blame game is in full swing, and it can be a very loud game.
Conflictual couples conflict the most before and during the holidays (probably associated with license to drink/use). It is wishful thinking, peace on earth.
My son asked me, "Why do you think this is, that people lean on their therapists more during the holidays? You would think they would be busy baking cookies. Eventually everyone needs cookies."
He is thirty-two, responding to my late office hours. I tell him that time's running out. Fix it now, fix it now, people tell themselves. Count down. . .Ten more days . . ., nine more days . . ., eight more days . . ., seven . . .
And the days are getting colder, and darker, and what we really want, all of us, is to snuggle up close with people we love, or one person, maybe by a fire, and sip something warm, maybe hum, turn on Johnny Mathis, sing.
That would be the goal, I suspect. And by the time we get to December 24, some people pull it off.
*Different author, Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. Bring one of these, a good book, on vacation.