Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Worst Holiday Season

I’ve written a couple of blogs about Christmas memories. One was from my childhood, another was from my children’s early holiday celebrations. I know the holidays can be a difficult time for folks, so it occurred to me that I should share holiday memories that were painful, but educational experiences.

I married young. I was 18 years and four weeks old when I said “I do” to John. After 26 years of marriage we decided to call it quits. This made the holidays a bit awkward. John is an excellent cook and we hosted both Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. At times this family burden annoyed me, but I was younger and grouchier then.

To make matters worse, after the divorce I did not volunteer to continue to host theses family events. I figured someone else could take on the time-consuming and financial burden of feeding the masses. I was struggling financially, I had a long commute, worked at a job I didn’t enjoy (but it paid the bills) and I really dislike cooking. This was a dark time in my life. My family was mad at me for divorcing their favorite chef, my mother was sick, dying and, unbeknownst to me, very angry at me (I’m talking writing me out of the will angry). My oldest daughter was in love and consumed with her new boyfriend (who turned out to be a bigger turkey than the bird on the Thanksgiving table), and my younger daughter was sneaking out of the house at night. I was angry at my family, my lot in life and myself. I did not feel thankful for anything.

So what did you do about Thanksgiving and Christmas you ask?

Rather than dine alone, my siblings made other plans. Most traveled to my sister’s house in California. I’m not sure what John did. He probably cooked for his side of the family. Once you don that Thanksgiving apron folks don’t let you off the hook that easily. I ate at an Applebee’s with my friend Andrea. It was a depressing experience.

For some reason people really want to hook up during the holidays. As a newly single woman I was obsessed with finding love. I promptly fell in love with someone (I’ll call him Larry.) That lasted three months, but I hung onto the notion of winning Larry back for three years. Larry took a new job out of state, but called and asked if he could visit for Christmas. I was ecstatic. However, Larry was not a Christmas-happy type of guy. The stipulation was no holiday feasts, Christmas trees or music. I stupidly agreed. Plus, I was in a grouchy funk and probably didn’t need much convincing. We celebrated by eating take out and renting movies.
I was in such a low and rotten place in my life that I let someone else’s dismal view of the holidays cloud my own. When I suggested a drive to view Christmas lights at the Mormon temple, Larry and I got into a huge fight. I wasn’t asking for a religious conversion, I just wanted to admire the lights. We left in an angry huff.

At any time in this drama I could have made choices to have a happier experience. In retrospect I should have volunteered to feed the hungry at a soup kitchen. Instead I simmered in a pity stew and basted my “poor me” mentality with a sprinkling of remorse and anger.

I tell this story because I don’t want anyone to suffer needlessly. I understand the victim mentality firsthand, so I devote a chapter to it in our book. Here are a few excerpts.

•Don’t blame others for your problems.
Lose the victim mentality and take responsibility for your life – bumps and all. Life is not something that is handed to you, it is something you create. Adopt a proactive approach that shifts from “What can I get?” to “What can I contribute?” Next time you find yourself wanting to point a blaming finger at someone else, take note of your hand. While your finger and thumb may be pointing at someone else, three fingers are pointed right back at you!

•Align yourself with people, situations or organizations that can help put you on a successful path.
Ask yourself, “What am I focusing on?” If it’s not positive, redirect your thoughts.

Corrie Ten Boom said, "Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.” We cannot change the past. Forgive others, or yourself, and move on. Your heart will be lighter and you will be able to pursue happier endeavors.

Years have passed since I starred in my own holiday melodrama. That dismal Thanksgiving and Christmas season were not without merit. They served as a catalyst for a new, more optimistic beginning.

This past Thanksgiving, my spouse, CB and I had a blended family gathering of 28 men, women and children, including my ex husband John (who brought two, homemade pumpkin pies.)

The point is that we cannot change an unpleasant past. But we can choose to not wallow in it. My hope for all of you this holiday season is we will all be able to put sour memories aside, serve up an extra helping of compassion and create happy holiday memories that will be a joy to remember.

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