It's that time of year again - the holiday season. For some people, the holidays are filled with love and positive memories, and for others they are filled with grief, painful memories, and even violence.
I don't think there's another time of year that is as charged as this one. Even people with happy memories worry about being able to replicate the positive experiences they had as children.
For abuse survivors, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, and anyone raised in a dysfunctional family, the holiday season is a time of year that can evoke painful memories, and worries about what to do for the holidays.
Many people struggle with the question of whether or not to visit families in which there was (and may continue to be) abuse. Lesbians and gay men may struggle with how to handle a family visit when their partner is not welcome, or is seen as being just a friend or a roommate. These are not easy situations to deal with, particularly when there is so much pressure this time of year to see family.
There is little understanding or support for people who don't want to visit their families, and who may feel upset about the holidays. People are told to put the past behind them, to forgive and forget, and regardless of how they were treated by their biological families, to spend time with them. But what about families that have seriously hurt their children, and even continue to hurt them? Is enduring or forgetting about abuse the meaning of family and love?
What if the woman or man that you love is not welcomed by your family because s/he is the same sex as you, or once was a different gender? Isn't denying one's partner a denial of love and family?
The holidays often raise painful questions like these, and they ask us to be honest with ourselves about who we are; what, and who is important to us; how we've been treated; who we love; and who loves us back. We are challenged to trust ourselves and to follow our hearts. Knowing who loves us and treats us well is a fundamental question at any time of the year, but is perhaps most poignant right now. Learning to love ourselves helps us to answer these questions.
Many people forget to ask themselves what they really want during the holiday season, and instead get caught up in what is expected from them. While some people want to spend time with their biological families, not everyone does - and that's okay. Some people prefer to spend time with friends and lovers - people who are family to them. And some people just want to take a much needed break and not do anything except what feels right in the moment.
No matter what you do this year, it's helpful to ask yourself what you want and what would make this holiday special for you, if that's important to you. Finding ways to do what you want and is meaningful to you, rather than simply doing what you feel obligated to do is what your soul longs for.
Creating your own holiday traditions may be an important part of doing what you want. There's no rule book that says how the holidays have to be spent - you can create your own traditions and do anything you want. Some people take walks on the beach and make wishes as they toss pebbles into the water. Some people invite friends over and take turns saying what they wish for themselves and the world in the coming year. Some people have dinner parties and give thanks for all that they have. Traditions can be simple or elaborate; it's all up to you.
What's most important is, you follow your heart. You may not have had many or any choices as a child, but now is your chance to do what you really want (at least some of the time). Finding ways to be yourself, to bring meaning into your life, and to love freely is your right.
May you enjoy whatever you do, and may peace and love be with you always.
Kali Munro, © 2001
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