I loved the holidays growing up. I remember the complete abandonment of reality when the holidays would descend upon my life. Looking at the lights that my father had put around the outside of our house, laying under the tree and just being dazzled by the sights while looking up and feeling a sense of connection with family and friends rarely seen throughout the year. Then I announced my truth; I am gay. The lights appeared dimmer, the dazzling sights were dulled and the sense of connection with family and friends turned into a dance of rejection. There had been rituals which signaled that a time of good cheer would be wished to everyone, however after revealing my truth led to feelings of marginalization. The smiling faces of my family and friends were just masks that hid their rejection. I had loved the holidays growing up, but after revealing my truth, I began to dread them.
I was born in 1964. I announced that I was gay in 1997. Somewhere in between I began to lose my sense of holiday wonderment. It wasn’t until December 2001 that I finally found my way back home for the holidays. Here’s what I picked up along the way that became my “Queer Man’s Holiday Survival Pack.” So, before you set off through the woods and over the streams to grandmother’s house you go, look at the items below. They just might help as you prepare yourself for the holidays:
Take care of yourself before, during and after the holidays. Exercise, reading, writing, meditation, being social; whatever self-care looks like for you, do it. Don’t stay sat in one place; get some fresh air or go take a walk. You may be surprised just how well you can take care of yourself with a little prepping and practice. When you practice self-care, you are giving yourself space to be exactly who you are in that present moment. Self-care is not about being perfect, it’s more about the regular practice it takes to build a better relationship with yourself and those around you. It’s about recognizing your inherent value and worth.
PREPARE YOURSELF FOR ALL TYPES OF QUESTIONS THAT TEND TO COME UP AT FAMILY GATHERINGS
You know the usual ones: partner, marriage, kids, job. Knowing what and how you want to respond to these will boost your confidence and reduce the anxiety you may be feeling when they come up. Be clear with yourself about how much information you want to divulge. Is it really that important to go into that much detail about your current dating situation or sex life with Aunt Edna or Uncle Bob for instance?
BE PREPARED FOR THE TRIGGERS
Just because someone asks a question or brings up a situation as a topic of discussion, doesn’t mean that you must allow your triggers (and you know your triggers) to, well, trigger you and open the floor for a great debate. Stay away from topics of discussion that may trigger disputes.
BUT WHEN YOU ARE TRIGGERED
When the shot has been fired and you are triggered, acknowledge it, breathe into it and feel your emotions. Know that you don’t have to react or respond in that moment. Simply be. You learn so much about yourself in moments when you are vulnerable.
CREATE YOUR OWN “9-1-1” OF FRIENDS OR CHOSEN FAMILY YOU CAN CALL/TEXT
When you’re stressed or scared or your family says or does something messed up and you need advice or just want to vent, have a friend or a member of your chosen family on standby that you can reach. Remember that even though they may not be standing right beside you doesn’t mean that they don’t have your back.
Repeat after me, “I can take care of myself. I can take care of myself. I can take care of myself.” Too often as Queerfolk we believe that it’s our responsibility to always be “on” — to always advocate for the cause, to behave “properly” or to keep the peace. We’re told that it’s our job to endure demonizing sermons and degrading misgendering in the name of “dialogue” or whatever. But we don’t have to. We can set and maintain boundaries that keep us safe, happy and healthy. Communicating your boundaries to your family ahead of time might work well for you or you can decide on them yourself and enforce them if people bump up against them.
MAKE TIME TO BE ALONE
Even though you may have a wonderfully supportive family, you may need some time to sneak away and just be yourself. Spending time with lots of people can be exhausting and families that are not supportive can be extra exhausting. Make time to sit in bed and read a book; to get outside and go for a walk, run, or bike ride; or even to take a nap. Scope out a safe space. If things get overwhelming, know where you can go to decompress. That may mean having a hotel room and not staying at home. Or knowing where the nearest restaurant is so you can go have some time alone and treat yourself to some comfort food.
HAVE A PLAYLIST THAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD
Make a playlist of music you love and that makes you feel awesome. If you need to, step away for a bit and listen to your favorite songs. Give yourself some breathing space. As they say, “Dance like no one is watching” and know that it is okay to cry.
VALIDATE YOUR FEELINGS
Keep reminding yourself that it is okay to feel the way that you're feeling. Don't let other make you feel bad for having feelings; by the way, they don’t have that much power over you. Act within your comfort zone and be firm about what you want and need. Try to surround yourself with positive people. You may find that talking about your feelings will allow you to open up and release any negative feelings in the security of a safe environment.
CREATE AN EXIT STRATEGY IF YOU CAN
When it is time to go, GO! Have a friend call with an emergency. Say that you must leave at a certain time. Give yourself permission to leave if things get too intense. You don’t have to stay super late. Do what you need to do to give yourself the out you need. If you feel it is getting too much, excuse yourself for 5-10 minutes. Offer to make a hot drink for everyone. Go to the bathroom. Stick your head out of the door and breathe in some fresh air. Offer to do an emergency run for more crisps or napkins.
GET SOME "ME TIME" AFTER THE HOLIDAYS
Once the holidays are over and done with, it’s time for you to get some time in with friends and/or members of your chosen family. Getting away to a place where you can feel the uplift of positivity is key to shaking any lingering ill feelings that you left with from a visit with your family or about the holidays in general. You may even plan a “holiday” right after the time spent with family; time to get away and have some fun on your own or with those close to you. You can even make that part of your family visit if you have to travel to see them: simply add another stop onto your trip. Even if you can’t get away, plan for a little “me time” after the holidays with a cup of your favorite warm beverage, some cozy socks and your favorite calming activity.
Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season for you and may we all get through it in one piece. If you can relate to this article and want to explore more ways to address stressors in your life, schedule a free Consultation Appointment by clicking on the “Request Appointment” located on the Welcome and About Me pages of www.ssop.lgbt.