Ho Ho NO.


“I do know that I don’t want to be ruled by ravenous anymore, and that full life is not the same as a full calendar.

Full life is lived when the whole system works together,

when rest and home and peace live hand in hand with taste and sparkle and go. I’ve believed in the craziness for too many years,

and while I still have a lot of questions,

the answer I need to be giving most often these days is NO.”

Shauna Niequist

So… it’s starting. Can you feel it? The ramping up that inevitably begins before the Thanksgiving dishes are even put away?  I walked into Target yesterday and got punched in the face by Christmas.   It did what it was supposed to do.  My brain went on auto-pilot: what do I need to do, what do I need to buy?  I could feel that familiar Yuletide anxiety start to creep in.  Only a few weeks left!!!!!!

Now, I love Christmas. All of it- religious and secular alike.  The twinkle lights, the decorations, the carols, the movies, Santa, snow- I’m a sucker for all of it.  I’m pretty much Buddy the Elf.


“I KNOW HIM!!!!!!!”

What I don’t love, what I reject more every year, is the stress. The hurry, hurry, hurry, consume, consume, consume. The shoulds.  The musts.  The striving.  The noise.  And I don’t mean the noise of children playing or Christmas music- I mean the noise in our heads. All the rush here, race there, do the things, bake the cookies, eat, drink, spend, wrap. PROVE. EARN.

We careen through a season built for stillness and reverence.

We have a tendency to judge those people who manage eschew the madness.  I mean, most good holiday movies have a character like that, right?  We tend to chalk it up to being a grouch, or miserly, or having lost the meaning of Christmas.


I don’t know… I’ve always had a soft spot for His Grinchiness.  I do love a curmudgeon.  I think in many ways, the Green One was onto something.  Listen closely to what he says- he’s not ranting about Christmas at all. He expresses dismay over “packages, boxes, and bags” and extravagant feasts.  He rails against the “noise, noise, noise, noise.”  None of that is Christmas.  All of that is hustle.

‘Tis the season, all right.  The season of HUSTLE.

These few months are when I hear more, “I have to” and “I need to” about things that are completely voluntary than any other time of year.  This time of year, when we could be focused on faith and family, miracles and peace, we engage in the Hardship Olympics like it’s our job.  Like it’s our calling.  Like it’s the point.

I really began thinking about this a few weeks ago, in the lead up to Thanksgiving.  This season is a particularly challenging time for survivors of childhood trauma.  So much of our abuse happens within the family, and holidays often mean going home to the scene of the crime.  Literally.

I did a podcast recently for Spiritual Charlotte and we talked about these very things.

We generally see an uptick in members of our community needing resources, feeling a lot of anxiety.  To that end, I’ve been having many conversations about choice and agency and what is mandatory versus what is optional about the holidays.

Be ready, because I am about to blow your minds:

It is ALL optional.  EVERY SINGLE BIT OF IT.

Every single event?  Optional.  Every gift?  Voluntary.  Every tradition?  Discretionary. The percentage of ways you celebrate over which you have total agency?  100%

All of that overeating, drinking too much, spending money you don’t have?  Those are all classic hustle symptoms- and hustle is all about not believing you are enough.  Hustle is the antithesis of stillness.  It’s what we do when we don’t want to feel- and if we don’t allow ourselves to feel during this of all seasons, what are we even doing?

The holidays are not happening to you.  You are not a victim of Christmas.  New Year’s Eve is not a plot to undermine your sanity. Your holidays can be calm and bright, or they can be the fifth circle of hell.  It truly is almost entirely up to you.  The manic hamster wheel of consumption, busyness, and perfectionism is not mandatory.

Yes, if you start saying “no” people might not dig it.  Actually, they are almost certain not to dig it.  When you start setting boundaries and insisting on what you need for your own well being, people will be annoyed, frustrated, disappointed and perhaps even angry. Here’s the thing, though-

Annoyance, frustration, disappointment and

anger are not terminal- that’s the big secret.

They are all survivable conditions.

Now, obviously no one wants to upset or disappoint people they care about, but if nothing changes, nothing changes.

What I’m guessing, though, is that you’ll find the person putting the most pressure on you this holiday season is YOU- and that is GREAT NEWS, because you are, in fact, the only person whose behavior you control.

I just watched the new Gilmore Girls episodes on Netflix.  There was a scene in which the divine Emily Gilmore is purging her house of belongings.  She cites a book she’s been reading; Marie Konde’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. in which readers are encouraged to go through their belongings, hold each one in their hands and ask themselves,

“Does this bring me joy?”

If not, out it goes.

What if we did that with the holidays?  What if we examined each tradition, each event, each “should,” and truly considered whether it brought us joy?  What if we really questioned whether it deepened our faith, strengthened our connections, filled us up?

“I have to bake 7 dozen cookies for Mikey’s class party.”  Do you, though?  Bet you don’t.  Newsflash, Mikey would rather have a mom who bought cookies and is in full possession of her faculties and not a lunatic at his class party.  Trust.

Now, if baking 42 billion cookies makes you happy, do it.  If it doesn’t, don’t.  If attending a bunch of parties fills you up in some way, fantastic.  If you’d rather stay home in a Snuggie and watch Love Actually, do that.  If the bustle energizes you, wonderful.  If you need stillness and quiet to truly appreciate the season of light, then BE QUIET.

And I know some of you will say, “It’s not that simple.”  It actually is.  It is actually exactly that simple.

Your joy doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s.

And if while you are doing this holiday inventory, you find that some of the things you have always done are depleting you, making you angry and frustrated- if you’re more Joan of Arc than Buddy the Elf about them? You can bid those ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ farewell, send them on their way, and say, “Don’t let the wreath-clad door hit you in the ass on the way out!”

You’re going to have the holiday you choose, one way or another. You can keep hustling.  That’s an option.  Or you can slow down.  You can say no to hustle in order to say yes to joy.  You can move through this season with intention and wonder.  You can come out of the season filled up rather than running on empty.

You really can.


Hey beloveds!

I am writing a book and in order to get said book published it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform.  At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.


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13 Comments on “Ho Ho NO.

  1. Oh. Ouch.

    This time of year — there’s so much of “thinking like a victim” I’ve tried to shed in my life……. but this season. Takes me to my knees.

    Helpless. Hopeless. Spun out of control. No choices, no power, trapped by expectation and obligation.

    All the things that make me a tiny bit (okay, more) insane — they happen to me. And normally, I’m not like that. I try very, very, very hard not to be like that.

    But I crumble and fall apart starting around October. It doesn’t even wait until Thanksgiving to happen. Because I know it’s coming. Right at me. Like a freight train.

    And I don’t know how to get out of its way.

    I’m not disagreeing with you. My brain says you’re beautifully, wonderfully right. That if I could just grasp that, wrap my mind around it, make it part of me — oh my goodness, how different it might could be. It wouldn’t be all this despair and sadness and darkness and lack of hope that strikes this time of year and doesn’t lift until after February or so.

    I do want that. I am trying for that. Maybe I’ll make tiny little choices this year. Something small. Something that – I would do that, but this year …

    aww heck, I don’t know. Have a lot of people counting on me, too. For their holiday.

    But the ones that matter most of all — I know what you’re going to say before you say it — they’d prefer me not to be this sad shriveled up mess of depression and darkness that stumbles through each day like an act in a play — because I may think I hide it but it leaks out the corners all over the place. Instead of light leaking through the cracks, I leak darkness. Lots of it. Poisonous inky black darkness.

    And the family I’ll see because I’m expected to but causes me months of misery before and after? Of what value is that to anyone, but I don’t know how not to. What do I say, how do I say no?

    I don’t know how to say no.

    Remember, that’s what caused my problems to begin with. Not saying no. That would be funny if it wasn’t so un-funny.

    So every time I can’t say no now, is a dagger. A reminder. A nail in that coffin of shame and self loathing.

    Yeah, there are choices. Presumably. But I don’t know if there are for me. I don’t know how to see them, how to grasp them.


    • If nothing changes nothing changes. The saying yes to everything, the placing other people’s expectations ahead of your well-being… it sounds like that’s not working. Not for you, and not for the people you love.

      And you ‘not saying no’ is NOT how your problems began. It was not your job to say no in order to prevent your abuse. I said no- made no difference at all. It was your abuser’s responsibility not to abuse. Period. Full stop.

      Liked by 1 person

      • One thing that confuses me, though… How do you reconcile.. if people want different things, which one wins? Which one is right? If your actions hurts someone else, and you’re just acting from your own wants, isn’t that the definition of selfish? Aren’t you supposed to consider others’ feelings first?


      • You are not required to offer up your well being at the altar of someone else’s wishes. Just because someone else is hurt or upset doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong, does it? Don’t you want things that you don’t get all the time? I do. You know what I do when I don’t get what I want? I get over it. Aren’t they, by insisting you do something that is harmful to you, being selfish by your definition? I think you weigh the cost. I can outline my perfect idea of what the holidays “should” look like- but they involve other people, and MY wants and needs are only one factor. EVEN if you get painted as the Grinch, let’s just reflect on that. What happened when the Grinch “ruined” Christmas?

        It came anyway.


      • Your Grinch answer made me smile.

        Umm — if someone else feels bad or hurt or upset… yes, I do feel responsible. Very much so.

        Now, I will say… there’s a therapist out there trying to change that about me. So now I say… “it’s hard not to feel responsible.” That seems to keep the therapist mollified, because it says I’m at least trying.

        He says I was raised to feel that way, but it’s not true that I’m responsible — but it really is hard for me to know that. Like — when I shared my history with my husband and now he’s upset about it — I feel responsible for his upset. They both say I’m not, but in my head, that is like saying 2 + 2 = 5. I told him something that knowing upsets him, therefore I upset him. How is that possibly not true?


      • because by and large people’s reactions are about THEM, not you. If you say something innocuous that triggers a response in me that has to do with my history and I feel hurt or upset or angry by it, that has nothing to do with you. People’s expectations are about them, not you. You know what we call expectations in recovery? Pre-meditated resentments.


      • Since this started with a holiday discussion, let’s keep it there:

        Say you have an Aunt Sally. Aunt Sally is widowed and lives alone. She comes to your house for Christmas every year. She has nowhere else to go, if you didn’t host.

        And you have friend Samantha. Samantha’s husband died unexpectedly a couple years ago, and they have small children — Steven and Susan, because I seem to be in an S-name mood.

        Samantha — is struggling, and she won’t provide much of a Christmas for Steven and Susan, but you feel particularly drawn towards helping kids who are missing solid functioning families, and you want to make sure they have some kind of Christmas, too.

        And then, of course, if you are hosting Christmas, there’s going to be other family you’re expected to invite, and the next thing you know, you have 22 coming for dinner.

        Which, fine, you signed up for it. You offered. You can’t resent anyone because you made the free choice.

        But at the same time it’s a really, really hard time of year for you. And what you really want to do is turn on the fireplace, pull the blanket over your head, and binge netflix tearjerker movies so you can cry when you aren’t capable of tears.

        So indulging in that — isn’t that selfish? It leaves Aunt Sally out in the cold, and a couple kids with a paltry Christmas attended only by sadness and ghosts.

        By the way, Aunt Sally brings her sister with her. Someone VERY difficult for you to be around. Who creates turbulence just by being there. But if you said no sister, Aunt Sally wouldn’t come. And is it Aunt Sally’s fault her sister is a huge problem for you?

        Some of the names and genders and ages have been changed to protect the innocent — but all of that is factual.

        But I do agree all of that is also my choice.

        Now the stuff that feels beyond my choosing — family that comes that I don’t know how to turn away — that’s the bigger thorn. Where I do feel helpless to choose, and while I understand why you will tell me otherwise, I can’t find it within me to find that fortitude. It’s not there. I reach for it, and I come up empty. Empty, and afraid, and terrified, and overwhelmed. And unsafe.

        And that casts a pall over every other thing so that there is no joy or happiness to the holiday season.


      • Actually, child, singular, and the parental death was a suicide. For that reason alone, I’ll stick it out. Because it is a kid. Because I would have wanted someone to care about me when I was a kid.

        And my father in law — who is ailing and elderly and my husband is struggling with the slow loss of his dad — yes, I will provide a gathering for the holidays. Choice, and yet, no choice…. because I still feel like it would be selfish to indulge my needs, when there are so many others surrounding me.


      • Okay, truth is, I’d still feel just as trapped by expectation and obligation without the kid. But that seals it.

        And makes it worthwhile, at the same time.


  2. Couple of thoughts, now that it’s likely past being able to change all these things: Aunt Sally brings her sister? Let Aunt Sally go to her sister’s house! Aunt Sally is in assisted living? Bet they have things for families to attend.

    Is it possible to host Samantha and the children without taking on the rest of the nearly two dozen? Can you take them out to dinner and not host anything?

    When my husband and I were first married, we got along with my family but his was seriously toxic. We always arranged to go to his folks’ house first so we had an end time and a reason to leave. We stayed or didn’t stay at my family’s gathering for as long as we liked. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that some members of his family were actually tallying holiday hours.

    One year, we said, “this is it; we’re doing our own thing.” We chose to have two single friends who couldn’t be with their own families over for Thanksgiving dinner instead of splitting it between “his and hers” again. My folks said, “we’ll miss you, have a good time, tell them we said hi.” My husband’s sister-in-law actually called to check up on us, trying to trap me into saying that we were going to my parents’ house but not his.

    I realize that you’ve got more crazy-making dynamics going on than we did (although I believe his mother was emotionally abusive), but at that point, saying, “we’re going to do something different this time” gave us a break in the but-this-is-how-we-always-do-it flow of things. It wasn’t until his father died, a few years after we were married, that various issues coalesced to the point that he said, “that’s it; I’m done with them.”

    I understand that none of this is easy. I know that you can’t do it until you’re ready. But is there anything you could do to help break the pattern? Maybe not change all of it, but a piece of it? “This year I’m going to (do this/not do this),” and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. As Laura said, “feeling” responsible isn’t *being* responsible.

    [First time I’ve been able to catch up on posts in a while, so for all I know you’re way past this, one way or another.]


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