Get Ready: The Holidays Are Coming

Posted by Shanda Gunter, Chase Oaks Care Pastor, on Oct 20, 2023

Get Ready: The Holidays Are Coming

“The holidays are coming!”

While this statement may prompt some people to decorate or start making a list and checking it twice, it can cause others a deep, inward cringe, a sputtering of anxiety in anticipation of what is to come, or even a wave of sadness as the tide of grief washes over them.

The holidays can be so hard—and so very painful. A time that is meant to be filled with joy and celebration can bring a unique set of challenges.

Maybe you’re like me and have strained family dynamics.

Thanksgiving is one of my most favorite holidays; I have the picturesque dream of gathering around a large table with my whole family and sharing a meal: my dad laughing as he carves the turkey. My mom making homemade stuffing, and my children running and jumping on their grandma as she places some delicious, warm pastry just within arms reach so they can eat their fill. That’s the dream, but that’s not my reality.

The reality is I likely won’t see any of my parents. I may get a few hours with one of my moms (my parents are divorced), but it will not be like this dream I have in my head. The truth is my children hardly know my parents. There won’t be a large, shared meal; there won’t be laughter and playful banter as we watch some sport on TV. My boys won’t be spoiled until they can’t possibly stuff another sweet into their mouths. It won’t happen this year and truthfully, it may never happen.

The reality is also that my husband’s family has welcomed me with wide-open arms… and they get pretty darn close to this image I have in my head. My in-laws show up in big ways and spoil the heck out of my kids. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law and I cook all day, making much of our meal from scratch. We laugh, poke fun at each other, dream together, vent, and swap stories. But as sweet as all of this may be (and as much as I may love them and this dream that they help me get closer to), they just aren’t my parents.

Deep down, all I want is my parents. I want all of my siblings home so we can pester each other as my dad yells, “Now kids, you may be grown but I can still getcha!” I want my parents to know every single interest and quirks of my children so that when Christmas comes they will already have been planning for months what they will get my kids.

But even this dream isn’t the dream my children have. You know what my oldest longs for most of all? “To spend time with family.” I know, I know, he’s literally the sweetest, but ultimately what he longs for is for his family to spend time with him. Sadly, his sweet dream likely won’t come true again this year, not with my side at least. Not this year.

I will smile a lot, I will laugh, I will hug my kids and my husband. I will eat delicious meals with extended family and close friends. I will be happy, but I will have a stream of sadness that pulses through each layer of happiness that I have to reconcile again this year, as I have every year before.

And that’s ok. This, coupled with my own mental health challenges of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, have prompted me to need help to survive the holidays. I know as temperatures drop and the sun hides behind the clouds for days on end, my seasonal depression likes to roar its nasty head. I know that my anxiety flares up when I’m with a large group of people—and oh boy, does it flare up when I start buying Christmas presents. I struggle with “Is this enough?” and “Will they know they are loved if this is all they get?” and “Oh my gosh, we’ve already gone over budget and we still have three white elephant gifts and five more people to buy for.” There she is, anxiety, my old friend. I really don’t like her, but she shows up at the most inopportune time to make my life just a little—or a lot—harder. I need help surviving the holidays. 

I know I’m not alone in this. I know I’m not the only one with close immediate family who struggle with alcoholism or addiction. I’m not the only one who longs for family who cannot be who you need them to be. I know I’m not the only one with mental health challenges. 

Many of us have our own unique struggles that we need help with. Maybe you’re like me and have complex family dynamics, or you’re struggling with grief, mental health, or addiction, or maybe a loved one is struggling with addiction or mental health and you want to support them but have no idea how. Maybe your finances are already tight, and you don’t know how you will budget for the holidays or better still, how you will communicate that you need to cut back spending with friends and family. Maybe you lost someone special and they were the glue that bound your family together, and now you have no idea how you could possibly make it through this season.

I see you. We see you. You are not alone. I encourage you to seek out the support, knowledge, and tools that you need now, so that you are ready for the holidays and all that they bring. Resources are available to help you survive—and maybe even thrive—this year, no matter where you are coming from.

Looking for more help this time of year? Don’t miss Surviving the Holidays, a unique event offering practical tools and tips from licensed counselors, financial advisors, ministry leaders, and pastors.

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