Many families happily reunite during the holiday season. Family members who live apart or who may not have been able to connect during the year often look forward to giving and receiving gifts, rekindling family ties and sharing in the joys of the season. But for some of us the idea of going home is not a very pleasant thought.
Childhood experiences, good or bad, are naturally stored in both our mind and in our body. So when, as adults, we think about going home it’s normal if we remember or have feelings about or physical reactions to the notion of going home, similar to those we had as a child.
And just as memories of a happy childhood may not fade away, neither would feelings of being mistreated or ignored or abandoned. Although we may feel obligated to go home, or a part of us wishes we wanted to, we can feel dread instead of joy when we imagine visiting the family.
So, if what you remember about home creates anxiety or depression or you get angry or your mood changes, it’s likely that ‘home’ for you was toxic, and it’s okay if you don’t want to return. If you know that things haven’t gotten any better why risk the chance of being unhappy during the holiday? If going back means walking back into a hurtful childhood, why risk the chance of another blow-up or more resentment?
Especially if you are in recovery, think about the risks associated with going home. Talk to your sponsor about this. Being away from your normal surroundings increases your risk of having a ‘slip’ particularly if you are in the early stages of recovery. You don’t need the pressure from family members or strangers who may not recognize or care about your needs and who say something like “…just have one drink. It’s the holidays.”
In my counseling practice I sometimes use the metaphor of ‘family emotional ghosts’ to illuminate what it might feel like to go home. I refer to two movies: “Ghost” (1990) and “Casper” (1995). Casper is a friendly, playful ghost and the movie is based on an old cartoon character “Casper the Friendly Ghost”. This would be the emotional ghost in a home where children were generally loved and cared for. But the ghosts that haunt an emotionally toxic home would be like those in movie “Ghost” – dark, swirling, ominous, rising up out of the floor and dragging people away.
So if Casper isn’t waiting for you at home, it’s okay for you to not go. While you might struggle at first with some anxiety or guilt, your family will adapt without you – especially if they were not there in the first place.
The holiday season can bring up emotions not normally felt at other times. People who struggle with their thoughts or feelings during this time often seek the help of a professional therapist. Marriage therapy or individual counseling can help us to understand ourselves better, heal childhood and family of origin wounds and can instill hope for the future.
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