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Emotions and the Holidays

by Katy Byrne, MFT

Stuffing our feelings is a common response during the holiday season, but it's definitely not healthy! Every year during the holidays, we take our two weeks of precious vacation time from work and travel to visit family. It can be very hectic: getting to the airport to catch our plane, renting a car, traffic back-ups, accidents, buying perfume and dust collectors in a panic. Then there is the inevitable question, if we are honest about the holidays: Do we really give a damn? Frankly my dear, I don't know for sure.

There is a ball of fear in my throat--about feeling too alone, about not really experiencing the real meaning of the holidays, about not connecting with my family. So many holiday gatherings mean shopping, or sitting in front of the TV, and not saying what we feel. So often it seems there's an awkwardness between us that we don't know what to do except shut down--or keep eating! Sitting with someone you love and being unable to say what you are feeling can be excruciating. So many of my friends describe emotions of grief during this season, and the loss of connection to those they love the most.

The holidays echo through me, like the burning in my middle. Even with the bells ringing and the balls hanging on the trees, there is still this pulling at my heart. Why do we long for love and still not feel able to connect with those most important to us? I want to ask some friends or relatives: "Do you love me, really? Why has there always been this wall between us? What would it take to bring it down?" I wish I could have the courage to say, "Let's talk about it." That might be the greatest holiday gift of all, but I get so afraid of speaking up, I end up sitting on emotions and feeling sick. I get scared of bringing someone down, or of rocking the boat, so instead of getting out the "hairball," I crawl up into a ball and withdraw. And then, when the holidays are over, I am fatter, flatter, and there is a hole in my soul. I talk about "getting the hairball out" because I learned from my cat that it gives great relief to let go of what is stuck inside the throat.

I guess what I am trying to say here is this: It takes a lot of courage to talk about something that has bothered me for years. But it takes even more energy to hold feelings inside. We start to blow up like a balloon. The body holds every hurt feeling, every criticism, and a lot of fear turns to poison, like a slow building toxic waste dump.

Feeling good in both body and soul comes from love, and sometimes there is a wall between me and the ones I want to love the most. Because I am afraid to bridge gaps through dialogue, I feel as though I've swallowed a bowling ball. I gulp, and sit around with awful thoughts like, "We have nothing in common anyway. Why bother to even try? This is not a good time to bring it up." These are just a few of the ways I give myself an excuse to keep in my hairball instead of getting it out. The moment I most remember during the holidays is after my dad died. I went home numbed out, not knowing what might come up. When I entered my parents' house, my hand reached down to my father's chair. He always sat right there. I cried and I said, "I miss him." He was always there, in his favorite chair, with his beloved books, cigars, and a wry smile. It made me so happy to find him there, often sharing the kind of humor that must come from age. My mother said, "Don't get into these emotions. It's embarrassing to me. Let's drop it. It's in the past. Let's carry on." From that moment on I've been stiff, driven, unable to feel.

I wish I had said, "Hey, mom, what's going on? Do you want me to pretend I have no feelings?" But I didn't have the courage, even in mid-life. I was too afraid of hurting her at a difficult time. Self-doubting too much, I thought, "Maybe she's right. I should be over it. I should be stronger." So I lost the moment, that window in time when I could have put my toe in the door and asked, "Can't we talk about it? Do we have to stuff it? Hasn't enough of my life been about numbing and loneliness when what I long for is understanding and communication?"

There have been so many times in my life that I felt sick to my stomach, suffered back pain or headaches, because I just couldn't get close to the people I loved the most. I felt sick from longing and frustration. I have spent visits to my family where I was pale and trembling from holding in my hairball. I've had to sit over hours of food, sweets and TV, when what I really wanted to do was throw up. This normally happened when I held back from trying to clear up some false fears or assumptions. It seemed that Christmas balls replaced bawling over the painful lapses we don't speak about.

I cannot connect. I want to! I want to find out how they really feel about me. Do we love each other? What is love, anyway? Do we have to carry out this entire ritual each year? I pay for hotels, meals, treating people on credit cards, with money I really don't have, out of obligation or confusion. I buy silly things at the gift stores and end up empty, in my pockets and in my soul. What would it take for me to tell them the truth? Could I say what I really think? There must be a way for family and friends to talk to each other that results in real connection.

I long for my family and friends to know I am doing all this because I care, but somehow that seems lost in the shuffle. With fatigue, longing, grief and stress, we are like different colored balls scattered all over a billiard table. One person is angry because I wasn't at dinner on time; another feels trapped because I wanted him to join me for brunch. There is so much going on with each person, I cannot possibly read their minds or imagine what they need. All in all, everyone is balled up in this season of balls--snowballs, footballs, Christmas balls, holly balls. I don't want to fill up with food until I can't move. I don't want to stuff until it's impossible to breathe. I want to get the hairball out on the table this year, once and for all: here is what I fear, what I wish for, how I feel.

Katy Byrne, MA, MFT, offers individual and group therapy for expressing what's stuck inside, in a safe place, and getting clear on goals for forward movement. To contact her call (707) 938-5289 or email katybyrne@aol.com.


Related Articles:
Confessions of a Reformed Emotional Eater
Focusing: Connecting to the Soul through Feelings
Letting Go
Authenticity, Key to Transformation

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