I am at the beginning of a entire week (including two weekends) off of work. The first such week I’ve had since the winter holidays of 2020. I’ve taken the time off to work on some writing projects, rest, and grapple with the issues inherent with navigating the holiday season separate from a toxic family situation. Which, you know, is emotionally fraught enough on it’s own without throwing the holidays into the mix, which is an exponential increase rather than additive or even multiplicative. But I’ve planned some writing projects to keep me busy and engaged, some projects around the house to keep me moving and give me time outside my own head, and enough fun plans to keep me from feeling like I’m not using my time well.
This is now my third fall and winter holiday season away from my family. Aside from two of my siblings, I am actively avoiding my biological family and focusing my time and energy on the non-biological family I have. My D&D players, my local friends, and people I’ve become close to over the last twelve years since I left my childhood home behind. It has been a journey, full of struggle and pain, but I think this is going to be the first holiday season of my life that won’t be innately painful.
For most of my life, the holidays were painful because my parents and extended family had little interest in the abuse my brother was committing. Holidays meant watching no one react as it played out in front my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, all of them too busy with their own petty drama about an overturned planter to notice what was happening.
Through most of the years since I left the place I grew up, the holidays were painful because I was struggling to cope with returning to a place I had left behind, people I had left behind, and a role I had left behind. Every holiday was like a return not just to where I had grown up, but the person I had been while living there. When I finally began to break free of that, everything got put on hold because it was my grandfather’s last holiday season. After that… When I finally chose to separate myself from my toxic family, I had to deal with doubt, with the holidays emphasizing family, and the constant bombardment in media, social media, and my own head that family was family and you had to forgive them no matter what they’d done.
Now I’ve cut contact completely and totally and this is the first holiday season where my only thoughts of my family are related to their recent breaches of my boundaries and my anxiety running scenarios of what I would do if they showed up at my home unannounced. I know I’ve made the right call, even if I’m not happy about needing to make it. I still feel doubt about my decision of course, but it is small and momentary. I know I’ve made the right call, even if it wasn’t one I enjoyed making.
I doubt the holidays will be simple or totally fun. They rarely are, thanks to all the stress and travel and amplified emotion. But I think they will be better than the last few, if nothing else.