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Hey Captain,

I was hoping I could still get some assistance with a minor but ongoing irritation in my life.

I am Jewish, and I live in the Midwest, and that is awkward. I’m almost always the only Jewish person in my social circle, workplace, etc. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. And then there’s December. Captain, why are people SO WEIRD about Christmas? Even non-religious friends seem to get swept up into it. I feel like all month I hear an unending barrage of “oh but it’s really a secular holiday so it’s fine if you participate!” and “you’re really hurting my feelings/ruining Christmas for me if you don’t participate in my tree decorating party/secret santa/whatever!” Guys. I DON’T WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANYTHING CHRISTMAS RELATED IT MAKES ME VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. Not only do I have my own holiday to celebrate that is much less stressful thank you very much, I really hate the constant pressure to observe someone else’s holidays. How can me not celebrating YOUR holiday ruin it FOR YOU? I don’t seem to be able to convince people that their holiday feelings are their problems and not mine.

Most of my long term friends are used to this and even if they don’t totally understand they leave me alone about it. But I feel like every time I meet someone new I have to go through a song and dance routine to convince them that no, really, I don’t celebrate Christmas NO REALLY I DON’T WANT TO. This particular year is extra stressful because I just started a new job and I always I feel like I’m missing some workplace etiquette this time of year. Having brand new coworker dynamics to navigate just makes things more confusing. For example, someone I don’t know (because I literally just started this job a week ago) left an admittedly very cute little jar of hot chocolate with a “merry christmas” note attached to it in my work mailbox (she gave one to everyone, it’s not just me). But. Do I have to get her something in return? Or write her a thank you card?? Can I just wear a shirt all month that says “Sorry, I’m Jewish, please leave me out of your strange Christmas rituals, Gentiles”??? Idk how to handle this at work especially where I’m worried my preexisting annoyance will come across as hostility or ingratitude to people I’ve just met but would like to develop at least an amiable working relationship with.

Any scripts or advice you have for getting people to believe that I really and truly want to be left out of All Things Christmas would be greatly appreciated!

~Christmas is Confusing

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They’re playing Christmas music in the Walgreen’s near my house, so, here you go.

Hi Captain & Co.,

I need a script for my dad for the upcoming holidays on why I am not spending it with him, and I need a script for my in-laws on why I am likely to be pretty emotional while I try out spending it with them.

Both my parents are alcoholics and my mother is abusive. I stopped going “home” (300mi away) for the holidays at 20 after a physical altercation with my mother on Christmas Eve the previous year. My mother is ill; I spent my teens caring for her, as well as serving as my dad’s only emotional crutch for her abuse (which was worse toward him) while he drank, making him unavailable to me. Among the features of her abuse was to habitually threaten suicide and dramatically self-harm, primarily as manipulation tactic, whenever someone did something she didn’t like.

As their only child I have found those codependent bonds extremely difficult to break. After hashing it out with a therapist I found the thing that was least taxing for me was still to visit, but to put firm boundaries on those visits. Accordingly we have done a strictly sober “Christmas” a week early, which largely avoids the worst of the manipulative nonsense from my mom, and I have spent the holidays themselves blissfully alone for the last five years.

I am now 26 and this year I moved 3,000mi away, which makes travel times more difficult to arrange. I have to go back to my home state to wrap up my graduate degree at the end of December. I do not want to spend the holiday with my parents for obvious reasons. My dad (now sober for five years) is aging and is struggling to remember some of the features of my childhood, and he and my mother have both denied my abuse before, so I do not want to cite that as my reason for not going in case it raises that conversation. He doesn’t have much in his life and I don’t know how to tell him I’m not coming without turning the interaction very negative and conflict-oriented, because I think we both deserve better than that.

On the flip side, I have an incredible, loving boyfriend. His family loves me and I them, and they are *all about Christmas*. I feel great joy and great sorrow when I think about spending the holidays with them. After talking very frankly with my boyfriend about my conflicted feelings, we agreed that I could try to spend the holiday with his family, and I can always bail if I’m not feeling it. He is very supportive of this plan and of whatever I may need, but I feel unsure how to present my potential for ill-timed breakdowns and need for escape plans to his family, who, bless them, could be the default photo in picture frames for how ignorant to struggle they seem to be.

What’s the best way to say “the holidays are triggering for me” to both these parties without saying those actual words?

Thanks,
How Do I Holiday

For your parents:  “I’m going to _______ for the holidays this year.” (Don’t tell them what you won’t be doing, i.e., going home, tell them what you will be doing, and don’t treat it like a big important talk about the underlying issues. Treat it like “hey you should know this so you can make plans.”)

Tell them the information.

Let them intuit the reasons.

And let their reactions be theirs. Him: “I can’t believe you don’t want to spend Christmas with your old man!” You: “Sorry dad, not this year, but I hope you and Mum have a nice day.” + HANG UP PHONE.

Since you’re going back to town anyway, go ahead and have sober holiday (observed) on another day if you want to or don’t if you don’t want to. Take your dad out for breakfast or some other small event if you want to see him (or don’t, if you don’t want to). His memory was selective to begin with and will only fade as he gets older and that’s a hard thing for an abused kid to carry into adulthood, that knowledge that parents can just forget the things they did to you and that that resolution and real honest discussion is probably never coming. When the monsters of your childhood become faded old people with the fight gone out of them, what do you do? How do you find a way to relate? Do you forgive and try to find a way to interact with who they are now or do you hold onto the tight little ball of yourself you’ve been protecting all this time?

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I think maybe you take it day by day, year by year.

This year, you could send them a nice holiday card (and think about sending them the info about your travel in a card or an email) and remind yourself that it’s not a negotiation. This is for everyone reading: You can spend holidays with whomever you like, including just yourself, if that’s how you want to roll. Family members will have feelings about it, and that’s understandable, but their feelings don’t automatically trump your own. The first time you break tradition is the hardest time, but people do adjust.

Letter Writer, for your boyfriend’s family visit, I suggest that you do your best when you’re there, and if you need to bail, you let your boyfriend smooth it over and explain. If set-up needs to happen, he can do that, too. “You are all so great, but this is LW’s first holiday away from her family and it’s hard for her. She just needs a little space for a bit.” You could also plan time during the visit that is just for you or just for you and boyfriend so that you have some quiet built-in. Or go for one or 2 days, not a multi-day extravaganza, and spend the rest of the time alone. When you’re there, volunteer to run lots of errands at the store, for example, or have your boyfriend take you to see That One Cool Thing In His Town. Be the person who goes to bed really early. Nobody has to know that “bed” is “you quietly reading a book in bed.” Let yourself be a guest, take care of yourself, bring a nice host-gift for his folks to observe the ancient rituals, and let your boyfriend take care of you. Let his care include smoothing over anything that might need smoothing over.

People from fucked up families do not owe people from ‘normal’ families the performance of ‘normality’ or happiness, especially around the holidays. The hot shame and terror you feel when people ask “What are you doing for Christmas” or say “But what about your faaaaaamily!” without realizing that their small talk is your stuff of nightmares is real, and I’m sorry. It’s such a shitty combination of feeling put on the spot, shown up for not being ‘normal,’ maybe with the stab of grief for the memories you *should* have had, and anger at the happy obliviousness of the questioner. Sometimes the best answer is a non-answer, like “we like a very quiet Christmas” (who’s ‘we?’ who cares?) and sometimes it’s “that’s not a very happy time of year for me, but I am glad it is for you” and sometimes it’s “haven’t really made a plan yet, but tell me all about yours?!?” and sometimes the best answer is the naked truth: “My parents are alcoholics and all my worst memories are of Christmas with them. I’m trying really hard to make a new tradition for myself, and thanks to boyfriend I’m happy to be a part of yours this year.” Or “The holidays are triggering for me, and sometimes I can’t always predict how I’ll react.”

Whatever answer is your answer is good enough, and your holiday celebration (or “just another Thursday”) is good enough, and you are good enough, and there are a lot of people out in Awkwardland who feel you and get you and root for you and love you. This year we’re going to have Thanksgiving and Christmas (and other winter holidays that you can nominate in comments) Open Threads on the actual days for people who need a place to vent and collectively off-gas some winter feelings. ❤ ❤ and <3.

Dear Captain Awkward.

You have advised that a person does not “owe” anyone else their time, friendship, or anything, and I agree with this.

However, I am struggling with being on the receiving end of this. My mother in law stopped speaking to me. And I feel SO MUCH anger and hurt over this; I have been obsessed about it for a year and a half now.

A little background: I hit it off with my MIL the first time we met, and we had a great relationship for 8 years. We spoke on the phone at least weekly, having long, fun. and close conversations, and always enjoyed seeing each other. All visits/plans/holidays were coordinated with me, and I was included in everything. We were good friends!

That ended after a visit to help them with an upcoming move. We had a bit to drink one evening, and the conversation turned a bit heated. I went to excuse myself from the table, and my FIL yelled at me, twice, “Fuck you!” My MIL was horrified and yelled at him to stop; he regretted it immediately and apologized profusely, with tears. I forgave, and thought all would be fine.

Following that, she stopped speaking to me. I thought a “cooling off” period would be good, but it never ended. It’s as if I am not in the family any more. I have made many overtures to my in-laws that I hold no grudge, and to try to get things back to normal. I have called, attempting friendly conversation (and get blown off). I have offered to travel to family events with her. I have shared pictures of trips, and sent nice holiday cards. My husband and brother in law have asked her why she no longer talks to me (her answer, “I don’t know”). Nothing changes. All the calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts, etc. that are exchanged amongst the family leave me out.

I HATE this. It makes me so angry and upset! I hate being excluded. I hate that the close relationship we had apparently meant nothing to her. I hate visiting them, where they all act friendly with each other while I sit there quietly. I hate seeing her be nice and friendly to everyone but me. And now, I hate her too. I want to punish her, and never see them again (which I won’t do, because that wouldn’t be fair to my husband). And, I hate feeling that way. I don’t want to have all this anger and hurt. Please help me deal with this. I know she has a right to do this, but I can’t seem to accept it.

Signed,

Sad and Angry

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