Holidays with Family, Emotional Rollercoasters, Lessons Learned

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Some people experience life over 50 as increasingly problematic.  I’ll admit that sometimes I’m one of them.

Yet for me, one of the best things about getting older is the ability to take a step back and look at my stuff. And I don’t mean my tea collection.

It’s safe to say that most adults are still carrying around some baggage left over from childhood; if their parents were great, the school bully wasn’t.  Stepping into adulthood, I personally held enough baggage to fill a small cargo plane.

It’s taken me years of practice: yoga, meditation and some therapy here and there to get to a place of letting go.  I’ve recognized and felt good about my ‘letting go’ more and more frequently as the years have passed, occasionally sharing my progress with my siblings without ever being asked.

So, you can imagine my surprise when just a short few days into an extended holiday family visit I began to unravel.

To be fair, it wasn’t just the visit. Holidays are always emotionally loaded, and a series of odd and unexpected events only added to the fray. One shipment of gifts I’d spent hours packaging arrived damaged, apparently having broken open at the post office. Some items were missing and I gained several new ones, including three copies of “adult” comic book porn. Really. The other package didn’t arrive at all. This marked the beginning of 2.5 weeks in the desolate east coast winter with lots more baggage left to unpack.

It’s usually the most formative relationships that hold the greatest power, and this holiday season my triggers ran rampant.  I didn’t reach the point of full meltdown exactly, no outbursts per se – instead I settled on replaying my “poor me” story until I started to spin.  “Ruminate” is the clinical term for the kind of incessant mental rehashing I found myself wallowing in.

I spent the next day gathering my arsenal of proof that all of my childhood hurts were now valid and offenses were still ongoing.  The craziest part is I had just completed an article about this very subject; the importance of taking action and then letting go when the outcome doesn’t match the expectation.  So, to add insult to injury I now felt like a fraud.

This emotional crisis went on for two days before a reality check came in the form of a conversation with my mother in law.  When I mentioned we were leaving our hosts for a weekend trip to the city, her unfiltered response was “oh good, your parents will probably be happy to have a break.”

It took me a minute to get my head around that one.  This unintentional reminder that there are two sides to every drama, even mine.  And more importantly, both sides are equally credible in a voluntary relationship.  Perhaps having a loud group of 4 in your otherwise quiet household, offering unsolicited advice about what you need to do with your 50 years of accumulated belongings isn’t all the treat I’d imagined it to be.

This slice of humble pie came at a good time with 2019 looming large on the horizon. I had to ask:“What can I take with me from this experience into my life going forward?’

The lesson was obvious, letting go is a process, one that gets easier with practice, but the work is never really done.  And the most trying situations are those that offer the greatest growth opportunities.

All said, I love that the same challenges I encourage my clients to meet are also the risks I push myself into taking.  If I were already the person I strive to become, I wouldn’t be able to connect from a place of compassion. I wouldn’t be good at my job.

When I ask those I work with to take risks, step outside of their comfort zones and trust themselves to let go of the past in order to keep moving forward, it’s because I expect this of myself, knowing these efforts will ultimately build resilience rather than cultivate defeat.

My goals for 2019 are different than they were in years past, circumstances are different and with another year under my belt, so am I.  But the underlying path is the same; here’s to taking risks, letting go and reaching your goals in 2019!

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