Friday, December 18, 2009

The Ghosts of Christmases Past

By Amy Phillips-Gary

I tend to get really stressed out around the holidays. And I often can't figure out exactly why.

Yes, I have extra shopping to do, baking, wrapping and traveling added to my already busy schedule. But still, my levels of tightness and tension don't seem to match even those added activities and responsibilities.

Earlier this week, as I laid in a restorative yoga pose designed to open up my chest, I finally understood.

The ghosts of my Christmases past were rattling chains-- and me.

As much as I so want to feel merry and bright all of the time during the holiday season, memories of particular aspects of my past Christmases re-emerge on the outskirts of my awareness and seem to really mess things up!

As I've written in previous blogs, I experienced very blessed holidays growing up filled with plenty of presents, tasty treats and lots of love and attention. What I also experienced during a particular time in my formative years was sexual abuse.

For decades now, I've been healing, learning and growing in terms of the abuse that happened. I no longer live with frequent flashbacks and other unpleasant side effects from the past trauma.

For this I am grateful.

But what I realized while in that wonderfully opening restorative yoga pose was that these ghosts of my past are intensifying my stress-- they are even a primary contributor to it. My habit of ignoring these ghosts or shoving them down is what heavily contributes to my overall sense of overwhelm and my seeming inability to fully enjoy my family, friends and celebrations during the holiday season.

Just as Ebenezer Scrooge's ghosts torment and won't leave him alone, so too do my ghosts...until I finally open up and let them in, acknowledge all of the ways that I'm feeling and offer myself extra care.

Allow space for both the sad and the glad.

You might not have had the same kind of experiences that I have had in the past. Your ghosts might be recollections of parents arguing and storming out of the house, alcohol or drug abuse around you, not having many (or any) gifts, parties and fun or other challenges.

Your ghosts might not be from your childhood. It could be that an unpleasant or unhealthy current situation rattles its chains loudly and jarringly.

What is common for quite a few of us is that we want to join in with the revelry and the potential joyousness of the holidays and we try really really hard to do so. But it just doesn't work when we also feel upset, depressed or off-kilter somehow.

I suggest that we all grant ourselves permission to feel what we're feeling-- every bit of it.

You can still attend parties and visit with loved ones. You can sing carols, light candles and exchange presents.

At the same time, you can allow time in your schedule to let in your ghosts. Just as Ebenezer Scrooge discovered, there were valuable and freeing lessons available to him when he followed his ghosts.

Yes, the ghosts were scary. Yes, the images weren't necessarily comfortable or pleasant to experience and re-experience.

But as Scrooge let them in-- the ghosts and the lessons-- he was finally able to tap into more generosity, expansiveness and elation than he'd probably ever imagined possible for himself.

This is what I'm doing for myself this holiday season that's different from recent years. I am opening up and creating space for my ghosts of Christmases past, when they decide to re-emerge.

I am allowing all of my feelings and memories-- even the ones that aren't happy. I know that as I stop resisting what's uncomfortable and I begin to open up to it all, the ghosts can more easily move through me rather than become stuck and grow even bigger than they were.

I already feel lighter, freer and better able to enjoy these moments of merriment and celebration. I wish the same for each and everyone of you.


  1. How true--often we rush around in a flurry of activity around the holidays with a nagging feeling of unease that we try to push away. I like your idea of being aware of all the holiday experiences--both good and bad--and think about how they impact our behavior in the here and the now.