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This Thu., Nov. 22 is Thanksgiving Day! This is of course the traditional day of family, gratitude and feasting. This is the day that we spend celebrating with people we love and adore and who are a part of our daily lives.
Oh yeah, and those other people are around too. You know, those people you might avoid and wonder why they even came…and hell, wonder why YOU even came, because it’s only 27 minutes in and already you look forward to getting the hell away from them!
Thanksgiving is a very highly-touted holiday in the United States, one the biggest holidays of the year. It’s a day when most things shut down, so there are fewer distractions and places to go if you happen to be someone who wants to ignore the holiday. Thanksgiving is, of course, traditionally all about getting together with your family and giving thanks for them and for everything you have in your life. This is symbolized by a day of absolute no holds barred gluttony. J No, truly, all joking aside, I get it. It’s a celebration, and in almost all human cultures, the best way to celebrate is by sharing a table of tasty food. It’s a wonderful human tradition. No complaints here! Long live the feast!
But, like everything in life, there is the idyllic version that adorns greeting cards and Charlie Brown cartoons, and then there is Real Life. And the Real Life version can sometimes be a bit or a hot mess. A real hot mess, actually.
It’s been said many times before in several different ways – and it’s true – You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. You’ve arrived on this Earth born to a certain clan of people. You had no say in the matter, and to an extent, neither did they. Even in regards to the person or people that may have willfully created you, they had no say on who or what type of person you would ultimately become, even though they may have thought they could control that outcome. The idea could have been to create someone in their image, but what they may have gotten was someone whose beliefs, viewpoint, spiritual practice, ethics, sexuality or values were completely different than their own.
I feel that the idea of Thanksgiving is both beautiful and important, and horribly overrated at the same time. The concept of “family” holds an extremely high place in society. Our entire society is built around the family unit, and this is great way for the government and heads of state to reinforce that connection and sense of importance. The concept of “family” is what champions and legitimizes the similar concepts of marriage and monogamy. Socially, Thanksgiving helps the masses identify with the importance and sanctity of the traditional family structure, thus keeping calm and order. This message kind of gets jammed down our throats near the end of the year. “Family is everything.” “Family is so important.” “Everyone else is having Thanksgiving and loving it and getting along, so you should too.”
Societal importance aside, yes, genuinely enjoying time with your family and expressing your gratitude for them CAN certainly be an amazing practice and experience. If you are blessed to have family members that you love and adore, Thanksgiving can be a magical time of embraces, laughter, celebrations, memories and creating new memorable moments. It can be an absolute highlight of the year.
But let’s get real. Human beings are human beings. Often times we don’t treat each other well, and often times this includes members of our own family. There can be a LOT of pain, negativity, betrayal, sadness , anger and even outright rage, depravity and trauma within families. Perhaps this even describes your family. Because this time of year places an emphasis and a magnifying glass to the concept of “family,” it is often extremely hard to ignore or avoid the bitterness and darkness within your family at this time. In fact, with all the constant social message that we are inundated with that show how all-American and wonderful and perfect and harmonious Thanksgiving should be, we can become depressed and ashamed when our reality is so at odds with the way things “should” be and the way we think the rest of the world is celebrating Thanksgiving.
So how can we survive Thanksgiving? The first thing to remember: You are not alone. The world is not the way that your society or your government would like you to believe. Many of us have been born into families that consist of people who don’t understand us, who don’t approve of us, who don’t want the best for us, who wish we weren’t born, who are jealous of us, who only value us for what we can do for them. This is an unfortunate fact of life on Earth. I believe that part of the point of life on Earth, however, is how we can overcome this early setback and hardship, and forge the diamond of our own truth and our own way. There are many, many people in this world that don’t approve of you, that want you to fail, that wish you misery. Some of these people may be in your family. You need to understand that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, that you cannot help who your family is, and that you are not alone. Don’t buy into the hype of every family butyours celebrating Thanksgiving like some sort of “Little House on the Prairie” role play, because it’s not reality.
The second thing that you need to remember is that Thanksgiving is just another day. Yep, it’s a Thursday. The next day will be Friday. Again. We as a society place special emphasis on it, but you have the individual power to decide how it affects you. You do not need to feel guilty because your are NOT meeting with the father that betrayed your trust as a child. Do not put yourself in harm’s way or undo theurapeutic or emotional work you’ve done to heal yourself just “because it’s Thanksgiving.” If you especially have a lot of trauma or wounds that are triggered by a certain family member, and you would normally not meet with them, don’t do it on Thanksgiving. Always do what’s best for you and your healing, including on the fourth Thursday of November.
Another thing you should keep in mind is that Thanksgiving could be a powerful time to exercise Forgiveness. Now, I can do a whole thing on how important and vital Forgiveness is to your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical health. In fact, I’m a huge proponent of incorporating a monthly Forgiveness ritual into your life. I like to correlate it with the Full Moon. Forgiveness is the act of release. It’s all about releasing the low frequency emotions like rage, hate and blame and letting them dissolve completely. Life can be immensely challenging, and you best believe that on our journey we accumulate a LOT of anger and vitriol towards other people, often towards family members. It is so important to awknowledge that wrongs that were done to us, and then to release it. To Forgive, and to sever the angry ties that hold us to the people that have wronged us. At the end of the day, that is what a grudge is. It’s an emotional tie to the person who has wronged us. It is stating to the cosmos, “As long as So-in-So lives (and in most cases even after they no longer live), I will never feel at peace. I will ever feel true joy or be right ever again.” Why give that person that power over you? Forgiveness releases that hold, and emotionally and spiritually sets you free. Now, Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting and approving. You can forgive someone but still sever ties with that person. Often this is necessary. And this brings me on to the last point:
It’s ok to not want to be around certain members of your family. Yes, it’s Thanksgiving. Yes it’s that day of family. But depending on the severity of the trauma and pain that your family member has caused you, it damn well could be best to not spend time with them. You can Forgive them, bless them, pray for them. But let’s face it, some people are extremely toxic. Some people can be prone to depravity, cruelty and even violence. You do NOT need to spend time with people that you would normally not associate with because they happen to be in your family and it’s Thanksgiving. It may just not be worth it. Listen to yourself and respect yourself. If you dread spending time with a family member but everyone says you should, listen to yourself. Respect yourself. Send them a card instead, maybe even a phone call that can be disconnected when needed. You need to keep growing as a person, not subject yourself to harm because society says you should.