Well, the holidays are here and as counselors we have a unique perspective on them. We all hear about neither allowing the holidays to become too rushed, nor too commercialized. But the general public only occasionally sees a movie or reads a story in the paper about the part of the holidays that we counselors regularly see: the reality of many of our clients is that the holidays are a horrible time. I myself am seeing people who are enduring the time, as they have bad memories from childhood, some who are grieving as they lost a loved one near the holidays, some who are having a difficult time pretending that their marriage is not ending, not wanting to announce it to the kids until after the holidays, so as not to dampen the festive spirit. I am seeing another whose seasonal affective disorder is in full bloom, but is feeling the need to cover with a happy face as "we are supposed to be happy this time of year". And some are dealing with the friend or relative who uses the holidays as an excuse to abuse substances at an even higher level than they usually do. Then there are the atheists who feel forced to participate so as not to get grief for being a grinch.
And I wonder how many of you become a lender of sorts, as clients plead that their finances are tight and they have to choose between paying us or buying gifts for their children? We may acquiesce and have a 'belt tightened' holiday ourselves.
It is enough to make it difficult for the counselor themselves to stay in a holiday mood. I am sure you can all relate to the situation of deciding how to respond to an innocent "How was your day?" It is especially poignant at this time of the year, coming home to holiday music and the smell of cookies. Indeed, I know of one counselor that takes two weeks off before the holidays so she can enjoy them without the sorrow her clients are experiencing. I respect her personal choice, but I can't do that to my clients. I tell myself that I am providing some "comfort and joy", but I know that joy is attained less than comfort in many cases.
And then the holiday has its own personal dynamics for each of us outside of our practices. For myself, this is the first time in 23 years that our children will not be with my wife and me. We could have a big empty nest pity party, but we are going to renew some old traditions from our young adulthood: we will drive around and look at Christmas lights while sipping hot cocoa. We will exchange gifts and go skiing. And we have found a way to reach across the miles to our adult children and have a continuation of a family holiday tradition: we as a family have always put together a large puzzle that takes several days to complete. This year we found a puzzle that has a booklet with it that presents a mystery to be solved. The clues are in the puzzle. So we sent duplicate puzzles to our children. We hope we can all work on it together, using the cell phone and computer to stay in touch.
However we do it, we all owe it to ourselves to create some joy for ourselves at this time of renewal. Whether it is through the hope of a beautiful New Year, the joy of Christ's birth, the miracle of Hanukah, the lengthening of days, or the likely passage of a health care bill (hopefully with provisions for Professional Counselors), there is much to celebrate. I wish you all happy holidays.
Steve Bryson is a counselor in private practice in Whitefish, Montana and a registered nurse. He works with adolescents and adults, couples and families and has a special interest in eating disorders.