vacation

As I end my first week back to work after a two-week, vacation, I’m struck by how difficult it is for Americans to feel entitled to a real vacation.

As we landed in paradise, my engineer husband’s phone (a device he programs software for) died a spectacular death, complete with the screen looking like an etch-a-sketch. When he returned to the office, a few people worried he might have been fired because he was away for so long and he wasn’t responsive to emails. Just today I had a conversation with someone who lamented a coworker’s coming in during his paid time off. It seems as though it’s impossible to really get away unless you can set all sorts of boundaries. I was in contact with patients as well, but they knew I was out of town and the communication was minimal and centered around scheduling.

One of the little vacation goals I had set for myself was to “take a vacation from mirrors and scales.” What that really meant was I just did not want to go through the emotional spiral of caring what I looked like on the beach or in a swimsuit and spending a lot of time stressing about it. I did a pretty good job. Something that definitely correlated with that attitude if it was not directly caused by it was that I didn’t go crazy on junky food or alcohol.

I had some family portraits done on the beach. And I felt good in my skin for them, probably much due to me relaxing about my body. It sounds ridiculous as I type this out to myself, but somehow I got it into my head that if you go on a vacation to a tropical location where you will want to wear as little clothing as possible due to heat and humidity, you need to lose a bunch of weight, and in absence of that you need to cover yourself up and feel lots of shame.

Instead, I had fun on the beach, and if anyone thought I didn’t have permission to be in a suit, I was having too much fun to notice.

In closing, everyone reading this should take as much vacation as they can afford, and truly set aside your worries. Be active, have fun with those you love, tune out from your work responsibilities or put it on autopilot, and just chill. This is what you are going to remember.

lia on mother rising podcast-the importance of touch and getting your sexy back on post-divorce

Listen to get your sexy back

Last week I was fortunate enough to have a chat with Margaret Jacobsen, of
The Mother Rising divorce coaching about the importance of touch when you are going through an important loss or transition such as a divorce.

We discuss the importance of any touch on mental health and well-being, and go on to talk about sexual touch like masturbation, which she likes to call “self love”. At the end we touched on sexual intimacy with partners. I gave a brief safer sex 101, and emphasized knowing yourself and your desires and then clearly communicating those desires to others as you set forth on your new life. It was great fun, and a conversation people need to continue having.

I wanted to add a few things that might have gotten glossed over a bit. If you are interested in buying sex toys in a non-threatening environment, Good Vibrations, which Margaret mentioned, is a great local bay area resource as well as a wonderful online store. There are a lot of places all over the country that serve to create a safe environment for women and men to explore sex toys and related fun stuff, and you can find them by searching for “sex positive” “women-friendly” or “feminist” sex or porn stores.

We also talked about economical ways to get massages in-I mentioned that you could often find massage schools that offer low-cost clinics with their interns. Here’s a link to one locally at the National Holistic Institute “http://http://nhi.edu/massage_clinic/index.html”

I also made a bold claim that men are a lot more low-fuss about masturbating, while women tend to put it off and need permission to go there. Is this true in your experience?

Enjoy the podcast!

to the unsung heroes of mother’s day

Because it’s not all champagne and roses for everyone….

Happy Mother’s Day. This Sunday is a day where we sing out loud the praises of the mothers, the women who brought us into this world, gave us their genes, raised us the best they could, and tried to steer us towards happiness. Odes to mothers and their sacrifices abound before and on this day, and to that I say huzzah. It is as it should be.

But I want to sing the praises of the unsung this Mother’s Day, because they deserve to hear this song deep in their hearts. Instead of “you wouldn’t really understand this because you’re not a mom.” Or, “Someday when you have children of your own you’ll understand.” Or, “you don’t have kids? WHY? That is selfish.” Or anything else that is ridiculous, invasive, or self righteous.

Happy Mother’s Day to the stepmothers, the women raising other people’s children, often without the full blessings and agency that a biological parent takes for granted. To the women who tend scrapes, feel sad when their step kids suffer defeat, clean up barf, and rush them to the emergency room only to be told they need to go fetch a legal parent, I salute you. To anyone who has felt truly maternal feelings towards someone who needs to point out that you’re not their real mom, I think you should get the massage and the manicure this year.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who are experiencing difficulty and hardship conceiving a child. I see you there, my sisters, I feel your pain. Whether you have already had a child and are experiencing secondary infertility, or you’ve never had a child and can’t seem to conceive, or if you’ve had one miscarriage or two or three or ten, or if you’ve had round after round of IVF to no avail, or if you don’t want to call yourself pregnant yet because you don’t want to get your hopes up…or those of you who wanted at least one or at least one more and didn’t get that wish, I am wishing you the most awesome, magical and happy Mother’s Day, and that there can be some part of your day, like the sun on your face or the joke of a friend, that brings you a smile.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the child-free women who play with my child and behave as though her little-child ramblings are unique and novel, because to you who haven’t heard it for the billionth time, it is, and I’m so grateful for the fresh energy you bring to all of the children that you touch.

Happy Mother’s Day to anyone who has taken an interest in my child and delighted in her, not because you felt like you had to, but because you enjoy her. To all the aunties, biological or not, who make kids feel special and give tired parents a break, I give you a tearful, grateful, Mother’s Day hug. All the people who have been polite and understanding if my kids were loud or obnoxious in public places, I love you.

To the woman in the office who covers for the mom who has to rush out and care for a sick kid, Happy Mother’s Day! If the world were more kind, you’d be gifted a shelf of free yogurts and an extra vacation day for your efforts. I don’t work in a traditional office environment, but if I did, I wouldn’t take you for granted and I promise I would not act or feel superior to you or anyone else just because I’ve pushed forth life from my uterus. Because if there’s anything worse than lack of acknowledgment, it’s the lack of acknowledgment coupled with pointless and unfounded condescension. I’m giving a virtual smack to any annoying mothers in your office who do this. PS: thank you for sticking up for the woman who needs to disappear every two and a half hours to pump milk.

And to all the women who have chosen to birth ideas and projects, grassroots movements and crusades to help others, in addition to or instead of birthing actual human beings, I want to celebrate you today as well. You break glass ceilings, provide hope and inspiration, and show women that they are so much more than the ability to create life in her uterus and to procure sperm for this purpose. Those of you who are passionately devoted to your life’s work and know that you cannot balance having a child, or who don’t particularly want to, you seriously make the world a better place and I want to tell you on Mother’s Day that you rock.

And those of you who really wanted a child, but chose not to have one because you knew you didn’t have the resources or couldn’t pursue your other goals or knew that because of your health concerns or mental illness that you might not be able to be there 100 percent, you deserve to come to the brunch. That is a tough call, and you are a grown up, my friend, and I notice and appreciate how clear and accepting you are.

To the single dads doing the work of both mom and dad, happy Mother’s Day.
To the gay dads, single or coupled, who are doing the same, happy Mother’s Day! To the transgender women and men who have either become women and identified as mother or have become men who still will always identify as a mother to those they have brought into this world, Happy Mother’s Day. I hope someone brings you pancakes in bed.

To anyone who has loved a furry, feathery, scaly, or amphibian baby and taken them into their heart and home, especially you doing the rescue work, you deserve a mimosa today with all the rest of us.

To anyone who had a shitty childhood, or a mother who really messed up and isn’t sorry, or lost their mother way too soon, or never had one, I see you too. You are often the one mothering everyone else. I see you and that sad little girl inside of you and I am giving you both a hug. Today is a day to celebrate yourself and all you have survived. Do something nourishing for yourself and honor your inner child as well as yourself as a nurturer.

And to the planet that sustains all of us, because I didn’t do a good job of saying this on Earth Day AT ALL, I would like to wish a happy Mother’s Day to Mother Earth. I am always striving to figure out better ways to take care of you. It seems like the right thing to do in a world where we keep having babies that challenge your ability to sustain us all.

If you are an unsung hero of Mother’s Day, I hope this post makes you feel less alone. The truth is, a lot of us have tunnel vision about what it means to be a mother, what it means to sacrifice and love, and what it means to nurture and care for something or someone and put their needs before yours. You might have to celebrate yourself, write yourself your own note of appreciation, take yourself to the beach. But I absolutely give you permission to do this, because you ARE that important and needed. You are loved. I appreciate you. Happy Mother’s Day.

grief and expectations

It’s hard to get to the other side of your smashed-up expectations. It is the biggest hurdle to moving on.

Expectations can be sweet, and vital. They do all sorts of positive things, like create parameters around what you consider to be acceptable treatment by your friends, family and associates, parameters which you can communicate to them and thereby continue to guide them in the way you wish to be treated. Expectations steer your ship towards life choices in mates, jobs, cities, and ways of life. Positive expectations can bring you to your own version of success, while negative expectations can keep you stuck in dead-end experiences of all kinds.

Today I am talking about the kind of expectations you had for your life, the sweet stuff that you wanted very badly. Things that you really wanted to happen that didn’t. The job that you would have been perfect for, but they chose the other candidate. Your beloved, that was supposed to stay with you, but instead broke your heart, and now you are stuck imagining what your life is supposed to be like without this person, when all of your imaginings used to have them in it. You were supposed to have a good start as a kid, but instead you were neglected, ignored, and abused, and your adult relationship with your parents is a frustrating trail of tears and failed efforts to please. I’m talking about the plans we make that we think and know will make us happy, and the plans that get taken away because of things like miscarriages, death, falling out of love, being laid off, an unexpected illness or diagnosis, unforeseen financial hardship, or any number of bad things happening to good people.

When I get bad news sometimes I go through a short period where I blame myself, and obsess over all of the choices that could have gotten me to the place where I find myself. That is a lot like the bargaining stage of grief in the Kubler-Ross model of grief in six stages. How could I have done something different to avoid the emotional pain of the situation I face? How can I make a series of decisions to divert such pain away from myself in the future? If I can’t learn that lesson and reign it in sometimes I’ll lash out at a loved one, the kind of person that is like my husband, strong enough to be a target of my negative energy within the confines of the safety of our relationship and our communication. Someone who loves me at my worst and knows it will pass. At this point in my life I’ve done enough work on myself that I usually recognize when I am lashing out at him and I offer a sincere apology within a few hours of the conflict. Or at least I try on my best days.

But the blaming and bargaining are just smokescreens for the pain of sheer loss-the kind you can’t do anything about because the thing that you lost is just gone. And eventually I guide myself-and the therapy patients I work with-into a place of facing the loss itself, and all of the ways that it isn’t fair, that it doesn’t make sense, that it was not expected, a wanting and an expectation that required being vulnerable and letting a guard down. To acknowledge that wanting something that badly, and thinking that it is yours, and then losing it is a devastating and disorienting loss that strikes deeply at the heart. It can take a while, sometimes a really long fucking time, to get to the place of just accepting the loss and not trying to be bigger than it by over-managing feelings or by blocking them out, or by frenetic efforts to “move on” which look more like going in small, tight circles a few feet from where you started.

Because the thing happened, and even though it’s like a bad dream that you want to wake up from, it can’t un-happen. You and I have control over some ways we can see our situations from here. Maybe we can even see things that are to our advantage because of this loss, but that thought fat first feels shitty and disloyal to whatever was lost. That’s ok. Let’s let all of the feelings be there, and write and think about them, trying not to judge too much. Because you have to really feel what you’ve lost before you can see the positive of your circumstances post-loss.

Inside the loss is an entirely different universe. The alternate reality where the things that you wanted to happen did. The babies you got to carry full term and raise, and the kids that you didn’t have to bury when they were young, but died after you. The marriage that didn’t end in disaster, or the chance to not have married someone at all. Living in the place you wanted to instead of the one where you compromised for someone else. Following your dream instead of doing what you thought someone else wanted you to do. Getting to grow old with the love of your life. Getting to live as long as you want. Saying all of the things that you wished you would have said before it was too late. None of it is fucking fair. None of it is bearable without human love and empathy and the creative instinct to heal. So to do that we-you, me, all of us, need to reach in and reach out. Reach out in grief to those who feel safe, and reach in with self-love and self-care and try to short circuit the voices in your head that try to self-blame and tell yourself a negative stream of self-talk when you are in a crisis. Do not kick yourself when you’re down, even if it feels good to beat yourself because at least you are the one with the stick. Pick up a feather instead.

At some point little ideas come to you about how you could move on and this seems disloyal to the pain in the other part of the process. But it’s ok to let the pain mingle with the hope. We need things to look forward to in the future. Ironically, almost unseemingly, a loss suddenly makes avenues available to us that weren’t there before the loss-be it time, mobility, energy, or resources. In order to embrace the possibilities of the here and now, we have to let go of our expectations of how things were supposed to be. And I have a hard time with that as much as the next person. Sometimes I feel like I’m letting go kicking and screaming. But once I do, I feel a freedom and a rush. A sense of newness and possibility. Maybe you feel that way too.

emotional abuse: no less horrible than physical.

“They didn’t beat me or anything.”

I’ve heard that a lot as a therapist. Usually after someone describes excruciatingly painful examples of emotional abuse from a parent, sibling, spouse, or even employer. It’s a way to excuse the immediacy and shaming nature of emotional abuse.

The ease with which so many therapy patients and victims in general excuse away psychological abuse as being somehow not as bad because it is not physical abuse perhaps shows us how little we still know about the psyche.

I can tell you, psychological abuse is often more harmful than physical abuse. This is not to discount physical abuse, which creates trauma and stress in the body and mind. The consequences to the body range from mild to fatal. Also most physical abusers are also psychological abusers. Both kinds of abuse produce PTSD. The difference I’m trying to tease out here is that once you get away from the physical abuse (and take measures that they cannot get to you), the physical harm and danger has passed. But with emotional abuse, it can be harder to get away from an abuser, “because he isn’t beating me.” It takes longer to recognize because emotional abuse always includes manipulation, particularly gaslighting, a type of manipulation that twists everything around and causes the victim to blame themselves and question their sanity and memory.

Psychological and emotional manipulation and gaslighting are easier to conceal from others, making it the choice method of abuse for people too smart to do anything that would alert authorities. As a mandated reporter for child abuse, one of the things I was taught in order to assess potential child abuse is if the abuse has left a physical mark. Another is that striking a child with another physical object is considered more abusive than using a hand. What about the kind of abuse that leaves no mark? What about the person who was struck with words and not an object?

I also believe that the emotional state of a manipulator and emotional abuser is completely different than the average batterer. The “cycle of abuse” that I was taught in graduate school: tension building, incident, apology, and then calm, doesn’t fit neatly here. I don’t think that tension and stress hormones have to build up in the same way in emotional abuse as it does for physical abuse. An emotional abuser can delude themselves and manipulate, blame, berate, withdraw from and otherwise punish someone in a slow, steady, and calm process. The loss of self-control that often accompanies the physical abuse, as well as the emotional expressions of apology that can characterize some physically abusive relationships don’t have to be present in emotionally abusive ones.

In these ways it often stays hidden for years, and instead of a climactic episode of running away, a victim realizes they were grossly mistreated in a quiet moment surfing the internet or reflecting in a therapist’s office. And it’s really tough to take the idea that you have been emotionally abused, especially if you know yourself to be a smart and strong person that you wouldn’t think would “fall” for that sort of thing. Be kind to yourself. Part of emotional abuse is being convinced that you are not being mistreated, but rather loved.

So saying, “he/she/they didn’t beat me,” is the psyche’s attempt to deflect the pain of being emotionally abused and the shame of not being able to protect oneself from it. No, if they had beat you, you would have realized it earlier. Someone might have seen and known for sure that they needed to help you. You would have had an easier chance to be believed had you known you were being mistreated and could you have sought help. Instead, your abuser found a way to hurt you and cover his or her tracks. Sadly, for those of you who were abused through neglect, emotional withdrawal, indifference, the abuser refusing to know you, making you responsible for their feelings, or not allowing you to have or show needs, being hit might have at least been a sign that they regarded you at all, and you could have joined the ranks who rationalize their physical abuse by saying he/she only hurts me because I deserve it/he/she loves me and wants me to be better. But then again, tons of people rationalize emotional abuse by saying that the abuser just wants to improve them.

If you have thought about getting some help in processing or understanding the ways that someone you love has hurt you or let you down emotionally, and the above resonates with you, I want you to know something. It is that serious. It is worth getting help over. No, you don’t need to have been beaten to be abused and you have every right to feel pain and get help as someone who has been battered. It is not a contest anyway to see who is the biggest victim, and you don’t need to prove to a therapist that your pain is severe enough to earn yourself a spot on their couch. If you are stuck then you deserve to unpack it so that you can move through it, even if people in your life don’t understand (especially the people who have been prey to the same emotional and psychological abusers as you and who will be the first to tell you that nothing happened and that you are overreacting).

So the next time you start to say something like “he/she/they didn’t beat me or anything,” maybe in a humorous tone, stop yourself. Ask yourself why you need that qualifier, and what’s behind it. Ask why you have a need to defend that person. People come to therapy or talk to their friends and complain about hurts they have suffered from non-abusive people, all the time. They don’t tend to say “They didn’t beat me” about the garden-variety annoyances visited on us by friends and loved ones, like leaving dirty dishes or not returning a phone call. They tend to say it when they are still defending someone from a deeper offense. It’s scary to question the love and treatment of a loved one consciously for the first time. But ultimately, it’s brave and a step on the road to healing the effects of emotional abuse like low self esteem, inability to be one’s true self with others, difficulty regulating emotions, and paranoia and self-doubt in relationships.

setbacks

One of the most valuable thing for a human being to learn is to manage disappointment in the face of failure and setback.

Nobody who has achieved has done so without trying and failing many times, we know this, it’s a trope. But even knowing that the greatest inventions of all time were preceded and followed by failure on the part of the inventors, that if first you don’t succeed, you try try again, how good are we collectively at failing? How good are we at not even failing, but merely not succeeding?

It’s not like we live in the most forgiving culture. If you are famous, every misstep is Tweeted (sometimes, unwittingly, by yourself) and armchair critics abound.

But there’s something to facing your critics square on, allowing yourself to have your regrets, grieving the loss of what is not to be, and reformulating your plan. Maybe not right away. It depends on how deep the loss, doesn’t it? A lot of people think of divorce as a failure (I don’t, but that is another blog post). A divorce is the lack of success of a marriage in surviving past a point in time. But it might take longer to grieve and reformulate your plan if your marriage doesn’t work out than if your proposal at work bombed. Or someone didn’t care about your idea.

If you already have issues with confidence and second-guessing yourself, a failure or a lack of success serves as a reinforcer of your self-doubt, “SEE? I can’t get anything right, I might as well stop trying…”

And if you’ve read this far, you might be sort of wising up to the fact that you do this and are maybe so sick of doing this that you are ready to do something about it.

What to do? Try things. Suck at them. Fail. Quit some of the things and keep up with the others. Try to laugh. Work through the fear and shake and cry and laugh at the silliness of the shaking and crying from the safety of your bed if you need to. This is not a proscription to be impulsive. I’m not telling you to marry a stranger or quit your job to create a startup with no backing.

I’m telling you to risk having a deeper conversation with someone you love, learning something new, set a boundary that is scary, get help for something that’s holding you back.

There will always be bullies waiting to see you fail, so they can say, “see? I knew it.”

Yet, look deeper, there will always be allies waiting to see you succeed so they can say, “see? I knew it.”

happy new year

Seven days in, I’m not committed to New Year’s Resolutions. My Facebook feed lit up a few days before and after the 1st with articles about how to make resolutions and articles that claim that resolutions are scientifically designed to fail.

I skimmed, mostly.

Resolutions feel like one more thing I’m supposed to do to feel worthy in this culture.

Yet I can’t completely abandon the shining promise of a Gregorian Calendar New Year, and the cultural impetus to examine your past 365 days and proclaim desires for the next spin around the sun.

So here’s what I intend. Most of this is a continuation of last year’s intentions, enhanced and deepened by the year I’ve had.

1. Continue to be true to myself. This isn’t as cut and dried as I’d like, and involves a ton of reflection on my part to make sure I even know what that is/am being truthful with myself about what that is. Which also gets me to write. Which is good, because I’d like to.

2. Write more. Which is also kind of cool because it forces me away from a tendency to more passively consume social and traditional media. It also tends to put me into a more creative mindset which transfers over to everyday activities like cooking. Which is nice, because I’m doing my best to-

3. Eat less processed foods. I’ve blogged before that a paleo-ish diet and a modified autoimmune protocol are working for my body and mind. Now that I’ve found something that works, I need to refine it. Make it easier. Try to find a way to either be cheerful about all of the dishes, get some more help with them, or better yet, come up with a system.

4. Because I’d like to be more organized. But I’m really hoping that being organized will flow from a deeper place of-

5. Being more mindful. Because, time passes more quickly than I would like and although life can be so challenging and tough, there are so many beautiful things to pay attention to. And rather than extending a lot of energy outward, like I tended to do when I was younger, part of me wants to spend the lion’s share of my time soaking in and appreciating and marveling at all that I do have.

And I think that’s enough for this year. Because, it is an ongoing goal to just-

6. Embrace Simplicity. Even when you always have a few more thoughts.

I truly wish the very best for you this new year.

PS: This may be the first year I haven’t made an explicit resolution about exercise. Thing is, when I’m doing 1-6 on this list, it automatically leads me into exercise and outdoor activities.

do things have to be “really bad” to seek counseling?

Something I hear a lot from people going into therapy for the first time is that they never thought things were “bad” enough either with their mental health or life circumstances to warrant therapy. What is the deal with that? Why must a marriage be dying in order to justify couple’s therapy? Why must we feel on the brink of nervous breakdown to get some counseling?

I tell these folks that therapy is a collaborative process, and while I’m in the “expert” chair, I’m really just holding up a mirror to tell them the themes they are broadcasting. We work as a team, I’m your trusted confidante, your whiteboard, your co-collaborator on your new game plan, your sympathetic ear. Not someone who is going to dress you down with labels and set forth a behavioral prescription. I wonder if there is a culture-wide mistaken view that therapy is something that is “done to” you when things are “so bad” that you “can’t deal with problems on your own.”

But you don’t need to wait until the engine is on fire to service the car. You hopefully have gone to the dentist before your mouth is riddled with cavities.

How does this reflect the values of the society we live in? In the last two days I’ve seen several Facebook status updates from folks who don’t know one another on the idea of asking for help, and how difficult it is to ask for and administer help in our secret inner worlds of fragility and pride. Boys don’t cry, it’s hard to ask for help, no use crying over spilled milk, get on with it, it’s not that bad, blah blah blah.

I get it. The wounded parts of you have not killed the alive parts of you and you don’t want to be reduced to sickness, in your mind or mine. But what of the wounded parts in you? Who tends to them? What about those who have sick parts currently looming larger than your sick parts? Do you secretly condemn the mentally ill in an anxious effort to avoid parts of yourself that may be touched by mental illness? What is the stigma doing for you? What is it doing for society?

Every time you make it ok to get some outside help for yourself, you provide the model that it is ok for others to ask for help. And there are others who need even more help than you might, who won’t ask for it because they are battling the same stigma demons that you are.

The best therapist will help you nurse the wounded parts while helping the alive parts become more alive. If they can’t do that or don’t hold that possibility, you’ve got the wrong therapist.

So let’s try something, here. If you think you could benefit from therapy, try saying this:

“I think I could benefit from therapy”

not “Things are so bad I must go to a therapist now.”

And there’s your first therapeutic insight, even before you make the phone call. There’s one less session you’d need to have, just by opening up to some gentleness towards the self.

It beats beating up the self, I swear. You should try.

take the stress out of Christmas and the holiday season

I posted on my Facebook page about avoiding holiday stress about money and gifts.

My advice:

1. Tell people you don’t want anything.

2. Don’t buy presents for others, unless they are your children and you’ve created an expectation. In that case, don’t go overboard.

3. Spend the time you would have spent rushing around to buy things with the people you’d have been buying for.

4. Repeat annually until either your people are trained or you start to miss giving. In the latter case, give on your terms, within your means, and from the heart.

I’d like to add:
5. Choose from invitations wisely and do what is best for you and your immediate family.

I know I sound glib, but I want to make the point that you largely create your own reality and you have a right to spend the month of december in a way that sustains and feeds you rather than drains you. Anticipated guilt and pushback from others is way too often given as a reason why people cannot do their own holiday the way they choose instead of spending with family when the family gatherings cause marked distress.

Why is that worth it? Who decides? Who is to say you cannot withstand a little guilt tripping and pushback, or that the stress caused by guilt trips and pushback is greater than the stress derived from enduring the event?

For those of you who WANT to be with family and consider them “loved ones,” or get annoyed at certain things but find family gatherings positive in the overall, I’m not talking to you. Except, I sort of am, because everyone needs a break sometimes. Maybe you want to go away for Christmas just because you have never done it before, and you have nothing against any of your relatives, you just don’t make the holidays revolve around them? One year diverging from your normal routine does not make you selfish. You are not selfish for wanting to do things your own way and create new traditions.

So go on a trip somewhere new for Christmas. Skip buying the tree. Only do things because they are fun. When they cease being fun, don’t do them. If you are guilty about not giving your child a tree, just stop. I remember a miserable Christmas where my mom insisted on chopping a tree down and it rained and she, my brother and I got lost in the woods in the rain for a few hours. We finally got home, and then she ended up putting the lights up herself because my dad was working late and my brother went off with his friends. I was kind of spooked by the whole thing and ended up being bratty about helping her put on ornaments. She ended up drinking a glass of wine, putting on a Pavarotti special, and cried into the tangle of lights. You know what would have been more fun? If my mom had said, screw the tree thing and taken my brother and I to get ice cream, or just played with me for a bit.

It’s all relative. You get to be in charge of this. Do what is best for you and your partner and immediate family. That might be going to the big gathering. But the big gathering might be bad for your child who gets overwhelmed by noise and crowds. Only you know, and you can only hope people understand.

Nothing ruins a good winter season, which can be about renewal and hope and the wonder of life itself, than a bunch of guilt and obligations. If you are more selective about what you choose to attend, you are able to show up with more of yourself than the tattered, distracted bits.

Create what brings you joy and others beauty this holiday season. I believe in you.

the thing about what others think

The thing is, people will think things about you. There really is little controlling or managing what is in other’s heads, though it is tempting to contort yourself according to your perception of what someone else might want you to be. But you will very likely be wrong about what it is they want, and you will be selling yourself short.

If you do the thing that you want to do in your heart, others will think things.

If you do not do the thing that you want to do in your heart, others will think things.

Some of these things will be positive and flattering; some negative and unflattering. Some of these things will be true and others will not.

Instead, why not care about what you think about you? Be the sort of human being that you would naturally think good thoughts about.

Doesn’t that seem easier?