Welcome to the holiday season, with all of its joys and pleasures! If ever there were a moment when memories and feelings are heightened, this is one.
Holidays have the elusive power to reach into our treasure box of memories. Each song, scent or sight triggers a quiet rush of recollections and along with them the feelings and thoughts we felt at that time. The more senses that are involved in an experience, the more the brain remembers it. And the stronger the emotion attached with the memory, the more it engraves itself on our neural networks. The warm feelings of hearing holiday music, seeing Santa ringing his bell and the scent of pine or yummy holiday dinners cooking act as triggers for all that we have associated with those smells, sights, sounds and flavors.
Holidays pull at our hearts and our memory banks! Recollections we thought were tucked neatly away come rushing from the background to the foreground as we’re caught almost unaware by our own flood of recollections, feeling a gentle or not so gentle tug on our insides as the familiar rituals of the season wrap us in a childlike excitement. We are carried off, by the season’s unique elixir of sensorial triggers, into reminiscences that are normally unavailable to us.
But those very warm and wonderful memories can have another side to them as well. For those among us who grew up with childhood pain, addiction and the surrounding dysfunction, the holidays can be a time of fighting back images of dinners that devolved into chaos. The sensory triggers of gingerbread cooking, music playing and laughter in the next room can bring back as much a feeling of fear and anxiety as warmth and celebration. And alongside our wish and need to come together to celebrate with family and friends are equally strong urges to isolate and withdraw from the season that at one time in life seemed to promise more than it delivered. For the child who is sitting on unresolved family pain, the holidays may be laced with an awareness of what is missing as well as what is there. We can find ourselves blinking back tears while we try to create the perfect holiday that we wished we had had in our own families.
Memories that threaten, like the proverbial pink elephant, to bulge way beyond the acceptable boundaries of the moment push at us from inside and make us feel out of tune with the surroundingthis isn’t all bead news, there is a silver lining of potential healing that this moment offers, too.
Try using this unconscious material that’s being triggered as a healing moment.
When memories that may not be so easy to feel emerge in your mind, rather than trying to get rid of them, go with it. Feel them… let them show you more of what you carry on the inside that is generally outside of your normal consciousness. And in going with and feeling them, some pieces of a forgotten parts of yourself will slide into your line of vision, parts of you that were unavailable will become available. And like a puzzle, certain pieces will fit in just right in order to complete the picture of you.
Think of trauma as being all about finding ways of leaving the moment because the moment is frightening or painful. Then think of healing as all about coming back into the moment, of bringing the parts of you that fled for emotional safety, parts that have remained frozen for years, back into a warm and welcoming present. Chances are if you are even reading this article you are already doing this. You already recognize that the holidays are the mother load of memories. Memories we can sit in therapy for months trying to get in touch with come shooting to the surface for free. So this year recognize that these moments of recollected pain offer golden moments for healing. Breathe out the pain and breathe in the healing and the spirit of aliveness and goodness that surrounds you always. Breath and take a moment to feel and heal and love the life you have, as Oscar Wilde said, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Use the holidays to see deeper sides of you and welcome more of you into being.