Episode #56: A Most Difficult Season
The holiday season is fully loaded--with expectations, idealistic messages, charged relationships, and traumas present and past. And this year, many of us may be navigating the impact of a global pandemic on the holiday rituals that have been a light for us in years past. If you are struggling this holiday season, I feel you. Sometimes we hold on tightly to control because we are trying to assuage our grief and pain without fully feeling it. In this episode, I invite you to release your grip a little bit and see what happens. Do you need to let go of control, celebrate simple gifts or discover the beauty that can be found among the mess and abandoned expectations? Wrapping my arms around you this season and holding space, not only for the tears, but also for the relief and peace that can come when we allow ourselves to feel what we have been afraid to feel. Be gentle and kind with you.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
My first online program--6 Steps to Stress Recovery and Burnout Prevention is LIVE. Go to the link in my bio on Instagram to find out more!
And if you have any questions about the course, you can reach out via [email protected]. So now let’s get into today’s episode.
As I write this episode, I am sitting on my couch, still in my pj’s, drinking some of my favorite Honeybee coffee in front of my Christmas tree. My youngest is beside me on the couch snuggled up in blankets. Our puppy is on the floor, chewing on a toy.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And it is! In so many ways.
I am so very grateful for this scene.
And yet, this scene doesn’t tell the whole story because no scene or snapshot can.
You see, I also heave-sobbed off and on for an hour a couple of days ago while walking with my friend Kate--for the record, bilateral movement is very supportive to trauma processing--as I recounted a litany of pain, traumatic and grief-filled moments from Christmases past . . .I won’t recount all of them here but just for a flavor:
The Christmas I put the tree up alone as a teenager because my family of origin had disintegrated . . .
The Christmas my father’s wife gave me canned goods from Sam’s as a gift . . . the punchline was . . . as a college student squeaking out an existence, I needed the food . . . but it wasn’t because my father and stepmother didn’t have the financial capacity to make sure I had enough food during all seasons, and not just Christmas . . . they just chose not to . . .
The Christmas we carried my Mom out to the car and drove her to the emergency room where she almost died from bacterial meningitis . . .
And my Mom’s last Christmas, that I missed because I was already well into my descent into stage 4 burnout and had RSV. We knew it was Mom’s last Christmas and the battle about where she should spend it and the ensuing battle about where she would die brought out the survival instincts (oftentimes brutal) in my siblings and I . . .
It is easy sometimes to think that our pain is unique. And that we are the only ones who have suffered through seasons that are fraught with language and expectations about joy, peace, unity, family, togetherness, grace, hope, and even abundance.
And our pain is unique in the sense that our experience of the world is highly individualized within our body and soul.
But my friend Kate said this too. . . That I was the 4th person in a week’s time who had been in tears talking to her about the grief of this season; feeling overwhelmed, abandoned, unsupported, traumatized, and so on. It turns out that Kate is extraordinarily gifted at holding spaces for people in whatever capacity they need.
There aren’t a lot of people in my life with whom I would have been able to allow decades worth of unprocessed pain to rise to the surface and flow through my body.
It is a reflection of my own journey too . . . because I was physically unable to cry for decades because in order not to feel, we physically constrict our emotions within our cellular and muscular systems. It is a testament to my healing that I was able to access and allow this grief.
And it is also a testament to the community that I have built over the last 5 years because my empathic friend Laurie had checked in with me earlier in the day and said “you are a mess” what is going on?
The fact that she saw and witnessed my truth while I was busy plugging away at life, opened the door to my own awareness and granted me permission to explore it. I knew I wouldn’t have to do it alone.
It turns out that sometimes we hold on very tightly to things as a trauma response. It turns out that I have been holding on very tightly to a particular element of Christmas for the entirety of my time as a parent (approaching 18 years). . . I have always been in charge of the Christmas presents for the kids.
Despite the harrowing financial journey I have been on for the last 5 years--from CEO to unemployed and partially disabled by mental illness to rebuilding my revenue streams multiple times in as many years--I have always managed to generate enough money at the right time to buy Christmas presents for my kids.
To some degree, I have spoiled them during this time, because I have had to say no so much over the years as well.
I LOVE GIVING PRESENTS. It makes me so happy. I know that there are families out there who cannot afford to give presents to their children or certainly cannot afford to spoil them. My heart breaks for them.
Because I think the very most heartbreaking moments in the financial journey of the last five years have been two--when I couldn’t afford health insurance for my babies . . . and this year. The year I had to relinquish control of Christmas. There is something about not being able to provide for your children that hits you in a place nothing else can.
You see, like so many businesses, the revenue stream for my company disintegrated with COVID19. Last year, the majority of my revenue came from public speaking. For this year, the bulk of my business revenue was slated to come from on-site consulting at a large, national corporation headquartered nearby. It wasn’t until August of this year that it became clear that that project would not continue as planned as it had been put on hold as soon as lockdowns hit.
I was able to take a lot of this shift in stride, at least mentally and emotionally, because I had recognized that the pace I had kept in the last 4 months of 2019--16 speaking engagements in 4 months--was unsustainable.
I entered the year anticipating a shift or diversification in my business model, and to be honest, I am not sure how I would have managed a ton of deliverables and engagements over the spring and summer once I became a full-time stay at home mom with three kids, two cats, and ultimately a quarantine puppy. I do have multiple irons in the fire always, and it seemed my capacity was maxed each and every day with everything already on my plate.
I have shared before about my financial journey--exhausting all of my assets and resources during my journey through mental illness, racking up medical and other debt for myself and my kids, moving back in with my ex-husband, working multiple side hustles, rebuilding again and again and again as I have gotten healthier and stronger.
We have been very lucky that my ex-husband’s business has kept him very busy this year, and he has been able to carry the financial burden for basic needs--house, utilities, food. But that also meant that, ever since the schools closed in March for COVID19, I have been the one at home with the kiddos.
I was able to qualify for EIDL and PPP funding and that, in addition to my income from my side hustle--Of Counsel at a local law firm--kept me afloat for most of the year.
It wasn’t until the kids went back to school that I had any space or time to try to create a new product or service aligned with the environment we currently find ourselves in and within my vision for my business. But less than a month later, my oldest tore all of the ligaments in her ankle and had to have surgery . . . putting me back in taxi driver status for the first time in a long time.
Just before she got hurt, I had announced my intention to create the 6 Steps for Stress Recovery and Burnout Prevention. And I want to give a shout out and express my deepest gratitude to my Founding Members who have been so very supportive and patient as the timelines for the beta course content were extended and adjusted and adjusted again!
I have bootstrapped my business from the beginning, and this course is no exception. I am pouring the overwhelming majority of my income--including income I have yet to earn--into bringing my vision for this course to life. I have vendors working with me who have been very patient and generous with their terms. I am beyond grateful for all of the hands who have contributed to bringing this vision to life.
I would be lying if I said that I don’t daydream sometimes about being one of those entrepreneurs whose story goes like this . . . “I only had $0.27 in my bank account when my product or idea finally took off!” And then I pull myself back to the present moment.
I am well aware that the services I offer aren’t something I can create false urgency around. YOU will be ready for your journey back to yourself WHEN YOU ARE READY and not a moment sooner.
I have not put a time limit on the availability of my course. Against the advice of most online business experts. Because I know that you will need this course when you need it. And if you aren’t ready for it--if you aren’t committed to doing the work--then it will not be of benefit to you.
So, that is the backstory as to why I had to relinquish control of Christmas. I do not have the funds this year to buy the presents for the kids as I have done for all of their lives. Even though their Dad and I are divorced, I have even coordinated the purchases for the kids with his family members.
This week, I had to turn Christmas for the kids over to their Dad--both the decisions about what to give them and the purchasing of the gifts. And I do not want to understate my gratitude for the fact that he--while also carrying incredible medical debt from his own health crisis 3 years ago--has the means to take over Christmas this year.
And it broke my heart into a million pieces. Or so it felt like it.
I described it to my friend Laurie as feeling like death on some level.
It turns out that we hold on so very tightly to things sometimes as a trauma response. Recently, because of the accounts I follow, I have seen a number of posts about perfectionism and control being responses to trauma. And without going into the research here (as I am wont to do), I believe it, simply based on my experience.
Because as I processed all of my pain and grief around Christmas with my friend Kate, I also realized that I had held on so tightly to Christmas because I was trying to redeem it in some way. I was trying to make up for my own disappointments, abandonment, and pain. I was trying to put a salve and a bandage on the wounds I carried with me around the holidays.
Letting go of Christmas felt like death because it was in a way.
But it was also a broken alleluia . . . an opportunity for me to release my attempt to assuage my pain and instead allow myself to feel it. An opportunity for me to release some of the stress and responsibility of trying to gift my kids a wonderful Christmas and share that responsibility more directly with their Dad. An opportunity to break free for some of the habits, beliefs, fears, and pain that have been holding me hostage so that I can be in the world more whole and more grounded.
While the holidays can be a wonderful and joyous time of year, just because it is the holidays doesn’t mean that this time of year is free of grief, pain, trauma, or suffering.
And in fact, because the cultural expectations reinforce how happy we are supposed to be in this season, how perfectly our families (and children) are supposed to behave, how hopeful and joyous we all should feel, and oh yes, our halls must be decked to perfection, our pain, trauma, and grief may actually be amplified--either as we compare ourselves to others or as we try to deny the very real emotions within our reality.
In Episode 47 I shared about how I try to give myself (and others) the gift of not creating and perpetuating expectations about how things are “supposed” to be but allowing things to be what they are. If you find yourself battling between how the holidays are supposed to be compared to how they are, I invite you to go back and listen to this episode.
And this time, I want to take my invitation a step further . . .
Is there something in your life that you are holding onto for what feels like dear life? Like, perhaps if you let it go, you might break or die?
Maybe it is something related to the holidays and maybe it has nothing to do with this season.
But as you think about the thing that you are holding onto so tightly, can you imagine releasing your grip ever so slightly?
Can you imagine what it might feel like to turn over your care to someone else or to a bigger force than you in the Universe.
Can you imagine trusting that you will, in fact, survive it?
Can you find an empathetic witness to your pain so that you can release it and be free?
Not free from suffering . . . but free from the fear that your pain will swallow you whole, and therefore, driven by the often unconscious belief that you must do anything and everything to avoid it?
As much as the journey toward freedom and healing is about learning new things, it also about letting go. Letting go of the patterns, beliefs, and habits that no longer serve us. Allowing ourselves to feel our emotions so that they no longer wield the same power. Choosing to lay down new pathways and new habits with understanding and intention toward wholeness and well-being. Allowing others to support us in ways that maybe we have never considered before.
Growth is hard. And messy. And uncomfortable. And scary. And I admit that there are times I look up at the sky and say to the Universe, really?!?! I have to learn this lesson too?! Like, I’m tired of learning all of the time?!
But as I left my walk with Kate on Friday, I felt lighter, less constricted, and less anxious. I felt relieved. Oh, and totally wrung out. I definitely took a nap later in the day.
My kids are going to have a lovely Christmas. I am grateful. And yes, still a little sad. But I also know that letting go of this thing I have been holding onto so very tightly is going to free me up for future goodness. It is part of the healing that will allow me to occupy my life and my body with more freedom, peace, wholeness, and well-being.
I am holding space for your journey too.
The 6 Steps to Stress Recovery and Burnout Prevention--a step by step process for staying connected and calibrated--is available now. There are self-guided options and also options that include 1:1 coaching with me. Recover from stress, prevent burnout, build resilience, expand your capacity for impact, and find more perspective, peace, and presence in your life. You can find out more at the link in my bio @theboothandrews on Instagram.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!