Monday, November 16, 2009

Lovely Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. With it comes the dread & anxiety so many unchosens associate with the holidays. It may seem like you have nothing to be thankful for, but you do. You are alive. You are a survivor. If that’s not something to be thankful for, then I don’t know what is.
It seems so many of us get caught up in our own unrealistic expectations of the holidays. We so badly want a nice, loving family day that we almost kill ourselves trying to make it happen. Well here’s a news flash-we can’t control our BPD parent. We can’t control their behavior, their rages when they don’t have their way or their hurtful comments when the turkey isn’t done the way think it should be. Below are some hard lessons I have learned over the years.

1.It’s ok to skip thanksgiving. Really, it is. Take your day off from work and have a me day. If you have your own family, go to a restaurant, volunteer, or make a new tradition of sleeping late and making brunch instead of the traditional huge meal. Less stress for everyone involved. If your parent is angry that you don’t stop by or participate like other years, that’s their problem to deal with-not yours.
2. In one ear, out the other. Repeat after me-in one ear, out the other. Let all negativity from your parent (anyone, really) go in one ear and out the other. It is not your job to “fix” people or holidays to your parents liking.
3. Set ground rules, and follow thru. This one only works when the festivities are at your own home. Mom likes to name call? Dad pitches an annual rage before the turkey is carved? Let your parent know ahead of time that these behaviors will not be tolerated. They will probably accuse you of treating them like a child, which emotionally your parent is, but that’s just too damn bad. Your house, your rules. If your parent can’t abide by your rules, calmly pull them aside and ask them to leave. Be a broken record. Repeat as often as necessary these words “I’d like you to leave now.” Don’t negotiate with the emotional terrorist. Don’t allow them the power to ruin another family dinner. If they claim they forgot the house rules, too bad. They’ll “remember” next time, I promise.
4. Plan your escape. I always felt trapped when I was at someone else’s house and my mom would freak out on everyone. I was a kid who wanted to just get away. As soon as I bought my first car, that changed. I drove separately so I could leave when I wanted. Of course, you want to be gracious and polite but if your parent is raging or otherwise flying the BPD flag and the urge to flee strikes, go with it.
5. Scale down expectations. Is the whole day of festivities just too much? Scale it back. Meet for the annual touch football game and then tailgate or do your own thing. Offer to host coffee and dessert in the late afternoon/early evening. If you are hosting the big dinner, make it a simple menu and/or ask others to contribute a specific dish. Buy the meal if you want. No one cares how much time you spent making turkeys out of almond paste. Keep it simple, silly.
6. Enforce your boundaries (goes with #4). Does your Borderline parent take holidays as an excuse to list all your shortcomings? Tell you how great everyone else’s kids are while you are dirt? Or maybe like me, it’s just hard to watch your parent praise your other siblings while ignoring you or treating you like a scullery maid. You don’t have to take the crap nor should you. However, calling your parent on this stuff will just result in an even bigger spectacle. Walk away if your parent insults you. If you are being used as the maid, you have 2 options-grit your teeth and bare it or ask a sibling, aunt or cousin, whatever, to help. Chances are they see what’s going on but don’t want to rock the boat. If it’s all too much, it’s OK to leave.
It may seem like I advocate leaving quite a bit, and I do. I admit it. I have never seen a holiday turn out well where someone stays in a situation where they are verbally abused/emotionally manipulated. Yes, it’s only one day. If you can make it thru the day and not drive home in tears, then stay. I can’t do that. I have gotten to the point where after 30 years I couldn’t take her crap anymore and would not subject myself to it. So I decided to leave when I was at my limit, rather than being the good girl I was trained to be, the girl who took mom’s name calling and barked commands with a smile, all the while knowing that to her I was nothing more than a free maid. I leave gracefully, politely, never in a huff and never with a slammed door. Some of my best Thanksgivings have been frozen pizza at home, thankful for the home my husband and I have, and for the sense of security and stability we have built there.
All too often unchosens think that this is the year it will happen. This is the year that the family will finally have a normal Thanksgiving. No fighting, no tears, no slammed doors or silent dinners where everyone is afraid to speak because the tension is thicker than the mashed potatoes. Unchosen are a pretty optimistic bunch. Most people after a lifetime of crap holidays would give up but not us. We will have the Currier & Ives Thanksgiving, dammit, if it kills us.
So we let it slowly kill us. Year after year we hope, we plan, we try to control it all so our parent is happy. It gets to the point where we hate the holidays. Don’t let that happen. So what if you don’t want to invite your parent and they will be all alone? You aren’t their social director. And we all know there’s a good reason our BP parents wind up alone. It’s an accumulation of their years of manipulation, abuse, and mind games. They made their bed and it ain’t your job to get them out of it. Your job is to enjoy your life, your Thanksgiving, on your terms, not your parents.