FEYT: Festive End of Year Trauma (and what you can do about it)

Ah, the merry prancing of little reindeer hooves! The lighting of the menorah! The parties, the food, the music (not the “I saw mommy kissing Santa Clause,” necessarily, but maybe some upbeat Gregorian chants, the Etta James version of a tune, some of the more traditional stuff), and the lights! In this season of the darkest days, literally and figuratively, the LIGHTS!!!

What’s not to love? As a friend of mine recently wrote, she’s been waking up with a real feeling of dread. Sound familiar? Aw heck, let’s name it; most of us have Festive End of Year Trauma, or FEYT. FEYT impacts us all: parties are hell for the socially anxious or introverted, food’s a huge trigger for those of us physically rounder people trying to reframe it as simply nutritive fuel. And drinking? You can go to an AA meeting every day until January 2 and it’s still a struggle. Gift giving is, as a mentor of mine once said about smoking, ubiquitous, an octopus with tentacles aplenty extending into poverty, people-pleasing, shopping in crowds of similarly anxious and angry folks while listening to “Mommy Kissing Santa Clause”, only to know, in advance, your overly expensive choice will not please. And the most important trauma of all, the yearly profound disappointment, even as children, that our dysfunctional families, broken or with only a semblance of intactness, with their fights, tensions, falseness, failure to show up, and pretense covering up a host of wrongs past and present, are never going to bring us joy or togetherness. And each year, Madison Avenue and our buddies at school would encourage us to be hopeful once again.

Well not this year! At some point, we throw in the towel, and once that’s done, it’s very hard to see this season through the eyes of the hopeful child you once were. My intention with this series of articles is to share a bit of my progression from disappointed ex-child, sufferer big-time of FEYT, to someone who actually enjoys the season. Maybe, in the process, you’ll do or think about things a little differently this year, or at least be a little kinder to yourself. In particular, those of you who grew up in abusive or neglectful homes are really going to struggle with reminders EVERYWHERE of how families SHOULD be. Ow!!!

Until my parents’ divorce, the season, spelled in our Atheist household as Xmas, was fun. While I figured out early on that Santa Claus was a myth (the fake beards gave it away), I totally dug Rudolph. I lived for that story. My mother was four generations removed from her Swedish roots, but that didn’t stop her from embracing her heritage wholeheartedly. Some of you may have listened to Garrison Keillor, and his discussions on Lutefisk (basically, cod cured in lye to complete tastelessness and the consistency of hard gelatin. We got that every year, but we also got Lefsa (a sort of potato pancake) dripping with butter and sweetened with the tart lingonberry that also dressed the Patataskorv, or Potato Sausage with unique flavoring (and alas, nowadays, nowhere to be found. This annual Christmas Eve celebration would be followed on the actual morn by a few presents, well chosen, and a yummy breakfast, my parents and older brother enjoying each other’s company. And that was it. We didn’t even begin to think about the holidays until after Thanksgiving.

Then life happened, and the whole season was rife with rivalry and resentment. When I hit the streets on my own, poverty, loneliness, and my lack of ability to form rich, intimate relationships on my own made the period between Halloween and the beginning of the next year a torture. Even after doing my own work, and finding my own community, that dull dread lingered.

It changed one year when my partner came home with a sad story; a family she’d become acquainted with was struggling. Single mother, job lost and ex-husband in the wind, with three children living in a one-bedroom apartment, facing the holidays with NOTHING. Nada. Zip. And she said to me, “let’s buy them Christmas for our present to each other this year.” At that moment I got such a rush, kind of like Ebenezer Scrooge when he wakes up from the third dream and realizes he’s still got a shot at getting in on the holiday spirit. I said yes.

Since then, both in my life and with my clients, I’ve explored ways of turning this season around, and making it work for us. The short blogs you’ll hopefully be reading break out some of the issues, and a solution that may just work for you. And if it makes the season suck a little less, my work is done.

And if not, there’s always January!


Another vote for community as a way to heal. Connecting with those around us in new and creative ways changes my body chemistry, my attitude and my feelings. And it is hard to feel the shame of the after effects of gluttony if you are involved n someones else’s life. – Stephen B., 12/2/13

Great blog, Inga! Gluttony is interesting and goes way back before Madison Avenue. Sometimes I wonder, does gluttony come from secret deprivation? The sense that we will never have enough, be enough?  – Lorraine K-A, 12/2/13

Lorraine, you’ve identified a really important issue. There was a movie made some years ago that identified this as the central flaw in human, versus other, mammals. Being able to feel even momentary satisfaction is something that challenges us every day!

I like to carry extra bananas oranges energy bars for the person at the busy traffic intersection They unfailingly bless me which I receive gratefully bringing me back to reality in my irritable traffic crazed mind. And I always thank them for their work – often the only human beings I see and make contact with as I creep thru hordes of cars – Nancy W., 12/15/13

Nancy, never thought of that, but it’s true…they do remind us of humanity in the midst of steel and pavement. Sometimes I think of how well I’d fare if I were in their shoes, needing to keep a positive spin on things.

Great insights! Where I go this time of year is to an exploration of the solstice. Our bodies are informed by 100,000 years of experience to understand that the days are shorter, life is harder and perhaps we are programed for slight depression. This is offset by the wisdom that the light will return, the sun will come out and the world will burst in the spring. Rather than fight against the diminishing I have learned to lean into it, rub ashes on myself (so to speak) and wait with death for a rebirth that is promised. The fact that everyone around me is gone manic simply increases the sense of purpose as I hold on to what is happening for me. It also grants a sense of unreality……….Cheers! :) – Stephen B., 12/16/13

Perfect, Stephen!

O so wonderful. Thank you. I do feel surrounded by conflict and disagreement and ugliness in the wider world (safe, warm and Light at home, with gratitude) so I am especially grateful for a moment to dwell in the both/and. – Linda L., 12/22/13