I can’t tell you if it was the fact that alcoholism dominated our family dynamics or if it was a legacy affect from dysfunction going way back, but Thanksgiving was often a hit-and-always-miss during my growing up years.
We’d make those holidays mishap movies that frame the disasters as if they are necessary comedic relief episodes instead of what they really are when a family experiences them… nightmares that make you never want to participate again.Let me give you an example.
It’s not just my dad that was an alcoholic. Both his parents were. And his mother, who we all called Huddle, was a feisty, bitter woman. Maybe that was her drunk self. It’s possible she was nicer when sober. One time, all four of us arriving for Thanksgiving, found my grandmother, in her kitchen, drunk as a skunk in her underwear, cig dangling from her lips, doing what some drunk people do. “I’ll tell the world one thing” she’d start off as she sipped on her cocktail. She’d complete her ‘tagline’ into some story about people no one knew but her, who she seemed to wish she was spending time with rather than us. Her tiny little frame, distended in the abdomen by a cirrhotic liver filling out her underpants so she looked about 8 months pregnant, drank a little more as my mother cooked dinner. I think her son, my dad insisted she put on some clothes. She probably didn’t do it.
Okay, National Lampoon would do something with that episode. And you’d laugh. But seriously, holidays are hard, or at least they can be.
As dad got sober (due to a miracle from a higher power we all knew was God) he changed the format of our Thanksgivings celebration. I suspect the AA insistence that to change habits, changing the environment providing a more favorable dynamic, resonated with Dad. He’d have Mother cook and pack a Thanksgiving meal and then he’s drive us all out to some wooded plot of land. He’d build a fire. Sitting on the cold sandy, Arkansas ground, wrapped up and listening to the wind rustle the last leaves off of walnuts trees and oaks, Mother would set out the spread of food. As a teenage woman I saw neither the romance in the winter picnic or the rapidly cooling food. And the low winter slant of the sun contributed to the worry we all had that Dad might start drinking again. I also thought that anyone who knew this was what we did for Thanksgiving would certainly be convinced we were strange.
What is true about the two experiences I gave you is that those are facts. But they are facts that were dictated by the responses and actions of my family. While the alcoholism contributed to our Thanksgiving misery, there are a million actions and responses that set us up for experiences that are only funny on ‘reality TV’. There is only one way to avoid a holiday disaster. And the solution extends to one person only.
Me. (or You)
The attitude of your heart will dictate any outcome, even in the face of obstacles, be they politics, loss, selfishness, gossip, or past hurts.
This past Sunday, I sat in the Southern Baptist Sunday School class that I attend because I want to. Every Sunday. (I mean who doesn’t want to think about truth every chance you can?) The teacher talked ‘thankfulness’. I knew that what he was saying has been complimented by research that has nothing to do with religion yet confirms that ‘practicing gratitude’ makes us mentally healthier. But what I loved was that at the end of an entertaining and informative lesson, he gave some very practical advice. He wasn’t thinking about disaster holidays. I think he was just coming from a place in his own heart where he knew that the only person you have control over is you. And if you want to experience joy it can’t be reliant on events or others. I think he has done what he suggested and found it to work.
It rang true to me.
You can watch the video or skip to the points for home at the end.. either way, tell me if you agree.
And by the way and very sincerely, Happy Thanksgiving. I do wish you minimal disaster this year. And if that wish doesn’t come as true as I would hope, here’s to joy in your heart because of truth and a heart attitude that assures it.