By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
The holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year — or it can be a stressful, overwhelming experience of isolation and frustration. PQ consulted a few of our community’s queer elders to get their uncommon wisdom about how to stay healthy and whole during the winter months, and to share how they turn the holiday season into a time of transformation and healing. Have more holiday survival tips? Share your suggestions for having your best holiday season yet in the comments section below.
CARE FOR YOURSELF
Dancer and Authentic Movement instructor Jean Fogel Zee sees the holidays as both a time of celebration and a critical season for cultivating equilibrium and self-care. “If you’re going to party and indulge, have something set up as a safety net — ease yourself out of it the next day and pamper yourself,” she notes. “Take the time you need to recover! Don’t overlook the personal time — meditation, eating well, resting. The indulgence is there, and don’t feel guilty about participating in it. Just take care of yourself! It’s a radical thing to do.”
For Wayne Miya, executive director of Our House, the holidays are a vivid reminder of the power of community. “The people that we serve [at Our House] are people that have advanced AIDS, and many of the folks in our facilities are not connected to our families very much; some of them don’t have that many friends as well. What happens during the holidays is that we try, as an Our House family, to make it as comfortable for them as possible. We decorate the facilities, and bring in people like the Oregon Symphony to do a little concert. There are also people who come in and out — members of choruses, and others who do ad-hoc performances, and others that give decorations. As an organization, we give each person an individual gift that they asked for, and as often as possible we get groups together to ensure that they can do the sort of celebrations they want for the holidays.” By coming together as a community of residents, clients, staff, and volunteers, Our House creates a joyous atmosphere in the middle of what could be a lonely and stressful time.
For those who are dealing with serious concerns during the holiday season, it’s important to reach out into your support system. “When things get tough, ask for help,” says Tommy Faircy of Satchitananda Life Coaching. “Engage your support systems, whether that’s a trusted friend, a life coach, a therapist, your mother — you don’t need to go through it alone.”
Exercise is proven to boost your endorphin levels, improve your mood, get your mind off holiday stresses — and burn the calories from your holiday indulgences. Artist and gardener Stevee Postman uses the holiday season as a reminder to keep his yoga practice strong. “It brings my body heat up,” he explains, “and helps me move through the season well.”
Zee particularly recommends group exercise (such as her Authentic Movement workshops and groups) as a means of enjoying both physical activity and community. “It helps me realize that we’re all in this together,” she notes. “The holidays come with a huge momentum, and as soon as I realize that we’re all spinning and moving in this momentum together, it helps me be at peace.”
“Sometimes, when the expectations of the holidays come in, we need to pause and see if we really want to make a different choice,” Zee explains. “This is very empowering, and it keeps you from feeling like you’re just being moved along by the momentum of things outside yourself. Whenever we make small steps towards our ideals, we feel better. We’re all working towards our own empowerment, and when the holidays come, we get the opportunity to practice saying no to things that we don’t really want to put our time into.”
“My son invited me home for Thanksgiving,” Zee gives as an example. “My partner and I were going to go, but when I looked at the real flow chart of what that would do to and for me, I realized it would really stress me out. So, I wrote and told him: ‘No, I won’t come now, but I’ll come and see you on a low-impact four-day weekend later.’”
MAKE YOUR OWN RITUALS
Rather than going along with the standard observances of the holidays, think about creating your own traditions and rituals — whether personal or communal — that embody your sense of the season. “As far as personal ritual, I do try to tune in to what’s going on,” Postman says. “I like to have candles burning when it gets dark at 3:30 or 4; it feels nice to have candles burning in my space. I have a personal chanting practice that I like to do as well that helps move me through.” Postman also has a tradition of making huge pots of soup that he shares with friends and family in informal gatherings as a commemoration of the holiday season as a time of coming together.
FIND PEACE WITH THE SEASON
Rather than fighting against the cold and darkness of the season, accept it for what it is and heed the winter’s call to turn inward. “For me, it does get darker and heavier in the dark of winter,” Postman notes. “I find ways to try and rise above it, or kind of embrace it and know that it’s the dark time and that’s okay — the shadow time has a lot of power. You don’t have to push it away. There’s a lot of beauty in the darkness. I try to see that and remember it.”
FIND PEACE WITH OTHERS
Faircy sees the winter holidays as a time in which we can transform our relationships. “Many of us are concerned about spending time with family members or others with whom our relationship is historically tense, stressful, or full of judgment and conflict,” he explains. “Oftentimes these relationships are the way they are because we get into old cycles of reactive behavior that only serve to perpetuate the tension, and we are the ones who end up suffering. Remember that you always have control over your emotions and you have the power to choose how you want to react. If you would like to read a great book on this topic, I recommend ‘The Anatomy of Peace’ by the Arbinger Institute. It’s an easy, enjoyable read that points out how conflict escalates, and how by choosing to be ‘heart at peace’ about the other party, you can change the whole dynamic of your interactions. I have heard from numerous people how the ideas suggested in this book have dramatically improved their relationships.”