Ghosts from the Past: Fight, flight, or embrace?

In redefining parent-child relationships, it can feel like the ghosts from our past haunt us.

For many years I lived in the flight or fight response to the ghosts still hanging around me, especially around the holiday season.

I would want to reject any holiday celebrations. I would avoid thinking about the holidays. If I could fast forward through November and December, even better. I would also fight the feelings that came up and try to push them down.

Along come children and all the expectations created in our culture around what this season is about. And it just so happens that both were born during this season. Double-whammy!

What I tried to fight or avoid for years came right back up for me to try and embrace. That is the way it always is. Opportunities come up for us to face what we have avoided in order to heal.

I’ve had very mixed feelings about the holidays because of experiences during my childhood. As a child, I was always caught up in the anticipation of the holidays, but the stories I remember (or tell myself) about those times all ended up with an ugly scene. I hear this from others as well.

When Lily and Greyson joined our lives. I felt a lot of pressure to “create” a certain kind of holiday experience for them. I didn’t want them to grow up with negative memories of the holidays.

In previous years, I would emotionally distance myself, in an attempt to keep my negative feelings away from their holiday celebrations. I still did all the usual, expected things. But I had closed myself off emotionally to avoid the painful feelings and ghosts from my past.

What I realized was that going through the motions, but being emotionally distant meant I wasn’t present for the holidays that the children in my life were creating.

One year I decided to fully embrace the holiday experience emotionally.

And in that process of opening myself, I was triggered by what happened around me. Frustrated, yelling, crying. It was all there on the surface.

This was a chance to embrace the ghosts and integrate my past feelings about the holidays.

When we are avoiding our feelings and closing ourselves off emotionally to whatever we are afraid of, we lose the opportunity to heal.

Intellectually I could give all the reasons why I didn’t want to celebrate holidays that had no meaning for me.

Below the surface, the meaning felt too painful to face. Disappointment, wishing my life had been different, not understanding why the adults around me acted the way they did. There was actually a lot of stuff there that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

And over the decades the stuff didn’t go away just because I avoided it and the holidays.

I realize now that pushing away the past didn’t keep me safe. The ghosts I had been avoiding were always there and still had power over me because I wasn’t willing to embrace them and the feelings I was having.

I opened myself up to learning from it. I realized that the ghosts could be there and I would still be fine. I realized that the stories I told myself about my mother and father could be retold in the present.

I could change the direction I was going in by embracing my feelings and letting it move through me.

So in that holiday season, where I decided to open myself up to the ghosts of my past in order to be present, I learned a valuable lesson.

The most perfect moment came late in the evening that year. As we were lying in bed, I apologized to Lily for losing it earlier in the day. She said quietly, “Mom, nothing is ever going to be perfect.”

I WAS trying for perfect. Instead, I could just BE with whatever came up. Not needing to change it. Not needing the holidays to look one way or another. Just whatever they happened to be is what they could be. Not perfect…but, in the end, the perfect holiday.

I invited my ghosts home for the holidays. And, I am grateful for their presence to help me learn.

Sometimes our ghosts are merely a chance to be open and present. A chance to heal. A chance to redefine the past in order to be present right now.