Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When Holidays Hurt

This can be a lonely season. You may feel emotionally alienated from friends and family. This may be your first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Or your first after a divorce. 

It may be the first without your children, or with a mixed family whom you find challenging.


You may be coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression, or poor health. 

You may be suffering financially.

When the holidays hurt, here are some ways of coping:

1. Try letting go of expectations. This is one year of many, and if you allow yourself to accept that it WILL be different, you can open yourself to pleasant surprises. All alone this year? Time to catch up that Netflix show, or discover a new author, or learn the guitar. Didn't get around to sending cards? A New Year's letter may be even better.

2. Be kind to your body so it will be kind to you. Take time to exercise, eat well, get outdoors, and breathe. Rich foods used to be rare and expensive, which is why they became associated with the holidays, but they do us no favors in excess. Salmon chowder and kale salad make delicious "special" foods. (Avoid alcohol altogether if you are feeling down. It's a depressant and will make you feel worse.)

3. Widen your circle. Invite a neighbor over, accept an invitation to a party, attend a local arts event. If you have never volunteered before, it's a powerful way of getting perspective, as there is always someone whose needs are greater than yours, and service is a sure cure for depression.

4. Give yourself permission to say no. If you are stressed by work or family gatherings, it's okay to limit your time at them, or opt out altogether. If unhealthy competition arises (sibling or otherwise), practice grace by benching yourself. Observe, admire (or not), but remain quiet. Don't take the bait! And remember that there you are not alone in your discomfort; it's the stuff comedy shows are built on.

5. Focus on the people you enjoy and who bring out the best in you. Minimize contact with faultfinders, gossips, and other toxic people in your family. Practice being pleasant but brief.

6. If you are feeling broke and/or fed up with consumerism, consider a "three hands" holiday: second-hand, hand-me-down, or handmade. We all have items that would bring more pleasure to someone else than us. Too late for gifts? Give a certificate that can be redeemed for a service, or for time together in the future. 

For loved ones, time together is the most valuable gift. The older we get, the more we know how limited it is.

7. Unplug more often. Turn off the news. For most of us, our active/passive, create/recreate balance could stand some recalibrating. As humans we are all creative beings (even if we never write a song or paint a picture) whose brains, if not solving puzzles or learning new patterns or concepts, can become depressingly dull, even to ourselves. So turn off the news and turn up some inspiring music and make something. 

Wishing you happiness and health now and in the new year. 

Thank you for the gift of your attention. 

Love,
Free


18 comments:

  1. I think the most harmful of the many kinds of rejection that we all experience, is being rejected by family over religion, you get left out in ways that are terribly painful.

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  2. Anonymous, the rejection is deliberate and it is meant to hurt in order to drive some one back into the fold. It is akin to social solitary confinement. I have long stated that anyone considering leaving should 'count the cost' prior to leaving as there is a very heavy social price to pay.....Free stated that one should avoid 'toxic' people but that is not always possible in close church circles. Most people who successfully leave have an alternative 'non-toxic' social safety net that they have been cultivating prior to their exit. One of the things I enjoyed doing after leaving was getting a Christmas Tree. I had so much fun decorating it. When I was a Laestadian member in good standing, Christmas Trees were considered pagan and sinful. Laestadians used the verses from Jeremiah 10:1-5 to justify their stance. In reality, Christmas Trees are really a seasonal decoration in most people's homes versus being some sinister pagan substitute. I wonder how many Laestadians feel that it is okay to shop the sales with the vulgar pagan masses on 'Black Friday' yet consider a Christmas Tree sinful? For any reader of this site who is struggling; I recall from psychology that the even the worse personal crises only last a maximum of 60 days as events tend to resolve themelves. So my message is to hang in there as better days are coming. Most of us have made mistakes (all sins are common to all) which we regret but the trick is to learn why you made them and learn not to repeat them. I hope all readers of this site make at least one positive resolution for themselves. Happy New Year to all. Old AP

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    1. Nicely put, and thanks for all your contributions here, Old AP.

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  3. In my experience, once you have demonstrated strength and resilience and fortitude and that you're happy, don't need them (the Laestadian family, that is) in your life, and some time has gone by, they sometimes will let you sort of back in. The difference is, that after all the pain of rejection, and having a new world view, a comfort in your place "in the world" you might not even want to be with them anymore. Having built up your own stamina of going without their love and approval, you might find their topics of conversation shallow, the gossip, judgmental and even cruel and you'll wonder if you ever really used to think about people in this way.

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  4. Anonymous, you sure said it succinctly when you said they were, "shallow, the gossip, judgemental and even cruel..." One time I was present at a house and a Laestadian youth crashed his car outside and although he was not bleeding he passed out as he was going into shock. The other youths present were running around screaming, yelling and panicking. Fortunately, I knew enough about first aid to get the kid out of shock and revive him. That was the end of the matter as far as I was concerned and I soon forgot about it. However, about a week later I was startled to find out that the gang was going around spreading a story that, "(Old AP) liked accidents and he was excited about blood!" Not one person present at the accident scene had ever thanked me, not that I expected it, but it was another matter for them to go start a terrible story like they had done. But you see, since I was not part of the 'in group' they decided to spread evil rumors about me as their norm is to disparage anyone and anything that is not part of the 'in group'. My experience mirrors yours Anonymous, but once I got the strength, resilience and fortitude that you mentioned, I had no desire to go back. Old AP

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  5. Old Ap, sorry I didn't use a handle. No, the longer I am out, I have no desire to go back in, but of course, like most people, I have no wish to be entirely estranged from my family, either. I've noticed that there are people who are considered "fringers" and mocked and made fun of throughout my experiences there. I grew up in a town that was non-Laestadian, not many Finnish people at all, but really quite similar anyhow, with most of the people of Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish background nonetheless. It was a sort of Nordic Mayberry-esque, Lake Woe-Be-Gone farming town, complete with several forms of Lutheranism combined with a hard-drinking culture. Being part of a very tiny, recently-imported Laestadian presence, nearly invisible, I could not wait to move to the Big City where there were a lot of fellow believers in which I hoped to have the social life not permitted to me during my high school days. However, I moved in with a group of Laestadian youths, one of which was an older cousin. Somehow, a rumor was created that I was actually part of some kind of riot that went through my neighborhood, sort of a vigilante group that was looking for some petty criminal. I had not taken part in any kind minor riot, but this rumor spread like wildfire in the whole community, and I was asked several times why I was involved in this "mob" or whatever it was. I was confused and couldn't recall any situation where I had even seen such a riot, much less participated in it. Only a few years ago, I was asked about this happening once again, and discovered the source. One evening, when I arrived home in this intercity locale, there had been a couple of people milling about in the street in front of our rental home and I asked them, "What is going on?" and the roommates urged me to come inside, as the police were being dispatched and the petty criminal was hiding out in the alley behind our house, apparently. Which is a far cry from this riot which was described to me that I had somehow reputedly been involved. It turned out that a cousin, whom I had previously looked up to, had started a number of stories that she spread around to the Kids gatherings that might have had small grains of truth but were greatly embellished for the storytelling effect, like this story. So sad! My parents were not supportive in helping me obtain any independent transportation, and I basically had to rely on these people for transport to and from church and to youth activities, nor had I grown up in a larger congregation where I was adequately networked into a social group in their stead. So I was an easy target for the petty ill will of a few individuals. I can completely understand, Old AP, how this accident created a rumor, as someone wanted to place you in an outcast role. Would not be surprised if the root was jealousy of some kind.

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  6. Anonymous, when a person is arrested in America they are considered 'Mirandized' after they have been read their rights. Visitors to Apostolic Lutheran-type churches should be 'Laestadianized' before they say anything. "You have the right to remain silent as anything you say can and will be used against you especially if it is not true. You have a right to try and find out who the gossiper is but they will deny it when confronted. If you can not afford to spend the time trying to stop the rumor the gossips will keep embellishing the story. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind do you dare say anything?" I actually knew of cases where church people had considered seeking out a lawyer to sue some one in their church for malicious gossp. However, whenever the subject came up the Bible verse from 1 Corinthians 6:1 was used against them, "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?" What is conveniently forgotten are the scores of Bible verses castigating gossips such as Proverbs 6: 16-19, "There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." So for everyone reading this blog, you can now consider yourself 'Laestadianized'. Old AP

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  7. Old AP, you are hilarious! The "rumor" in this story had a long life, even 25 years after this happened, it was STILL brought up from time to time. The sad thing about these scapegoats, laughing stocks, etc. is that most of them, in my experience, are people who actually believe their doctrine, like I did at the time. Meanwhile, there are people who are drug users, people who are promiscuous, molesters, even thieves and petty criminals whose reputations are vehemently PROTECTED by their socially more powerful families. In the case of my roommate, she sat around discussing with another roommate, how they were from "good families" and even discouraged their single family members from dating and/or marrying people who were not from these so-called "good" families, even succeeding at tearing apart engagements and socially aggressing romantic partners who didn't meet the "right family" criteria. I once knew someone who hung around that crowd who was not part of the church (but his family had been in the past) who ended up living with several of these Laestadians while he was attending school. He was dating a girl from the church who was urging him to attend services with the group, and he didn't want to, he was part of another church. He questioned why they viewed him as an "unbeliever" and he was told that he "didn't wear the fruits of a believer." Meanwhile, these "believer boys" were stealing, some were drinking and/or using drugs, etc. whereas he was quite clean in his lifestyle.

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  8. Because Apostolic Lutherans and Laestadians believe ,as long as you attend church,and are from a so called, christian family, that they are all,heaven bound, and for that reason they must be of ,good character, wrong, wrong, there is no such thing as a christian family, unless each one knows Jesus as their saviour.Young people have married someone from a so called, christian family, and lived and divorced to regret it.....but, when you are taught that you are the, exclusive Kingdom of God, that happens a lot........

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    1. For the good of keeping anonymous people clear, I'll choose a new handle which I will call "optimistinen." Isn't it funny that Finnish doesn't have a word for optimistic, that a word has to be borrowed from English? Either way, I feel like since leaving the church, I've become way more optimistic than I had been most of my life, I see the glass now as half-full.

      I think its important to realize that Laestadians/Apostolics aren't much different than any small town society, except scattered around various North American localities. There are the "good families" and the "bad families" and both good and flawed people. I hope through reading this blog there gets to be a greater awareness of the effects of bullying in these churches, that it does happen, and the stakes are high for the individuals involved. In the words of Hanna Pylvainen in the book We Sinners, she says "leaving isn't freedom." A few years ago, at a community dinner, an elderly couple noticed my last name as being of Finnish origins. Delightfully, we found out that she and I both descend from my great-great grandfather, one generation removed (he was her great-grandfather). I thought perhaps that she was from one of those families who left the church and converted to a more mainstream protestant denomination. I run into her husband grocery shopping from time to time, and this elderly man is simply brilliant and delightful to talk to. The subject of Finnishness comes up, as he is a big fan of the Finnish culture despite being of another background. We were talking about music, and he mentioned that his wife grew up in a very strict form of Lutheranism where they couldn't dance. "Apostolic? I asked, and shared that, I, too, was from that same background but that I didn't get away from it until I was an adult. Mr. Neighborhood Man replied, "Getting away from it? You can't get away from it. Whether you leave the church, or not, you're in it for life! "You've got a better chance of being 'jumped out' by a street gang!" he remarked. "It's like 'Hotel California' he added, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

      I laughed. He was right. And then we talked about the good things about the community. How they have many things right. He said that growing up, his wife said services consisted of 'fall services' and "spring services' and home services and annual services and that confirmation was a simple affair, with the girls wearing a white dress and the boys a white shirt and black pants and done and over within a week. That there was more mingling with neighbors and people from various splits and not as much judgment and closed minds as today, which may correspond more with the urbanization of life in general. It made sense to know your neighbors and the nature of a rural environment made people more interdependent.

      --Optimistinen

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  9. Optimistinen, it is interesting how you paraphrased the Eagles' lyrics when you stated that one can check out any time but that they never really leave. I have had other ex-Laestadians tell me the same thing. One of them said that he can not fit in with the church but neither does he totally fit in on the outside either. It is sort of like being in a semi-permanent limbo status. I have noticed though, that the earlier one leaves the better so that one has time to make new connections etc... Some find success by pulling a 'geographical' and moving far and away from their group so as to minimize daily contact. However, solving one set of problems often leads to encountering a new set somewhere else. Others decide to pull a mental 'geographical' and find a more liberal congregation within driving distance or they just sort of separate themselves from any extra contact with the local Pharisees. That is why I urge caution and methodical planning should one decide to leave. Surprisingly, the more abusive one's upbringing, the harder it is to leave. Old AP

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  10. Yes, I think an abusive upbringing does make it more difficult to leave, Old AP. There is a lot of cognitive dissonance growing up in an abusive, dysfunctional Laestadian home. (There are many Laestadian homes, however that are loving and somewhat functional and I'm not talking about those homes). The abuse victim is, on one hand, has been physically, emotionally or sexually brutalized, or God forbid, all three. They victims normalize the abuse, and blame themselves, especially if there are siblings in the household who are not being abused. And if they complain, the abusive parents tell them now "lucky" they are to be raised in a believing family, of all the families out there in the world, so few are believing, but you, abuse victim, have HIT THE JACKPOT and out of all the millions in the world you were born into one of the small handful of righteous believers. Any complaints they may have are nothing and miniscule compared to the joys of heaven. So the abusive victim normalizes a life where one is disrespected, disregarded, hit, called horrible names, gaslighted, and manipulated, and they may even normalize such behavior. Going out in the world the abuse victim believes that he or she must be meet, must not stand up for himself or herself, and must tolerate all kinds of ill treatment, not rock the boat, etc. That can make the person open to all kinds of ill treatment in the world, too, and not uncommon to meet up with worldly abusers as well. I think the only thing that can really help a struggling person who is stuck in a Laestadian environment is to get therapy. One method I think would work well for separating Laestadians is the Bowen Systems Theory because it concentrates on self-differentiation. The Laestadian world of family and enmeshed ties often leaves little room for ones sense of self and need for privacy and boundaries and self-concept. Once the scales fall from the abuse victims eyes, there is anger, but then--a new whole world opening up, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude that they no longer have to live in such bondage. --Optimistinen

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    1. Even after close to 20 years, I struggle with Black and white thinking and being judgmental...and I never feel like I really fit in...which I got used to feeling growing up in the LLC. It is interesting to me how the rigid thinking pops up in very unreligious contexts...while I am quite at peace with my current life, including my faith life outside of the LLC, in day to day contexts, my thinking can be very rigid.
      Unbeliever

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    2. Optimistinen, you sure hit the nail on the head with your post. I thought I would share a quote from Murray Bowen. “Every human infant starts life fully dependent on others, specifically on the family of origin. Growing up involves progressive development of individual characteristics, and aspects of increasing independence. The development of self occurs, in the case of each person, in and through networks of relationships with other members of the family system.” Bowen's quote is enlightening as it focuses on how the child develops their sense of 'self'. One can easily imagine how poisoned religious teachings would end up being very deleterious to a child's emotional development. I too heard that line about how as children we had basically won the pediatric lottery as we were part of that small clique of believers who would be saved. Any abuse was dismissed as a 'cross all believers must bear' as God gives all true Christians a heavy cross they must carry all their lives. My upbringing was basically fatalistic and from the feedback I got from others, their's was basically the same. Speaking of the lottery...did anyone go out and buy a lotto ticket trying to win the $800 million? Good luck! Old AP

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  11. Your thinking can be very ridgid?, if you're a Finn, get over it, like the old saying goes, you can always tell a Finn, but you can't tell him much. How do you think the Laestadian movement began? Rigid thinking, you nailed it....Beka

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  12. Group behavior has been studied including the phenomena of, "group polarization". Back in 1970 several psychology experiments were performed at a university. Two groups of students were formed based on their answers to a questionnare-one group was formed and labeled 'high prejudice' and the other group was labeled 'low prejudice'. Each group was directed to discuss controversial issues at that time to include school busing & integrated housing. Then a follow up survey was administered after the discussions were completed and they revealed stark differences. Just by talking to each other, the bigoted students became more bigoted and in contrast the tolerant students became more tolerant. The phenomena was termed, "group polarization". If one steps back for a moment and thinks about it, one could easily see how 'group polarization' has played a decisive role in Laestadian divisions and sub-divisions within each group. It might also help explain why many believe that their particular branch of Laestadianism is the only right group. When I attended a Laestadian Church, I noticed that about 90% of the church could basically agree on the main tenents of evangelical faith but about 10% were formenting unrest one way or another. What I did not know at that time was that the 10% were the 'group polarizers'. Has anyone noticed the same thing? Old AP

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    1. Old AP, I think this phenomenon is very accurate. Whether it is in the church setting you describe, or living in a small town, or belonging to any kind of organization, there are often the trouble mongers. These are the folks who are always whispering "Did you hear about...?" or making very quiet disparaging remarks aimed at undercutting credibility or authority. Those folks then typically will disassociate themselves in all sorts of fashions if someone they whispered to then brings it up, saying that wasn't what they really meant...

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  13. Free, How about starting another topic regarding the upcoming election? That will liven up this blog. How about a topic which ask for comments to include: 1. Which Presidential contender most represents Christian values and why? 2. Which candidate will most Laestadian church members vote for? 3. Does any candidate remind anyone of a particular speaker? Old AP

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