Christmas is a very painful time of year for us. The pain begins as Thanksgiving approaches and by mid December we cannot wait for January 2nd to arrive. For us this signifies the return to normalcy and the routine of our lives.
Before Mike began testing as a cop I expressed to him my biggest fear and hesitation was the thought of being alone on holidays. I am an extrovert, which means I get my energy and self value by my relationships. I feel right with the world when I am in community with others. The flip side is when I have too much time by myself, my self-esteem drops, I feel drained of energy, and I become sad. So for me to give the gift of the pursuit of law enforcement to Mike was a huge sacrifice for me, because it has meant more time than I would like on my own.
One of the best survival skills I have had going in my favor has been that even though I have a brother, I really grew up as an only child. He is 12 years older than me so by the time I was in first grade he was away at college and never returned home. My parents were industrious so they spent a lot of time working and were not very involved in my day-to-day growing up. So I have a strong sense of independence and learned at a very young age to take care of myself. I was getting myself off to school by the time I was six as my parents were already at work. When I got married I was hoping that would end and I would gain strong relationship connections through marriage and with Mike's large family; something I never had coming from a small family that was scattered all over the United States and never very close. I saw my mom's side of the family a few times throughout my life and have met my dad's sister a total of three times.
As an adult, I was hoping I would finally have a sense of connection that only comes through family but, due to distance and Mike working nontraditional hours, we are still very isolated from family. They have never been very accepting of Mike working weekends and holidays and are also not very good at making plans. We do not have kids, unlike Mike's brother and sister, and they traditionally get together when all the grandchildren are available, regardless of whether we are available or not. We tried for many years to make holidays work with them but, through trial and error, we have learned we need to take control of holidays and make them work for us. Having the control back is also going to give us better control over our mood during the holiday season because it gives us something to look forward to, and because hope is the best medicine.
Setting our own traditions
The first step in creating a celebratory mood during the holiday is setting our own traditions. As long as Mike remains on his shift he will be working every Christmas except during leap years. Most Christmases I have spent alone with nothing to do. So this year we started a new tradition which will be followed in years to come: I will accompany Mike in his squad as I join him as a crime fighter. After work we will go to a movie. Having a set and planned routine ahead of the holiday gives us tradition, which in turn will give us familiarity. It is making an abnormal situation normal; something that is a constant challenge for the LEO family all year round.
Another tradition we are setting is we are going to have our own Christmas on the day of our choosing following the holiday. Even though the world around us will be in full throttle again, we are going to pretend nothing is open, open our gifts to each other in the morning, isolate in our home with movies, and cook a full holiday dinner. A large turkey feast is my favorite meal to cook and even if I am not cooking for a crowd, we are still going to indulge and have the pleasure of leftovers.
Accepting friends as family
Many television shows depict friends that become closer than family such as Friends, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Grey's Anatomy, and so on. We are seeing this is also becoming a reality in our lives. We have been very blessed by some special people that have come into our lives that have become our family. We have been very grateful to them for including us in their holiday celebrations and for them opening their homes to us. It gives a sense of belonging and purpose. Many have come from the strong sense of fraternity that goes with the job, being able to understand the abnormal which becomes our normal. A couple of our other strong bonds come from my world of healthcare which shares some of the traits of working nontraditional hours.
Remembering the meaning of the season
When Mike and I become sad during the holidays it is easy to become self-involved and to forget why this holiday season exists. To become wrapped up in what we do not have or how we feel disconnected from family only feeds the sadness, disappointment, and anger. Instead, tuning to the spiritual reason for the season refocuses our energy outward and lifts our mood. In reality, the season is not about us but is the source of our faith. It is a time to give back with our time, talents, and finances. It is a time to share our multitude of blessings with others.
The holidays can be a joyous time, but for many people they are an emotional minefield. And this can be especially true for those who serve and protect while most others gather with family and friends. For us, December started hard. We were not looking forward to the holidays; just the opposite, we could not wait for them to pass. But we decided to take control and make them our own and December is ending on a much brighter - and much more joyous - note.