Embracing the Dark of Night in the Season of Light

All Over The Map | December 2017

By Liz Massey, December 2017 Issue.

As I write this, our nation is poised to plunge itself into the surrealistic two-month frenzy that Americans know as “the winter holiday season.”

I am one of those folks who has almost entirely positive associations with Christmas … I love the special holiday foods, the seasonal traditions I was taught as a child, and most of all, I love Christmas music.

With the exception of the first Christmas Eve I spent in Phoenix, when my dinner consisted of day-old spaghetti and an orange, I have blessedly few rotten holiday memories.

I realize I am not necessarily the norm in the LGBTQ community. With many LGBTQ folks facing family rejection after they come out, and/or rejection by the church of their childhood, the holiday season can evoke painful memories, or even become an annual period of spiritual crisis. To make everything worse, this year has been hell on marginalized people in America in general, and the religious right seemed all too happy to crank up the fake “War on Christmas” meme before it was even Halloween!

So, November and December can be hard on the queer soul, especially if all is not rosy with one’s career, your relationship situation or general mood. But instead of battening down the hatches and ignoring or lampooning the holiday season, one of the better alternatives to fighting the so-called “season of light” is to become content with sitting alone in the dark.

The act of embracing life’s shadows actually has some legitimate historical connections with winter. Many cultures proclaim holy days on the Winter Solstice – which features the longest night of the year. It’s possible to become friends with the dark side of the holidays.

Try some of the following actions:

Name your demons.

Sometimes it can be excruciating to discuss what ails us. But ultimately, it can be healing. Curl up with your journal and let the pain fly onto the page (and store it in a safe place if you need to express angst at others). If writing doesn’t come easily to you, record sound files on your smartphone. If you can articulate what’s causing your struggle, its power over you lessens.

Watch out for your own shadow projections.

Psychologist Carl Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” One interpretation of what he meant by that is that while aspiring to be a role model and a leader can be admirable, it’s easy to get tripped up if we ignore or hide our weaknesses. We’ve all heard of the embezzling accountant, or the moralizing politician who gets caught with his pants down. Acknowledging that we, like all others, are all complex, messy, sometimes-good/sometimes-bad people can help us avoid projecting onto others that which we most hate about ourselves.

Balance light and dark in your media consumption.

One of the criticisms my holiday-hating friends point out to me is that many Christmas movies are so sickeningly sweet that that they practically cause insulin shock. I’m not so much suggesting that you balance out It’s A Wonderful Life (which actually has quite a few dark moments, by the way) by watching Krampus, but stay aware of how the emotional tenor of holiday programming, fictional or not, is influencing your prevailing mood. And prepare to be surprised … sometimes stories of overwhelming difficulty and injustice have enough hopeful notes embedded in them that you find yourself uplifted rather than dejected afterward.

Reach out to others.

This is a tip that I’ve often forgotten when I feel depressed. Bad moods tend to bring out the introvert in me, but when I’ve made a point of connecting with someone else and focusing on their situation, I’m distracted from my troubles, at least for a little while. If you want to cast the circle of concern a little wider than family and friends, soup kitchens and other charitable organizations almost always need extra helpers for hands-on activities at this time of year.

Have a safety plan.

If you’re concerned about slipping into self-destructive behavior because of holiday-related dark feelings, be proactive. Arrange to call your best friend after that stressful family dinner, find an LGBTQ-friendly community gathering to attend if you’re lonely, or keep relevant hotline numbers handy, just in case. Pamper and be kind to yourself throughout this season; think of it as a way to practice masterful gift-giving to others by rehearsing on yourself.

Nobody really WANTS to have a crappy Christmas, but sometimes it can’t be helped. As author Brene Brown points out, “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” If we spend all our time staving off the difficult elements of the holiday season, we may lose the chance to feel an unexpected moment of rejoicing amidst the shadows.