For many people, Christmas is a time of celebration, family, connection and love. I am going to take a wild guess and say that for equal numbers of people it’s some kind of messy disaster. But what you see and hear about more commonly is the celebration and that creates further pressure on those who are experiencing struggle.

This societally imposed expectation collides with the inner longing for a happy family experience and it makes me wonder how many people are faking it at Christmas?! I am stepping forward with a new proposal – how about we have honest Christmas.

I spent this Christmas hanging out with the Grinch! At times surrendering to grouchiness and contraction, other times fighting and resisting it. Dissolving into tears was the sweetest relief creating an outlet for the pain.

I felt lonely and a deep longing for family of my own. I felt pissed off that my family of origin has been fractured for so many years, and it’s only truly come to light in the last 2 years.

Conversely, I am grateful that the fracturing is now exposed. I don’t have to pretend that we are a happy family anymore. The last time I remember family Christmas feeling truly special was when my Nan was still alive – she died when I was 16 – so it’s’ been a few years!!

Christmas underlines what is missing, where there is not easy flow and connection, there are memories of the loved ones who are no longer with us, memories of times when family love may have flowed more easily.

Throughout my 20s, I drank a LOT and would mask my feelings behind alcohol and food. It’s no longer an option for me to ride over the top of my feelings; it’s no longer an option for me to pretend that everything is okay or deny my awkwardness.

I have had a couple of Christmases that I created with friends as adults and they were fun times. This year it didn’t feel appropriate to have a friends Christmas as I have been sitting with grief around my family of origin, and it felt timely to surrender to that grief.

I spent the most recent Christmas (2015) with the Christmas Grinch – me being my grumpy self. This allowed me to become even more present to my desires for loving connections. It gave me space to be grateful that I am no longer willing to settle and smile just because “it’s the right thing to do.” I would prefer to be alone than hanging out in a tension fuelled environment.

Some of the past unhappy family Christmas memories include high tensions that someone will say or do the wrong thing, restless family members that cannot sit still for one day, some family members attempting to control the behaviour of others, being overly polite and nice to keep the peace, some people not feeling seen or valued in the dynamic, humour that goes too far, conversation fills a gap and does nothing to create connection.

I wonder if my Nan was the glue in our family dynamic and when she died we became significantly unstuck! And no one has known how to put it together since then. My Nan was not perfect, but somehow there was always a feeling of love and safety when she was around.

Some years, I have enjoyed solo Christmases – just me at home watching movies and eating yummy food in bed can be fun! But this year, the longing was overwhelming and hit me in the eyes a few times in between reading and watching movies.

It was only later on Christmas Day that real gratitude came in, I felt grateful that I had an honest Christmas. I wasn’t lying or pretending or playing games – I was me being me, with no pressure or expectation.

This has been my experience of Christmas and in the process I am liberating myself and learning to be even more compassionate and sensitive towards others. It can be a difficult time for many, many people for a whole range of reasons, including the death of a loved one, a relationship ending, an inability to have children, unmet expectations, conflict and tension within the family and many more reasons.

I would love to see more sensitivity around this time of year – that it’s not treated frivolously but also provides an opportunity to check in and see how the people around you are really doing.

It’s a relief to be honest, it’s a relief to speak out loud, to no longer be faking a happy family, to no longer be faking a Merry Christmas. To claim what is authentic for me! I do wonder how many others are out there hiding their struggles and their misery, hiding behind children and presents, drowning feelings in drinks and food?

What would it take for you to have an authentic experience of your life – to honour your feelings and your truth every day of the year? While there is discomfort in moving out of the expectations, there is also freedom!

Maybe next year, I will have a friends Christmas in the Bahamas!!