Starting the New Year Gently

Have you felt like the last few weeks of the year go on fast-forward? Every year, it feels to me like at the end of the summer, time picks up and runs on high speed until the Christmas season is over. The whirlwind of Thanksgiving week was a blur. The commercialism that surrounds us, and the expectations the world feeds us, challenge our ability to think straight and keep our focus on the Advent, defined as “the arrival of a notable person or event,” season. This morning at mass, I realized I had not yet bought the airline tickets to spend Christmas with my immediate family in Michigan. We have a short Advent this year, only really three full weeks.

Perhaps my favorite night of the year is Christmas Eve, once all the stores have closed and the parking lots are empty. We went to Christmas Eve Mass as a family during my childhood, and to get to the church we drove by a large shopping center that was nearly always packed with people. What a relief to see that the lights were off, the cars were gone, and if we were lucky, the snow was falling to create a fresh blanket over the ground.

The final week of the year is again a rush, the numerous nonprofits asking for year-end donations, returning Christmas gifts, and if you’re like me, trying to get those Christmas cards out before the 31st. Some family traditions celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, even waiting until Epiphany to open their presents. We travel back home from our adventures, settle into the knowledge that the long winter remains upon us. After all of this, we are inundated with what to do to start the New Year, resolutions to make, parties to accept or decline, hanging the new calendars and figuring out how begin again, or trudge through the projects we still have undone.

We may berate ourselves for being in the same place, or perhaps further back than we hoped, as we criticize ourselves so well, from where we were at the beginning of the year. We wrestle with when to take down the decorations and prepare our homes for the newness of the year. For some, the recovery from the holiday festivities is hard, the time with family and the buildup leaving them with triggering memories, the “mountain” event of Christmas and the intensity of life not stopping for any of it.

I find the New Year holiday rather anticlimactic. It doesn’t have the same buzz or excitement as Christmas or Easter for me. At this point in my life, I can’t stay up to wait for the ball to drop in NYC (recorded for those of us here in the Central Time Zone). I do appreciate that it is a quieter holiday, perhaps filled with watching football and eating, or napping and looking through all the leftover desserts and stocking candy that is looking less fresh.

I have found that for me, the better type of resolution to make is to focus on an area of my spiritual and emotional health. I make a pledge to be more compassionate, increase the amount of money that I spend on charitable gifts, stop interrupting, or choose a volunteer opportunity. 

Bridget holtz

What type of resolutions we make is an interesting dilemma. It is a fact that gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of the year, and after the first month a majority of those people cease their commitment. I have found that for me, the better type of resolution to make is to focus on an area of my spiritual and emotional health. I make a pledge to be more compassionate, increase the amount of money that I spend on charitable gifts, stop interrupting, or choose a volunteer opportunity.  These are the things I feel that are much better to hold onto and to fulfill. They become habits and elemental parts of my life, and they challenge me.

Ten years ago at the exact time I am writing this, was my darkest night of the soul. I was returned from Haiti, in a new city, in a new position, with no local friends and a massive traumatic experience sitting on my heart and in my mind. I was working with a therapist who was not qualified to do the trauma processing I needed. Winter came early in Minnesota, and the cold was already biting through the layers I wore. I was horribly depressed, despairing, nearly paralyzed with fear and anxiety, and I knew no way out of it. I worked on Christmas Day, visiting a pediatric hospice patient, and worked the week after Christmas. I broke down on New Year’s Eve, a phone call with an angry pharmacist having rattled me. I wondered if this feeling and space would continue into the next year, because I wanted it to go away and start freshly. But it stayed with me. I was so broken I could barely get out of bed.

I wailed on the couch lamenting my situation and my circumstances. I wanted to be erased, a tornado of emotion so grave I considered hospitalization. I called in sick the day after the NY holiday, and began searching for new therapists and potential medication changes in earnest. Something had to change, or the violence I was committing toward my inner self would only escalate. (Funny thing: I also bought a gym membership!) I remember thinking I would spiral into depths I had never felt, unless I forced myself to change course.

I remember the first appointment with my new therapist, which by the grace of God was scheduled for the next day because she worked evenings and weekends. I remember the peace of the office where she led me, the quietness of her nature, the ability she had to validate my life experience and also to challenge me. I had finally found a safe space to begin sorting out the chaos in my mind.

This year, I thought, I will try to be gentle with myself. I will seek therapy two to three times per week in order to care for myself. I will treat myself with care, listen to what my body is telling me and learn how to function as a broken person.

It took an additional seven months to find the deepest root of my problems, and to this day I am still learning how to process and heal from the wounding and traumas that have taken place in my life. But that winter, in the blackness, bitter cold and ice, I made a determination to gently turn around and remember the light that shines in the darkness.

The following year I was a different person, having just undergone actual heart surgery, which for me was more than physical. I had to take it easy, rest, and relax. This was my introduction to starting the year gently, to ease into what it might hold, to find the people and supports to grip tightly or loosely, depending on what my heart wanted. I found that there is not a rush or quick deadline to caring for myself, as it was a daily choice. I learned quietness, solitude, and trust in Someone who could direct my steps.

A decade after my darkest night, I again find myself at the end of a year and the start of another. I have continued to grow in confidence, to  undergo healing of memories and relationships, and carry myself with dignity and faith. After Christmas, I have the entire month of January (or the winter!) to determine which aspects of myself to challenge. Let’s not slam into the new year as if we are a winter sled hitting a tree: let’s remind ourselves to listen to the still, small voice we cannot hear in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. Let us sit and reflect on His words. That voice will establish our path and will remain with us.

About Author

Bridget is a deep-thinking compassionate caregiver with a love for color, culture, travel, kindness and the encouraging word. Called to seek out and serve the lost, vulnerable, broken and oppressed. A pediatric nurse, she has worked in numerous inpatient and outpatient settings, and with the underserved domestically and internationally. She carries a particular call to stand with the impoverished, whether they be affected materially, emotionally, physically or spiritually. She currently lives in Austin, TX with her dog Nigel.

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