Thanksgiving, and what follows

Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, has come and gone. With it, too many beige foods (just kidding, beige foods are delicious). No more cranberry relish or making of cornbread dressing until next year. I love Thanksgiving because of the expectations — food, mostly comfort food, served well. No presents, no staying up late, no fancy dress required.

This year, since I work from home, I prepared everything days in advance. Shopping, at both Aldi and Costco? Done. Turkey thawed and then brined? Done. Festive hollowed out pumpkin floral centerpiece? A few mishaps, but done. Three pans of Aunt Carol’s cornbread dressing (we froze two of them), an enameled dish of mashed potatoes with green onions, cranberry-orange relish, butternut squash/maple/bacon/thyme casserole arranged in blossom pattern, Brussels sprouts and green apple slaw with lemon vinaigrette, chilled white wine, jalapeno butter, sorghum butter, seeded pomegranate for sparkling wine accoutrement, homemade pumpkin pie… all prepped before the day. I even took a long walk Thanksgiving morning after putting the turkey in the oven.

Like so many things lately, I don’t recall how I pulled things like this off when I worked at the corporation full-time. The food was perfect. Everything else was pretty okay as well.

But this year more than ever, I realized what a powerful trigger the holidays were for my husband. Some background:  His mother died 10 years ago of a prescription opiate overdose. His father was killed in January by police after a stand-off (his father was in a schizophrenic crisis). His sister lost custody of her son a couple years ago due to drug problems, although for now she is sort of stable. His grandparents as well as one of his aunts have all passed away since his mom died, leaving him with and odd assortment of cousins and uncles that he doesn’t really keep in touch with.

He has his sister, me and our kids, and my family (my mother and her dog, my middle sister’s family, my little sister and her husband, my aunts Carol and Ann) of course, but that does not keep him from going to a mean, dark place. Never a fan of the commercial aspects of Christmas, he has gotten worse over the past ten years with complaints about the tree and decorations, about spending, about hosting, about the various nuisances families bring. There are also the pervasive issues with snarkiness, overreactions, uncontrolled anger, yelling through gritted teeth with fists clenched, comments about how everyone else is too sensitive or being mean to him (the sensitivity and allegations of meanness being typical transference type behavior).

So that part sucks, and much of this weekend sucked as a result. I try to acknowledge that it is happening, that rather than everyone being against him perhaps he is absorbed into his own depression and vitriol. But I get short-tempered and exhausted, and that manifests as, “What the fuck is your problem?” very quickly if the “Can you try to just be nice?” approach doesn’t work.

So what to do? Therapy, I suggested, after a sleepless, teary Saturday night where I only slept in the same room because I didn’t want him to have one more excuse that I only “did things that excluded him” (i.e., shopping near the mall, visiting my mother). He doesn’t seem to believe in talking about his feelings (no surprise there) and doesn’t believe therapy works. But he would consider it, he said.

We talked on Sunday morning, acknowledging that we had a problem and that, first and foremost, he had to recognize when it was happening and deal with it rather than lashing out and forcing everyone else to feel as bad as he did. Kind of like when I have PMS, only much worse. For now, we have agreed to give up Facebook (lots of triggers and time sucks lurking there), reduce beef consumption (this is based on environmental vs. health concerns), and reduce drinking. We’ll see where that takes us.

But I know his pain and anger are still lurking, and I’m not sure I can defend and protect us all. If something ever happens to me or one of our kids, I’m afraid he’ll turn into Darth Vader.


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