Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bittersweet Holidays

I see a lot of patients during the holiday season who are struggling with stress and depression. This is a particularly busy time for most people and can be difficult. But, the holidays can be a restorative and healthy time – if we let go of the stress, take time to take care of ourselves, and don’t expect too much from the season, or get dragged down by the past. Remember to schedule things like acupuncture, massage, mediation, and QUIET time with family and friends, doing things that you truly enjoy.

Here is an excerpt from Body + Soul magazine by writer Celina Ottaway, in which she describes her path to savoring the holidays after a lifetime of holiday stress and family explosions – making candied citrus peels.

Though I’m not much of a sweet tooth, I was drawn to this pot and the warm, fragrant mess inside. It was everything I felt about the holidays. Unlike the cheerful sweetness of pie or cookies, this was a pile of bitterness and discards boiling for hours and hours in sugar. It made me laugh – about my early years of family drama, my parents’ subsequent divorce, and the empty years that followed. My childhood meals with the crazy guests, and in later years, the crackle of phone lines carrying sad, broken voices. I didn’t have to pretend that none of it had happened. I didn’t have to forget the pain to appreciate that some of it was rib-rocking funny.

And, as it turns out, I didn’t need to choose between perfection and despair. I could start with something less ideal, something messier, more complicated, bitter even, and find my way to somewhere good. Something full of enough flavor to pull me from whatever haze I might be lost in, so could I taste, really taste, all the complicated sweetness that was mine to savor.

This is how I start the holiday season now. Late at night, after the children have gone to sleep, I bury my head in my husband’s back as he stirs the boiling peels on the stove. I savor the soft simmer of thickening syrup and the bitter tang of citrus. It’s the time when I can sink in, breathe, and let go. And in the peace of my kitchen, away from the songs and the symbols, where the only sounds are a slow gurgle and a scraping spoon, there is a moment as the last bubbles burst when the bitter and the sweet become one.

Byron Russell

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