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Surviving the Holiday Vortex as Adoptees

By Katie Bozek

Last year, the first thing I did when I bought my new planner was to flip to December and write a note to myself not to get caught in the holiday vortex. The “holiday vortex” is a term I use to describe the time where every day and every to-do list is spinning around my head. Each year I find myself getting lost in the holiday gatherings, gift buying, gift wrapping, meal planning, grocery shopping, and other situations that come with the end of the year. That note was a reminder to myself that this happens, and to work not to let that happen this year. And yet, here I am 2 days before Christmas completely sucked in. I don’t know what day it is, I have shopping left to do, wrapping left to do, grocery shopping, meal planning and prep to do. And, a blog post that is overdue.

This blog post was originally supposed to be a reflection on the difficulty many are facing with conversations during holiday gatherings in maintaining their genuine sense of self and possibly new reflections and understandings of themselves from this past year. I was going to address reflections on how to maintain our sense of self in the face of old relational patterns. But, the holiday vortex has had my head swirling and I have not been able to find the proper words to articulate or frame this process in a coherent way. So, here I am in the middle of a 6 mile run typing with frozen fingers my thoughts. A run that is sandwiched between finally responding to emails and catching up on case notes and what will inevitably be my first trip to the grocery store for the day (anyone who has hosted knows that even with the most detailed grocery list you always have to go back once or twice for forgotten items).

The holiday vortex is not just a swirling of to-do lists, it is a swirl of emotions. In all of this, I am afraid it will not be good enough. The meal will not be good enough. The gifts will not be just right, and this blog post will not be articulate enough. And mixed into that are the many different emotions wrapped up with the holidays. My desires to make this holiday season special. Memories of fun and special past holidays. And reflections and processing on the not-so-fun and special times. These are all reflections of the relationships that we have. The holidays can bring up special memories of times with friends and families, and with those memories can come reminders that those relationships fell apart, or that those people are no longer physically with us, or that those moments were only situated in between an otherwise unhealthy, hurtful, or destructive way of relating.

Another part of getting sucked into the holiday vortex is "just getting by" and losing focus on what is important. There are always the reminders of what the holidays are “really about,” and we know it’s not just about the gifts. What I am talking about as important is staying true to ourselves. The fallout from the holiday vortex is getting into “survival mode” and not having a sense of groundedness or intentionality. Sometimes this can look like nodding my head and engaging in "small talk" ways of communicating. Sometimes it is letting something slip by because I don’t have the energy to address it in the way I would like or would typically do any other time of the year. For us as adoptees, it can come out as more times to have to defend yourself and correct people when it comes to adoption and your experience and understanding of it. This year especially, it feels that there are added layers related to being a person of color in this country and what that means as a transracial adoptee. I have heard many adoptees express concern about anticipated conversations with family this year about shifts in their perspective and understanding of race and racism. This new perspective is not necessarily shared by other family members, and as the “token” person of color in the family, the pressure to say or not say something feels heavier this year.

As with all parts of life, there are added layers as adoptees to this holiday vortex. Along with the typical mix of emotions that is associated with the holidays, there is the added layer of loss and what that means. Adoptees have to continually evaluate, whether intentionally, or unintentionally how they are understanding and experiencing the loss that comes with adoption in their life. The holidays are no exception. I have heard adoptees talk about the different ways loss comes up for them around any holiday, as holidays serve as reminders of what was lost, and what “could have been”. An added layer of difficulty in processing this is the mixed messages of having to be grateful, or not bring something up because “we want to enjoy the holidays,” or that we should focus on what we do have, and not on what we do not have, or that we have to be able to explain and defend exactly what we are feeling and thinking. And for adoptees, this is a feeling many of us are already familiar with without the holidays.

So, for adoptees, be kind to yourself. Do not expect to be able to express or articulate or even know what emotions you are experiencing. Do your best to carve out time in any way to reflect and ground yourself. Whether in the middle of a family gathering or during a cold winter run.

Friends and family who are reading this, do your best to give us space to reflect, process and possibly share, without the expectation that it will be shared, or shared with fully formed thoughts and answers. There are so many layers of emotions on a regular day, and they seem to become exponentially more complex and messier during the holidays.

And with that, I wish everyone a safe and reflective holiday season.Take extra care this year during this time of pandemic as well as increased acts of blame, bigotry and hatred directed at people of Asian descent. Here's to learning from this year and staying more grounded in the vortex again next year.


Katie Bozek is the executive director of KAAN. She is also a licensed marriage and family therapist and provides mental health services for kids, teens, couples, families, and individuals across the lifespan. Katie additionally serves as a board member for the West Michigan Asian American Association (WMAAA), and the Michigan Board of Counseling. Outside of work, Katie enjoys going to her children's various sporting events and ballet performances. Most days you will find her out on a trail on a run, or in the kitchen baking.

Katie has previously contributed to KAAN's blog writing on How To Find A Therapist.

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