5 Nourishing Choices for a Drama-Free Holiday Season

Book SaladJoyful holidays spiced and flavored to your liking are within reach!

By Rayne Wolfe and Amy Eden

We believe that you want to enjoy the holidays, so we’re sharing our five best tips with you in the form of a holiday menu.

Above all, your mind frame will make the difference between a holiday season with potential for newness and one that inevitably repeats the past. The mind frame that makes room for spontaneity and your ability to enjoy celebrating the holidays is this: I have a choice.

Don’t be a reindeer in the headlights! You are not a prisoner of other people’s holiday celebrations or other people’s assumptions about what makes the holidays legitimate, nor a sleepwalker repeating the past—because you have a choice. Rather than hunker down, go numb, and survive the holidays as only a partially present person, be an actor in your own wonderful life story.

Rayne: Thanksgiving Day for my San Francisco family meant skipping turkey or ham and having Chinese take-out instead. My darling step-mom Robbie loved scooping Hong Kong Flower Garden main dishes from their white paper cartons into gleaming chafing dishes lined up on her mahogany dining table.

My folks welcomed friends and family from noon to five. Plates of pot stickers and Princess shrimp were balanced on knees while wine toasts were shared. But not every holiday with family is so breezy and social. There can be stress, tears, and psychodrama—especially around our mammas.

Amy:  Christmases of my childhood were a cocktail of excitement and dread, common when parents are alcoholic and codependent. Since my mother was never spoken of in our house, when Christmas came, I was sure to intercept her presents from the postman and open them in hiding. I couldn’t risk reminding my dad, stepmom, and half-siblings that I wasn’t really one of them. An eerie Christmas Eve family tradition was watching the three-hour Ingmar Bergman “Christmas” film, Fanny and Alexander. The film portrays the childhood of Swedish siblings Fanny and Alexander, whose lives are darkened by an abusive stepfather. Singing carols, hanging ornaments, and wrapping presents delighted me, still, I never ceased waiting for the other shoe to drop.

As an adult, much of my healing work around enjoying the holidays has been to honor a few select traditions while testing out new ones year by year, using my voice and arms to convey love and appreciation for others, and detaching from the myth that love is measured in gifts.


Holiday Menu
We’ve created a five-item menu to keep you nourished all season long. Amy and Rayne’s insights will help you rise above toxic family dynamics. Note: You may want to skip dessert this year.


Holidays In-Real-Life Soup
A light, should-free and comparison-free broth

Are you falling for the trap of comparing your holiday celebrations to a standard set by television and movies? Somewhere between the loving Baileys in It’s a Wonderful Life and the fractured family of Home For The Holidays, lays the truth about family gatherings. They can be splendid and frightening, uplifting or anger inducing. Madison Avenue wants us to believe all holiday gatherings are happy, loving and deeply meaningful. The truth is, sometimes the best part of traveling home is petting the neighbor’s dog.

What defines your homecoming experience is your frame of reference. Theodore Roosevelt cautioned us to remember that, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If your family get-togethers lean more towards the catfish throwing in August: Osage County rather than the love story of Miracle on 34th Street, I suggest becoming your own home-for-the-holidays director. You can pick and choose where you go, whom you see, and how you pass the day. You can expand the good bits, edit the scary stuff, allowing for emotional ups and downs, and walk away content, rather than shell shocked.

Amy’s tip! Should-test all holiday activities. For each holiday plan you’re considering, ask yourself, “Is this _____ (activity, purchase, invitation, etc.) something I think I should be doing to meet expectations, or something I genuinely want?”

Rayne’s tip! Consider bringing a friend along. People who regularly behave badly are less likely to do so when there is a stranger at the table. Plus, you’ll have a friend to do something fun with if you decide to leave early.

Plan & Budget Salad
A mind-clearing plate of carefully selected greens for every budget  

If holiday gatherings usually end in arguments or tears, plan only a brief visit to wish all well.  Deliver pie, place presents, make toasts—and when your internal timer goes off, leave. It will feel scary, but if you follow your game plan, you will minimize stress and maybe save enough time to visit other people you love (who love you back). Set a reasonable budget, so that you don’t anxiously over-do gift giving.

Some budget-friendly practices: Buy one present for a whole family; give baked goods, socks, or calendars, rather than vases, linens or jewelry; officially cancel gifts this year or do a White Elephant/Yankee Swap; make homemade cards. Cultivate self-respect through the act of looking eyes-wide-open at your bank account.

Rayne’s tip! If you’ve always spent an entire weekend, consider reducing it to one overnight. And don’t be shy about allotting time to do something you’ve always wanted to do, especially if it’s on your Bucket List.

Amy’s tip! Sketch out the chronology of your holiday festivities, adding two additional columns: In one column, record the feelings you want to feel during each activity and in the second column, list an alternate plan, or escape plan, for each activity.


Emotion-Balancing Roast
This complex dish contains both spicy and warming elements
All ingredients were grown in our childhood gardens

No one feels pure joy during the holidays, not even elves. Remember Hermie? He was the frustrated elf who got no joy from working in Santa’s workshop hammering wooden toys—he longed to become a dentist. So, please, drop your self-imposed expectations to feel only a few positive feelings this holiday season. It’s this time of year in particular that past disappointments like to haunt us—don’t ignore the ghost of what-your-childhood-wasn’t this year. Stop fighting it. Acknowledge your inner Hermie. Acknowledge the kaleidoscope of feelings within, the grief, sadness and joy, all of it! Thoughts like, “I should be over this by now” or “Nobody wants a miserable house guest” are rejections of your inner-self trying to speak up. This year, listen. Make room for everything you actually feel, remind yourself that holiday grief is normal, and take an emotional inventory as you navigate parties, houses and gift giving.

Rayne’s tip! You’ll know you are healing over past family drama when you begin to see the humor in the patterns. Does your mother always make fun of your cooking skills? That kind of behavior is often generational. So, when your mom makes snide comments about your watery gravy, imagine your 1880’s era great-great-great-grandmother tearing down your 1920’s flapper great-great-grandmother’s lumpy gravy. If that thought makes you smile—you win.

Amy’s tip! Grieve. Grieving the past not only acknowledges the hurt child within but also frees up your spirit so that you can respond new sources of joy.


Toxic Pie
Toxic pie is an heirloom recipe perfected by your mother,
passed down from her mother, her mother’s mother…
Pairs well with hemlock tea  

(Skipping dessert is recommended.)

Some toxic people take great delight—you might even say, feed on—seeing you upset. Nobody can serve up drama like the people who changed your diapers. When toxic moms goad their adult children into emotional outbursts, it seems nearly like a moment of triumph for them. One trick Rayne has offered the Toxic Mom Toolkit community is to think of the piece of toxic pie being served as a hand grenade. Your mother (or estranged sibling or former spouse or frenemy) may go to great lengths to pull the pin and watch you melt down. But what if you imagined an extra pin in your magic pocket? What if when you felt like screaming you visualized replacing that pin and just smiling like the Mona Lisa? Staying calm, smiling and breathing when someone wants desperately to provoke you is how you rise above the drama. You might need a pocketful of pins this holiday season—that’s okay—hold out your hand—we’ll give you as many as you need.

Amy’s tip! Avoid drinking, commiserating about painful shared histories, and be prepared to duck or side-step jabs or provocations.

Rayne’s tip!  If you travel far away for the visit, plan what you will do if you decide to leave early. If you don’t have a rental car, have the number of a taxi service already in your pocket. Heaven forbid you spend a peaceful evening at the movies.


Ample Self-Restoration Vermouth
Nutrient-rich and nourishing, this digestion-stimulating drink is a staff favorite
Enjoy with a squeeze of self-regard

We rarely take time to reflect on the holidays once they’ve wrapped up. We instead heave a sigh of relief and throw ourselves right back into our normal routines. This year, take time to reflect on your holidays. A few minutes of reflection during your flight home or while you’re brushing your teeth won’t do the trick. We suggest setting aside ample time to reflect on what occurred, to consciously restore your spirit. This could take the form of journaling, talking with your closest friends, or doubling-up on therapy appointments for a couple weeks. Schedule coffee dates with friends for after the holidays now. Here’s the thing:  Knowing that you will be able to confide in friends after the holidays creates a lighthouse to keep you on course during the holidays. Our true selves (hiding deep inside) need to be honored if we are to return to the wonderful life we deserve.

Rayne’s tip! Holidays with family can be exhausting. Sobe extra kind to yourself in the weeks following New Years. Give yourself permission to say “no,” or “I can’t this time” until you are ready to resume your busy schedule.

Amy’s tip!  Return to your spiritual practice as soon as possible after the holidays, whether it is writing, art making, yoga or meditation.

Peace on Earth. Happy holidays!


Rayne Wolfe bio photo
Amy Eden_typewriter shirtAmy Eden, author of “The Kind Self-Healing Book” and Rayne Wolfe, author of “Toxic Mom Toolkit” collaboratively wrote this special non-toxic holiday post. For more information about surviving the family drama trifecta: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years or family dysfunction in general, visit Rayne’s blog at www.toxicmomtoolkit.com and Amy’s blog at www.guesswhatnormalis.com

P.S.  Let us know about your holiday plans by posting a comment!  


The Difference Between Being Angry and Feeling Angry

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.54.46 AMThe Good Men Project just published my article on anger – read it here, “Speaking of Anger:  The Difference Between Being Angry and Feeling Angry


Oh, how some men do anger—with flair, full throttle, and theatrically. There are men who even do it in cars. Some especially do it in cars. An automobile can punctuate anger: A sharp right turn says I mean business, engine revving at a red light means this is only over when I say so, and yanking the car to the side of the road while yelling “Get the fu*k out of the car!” means tonight, I am god.

The automobile is to anger what the stage is to Shakespearian Theater! Consider the acoustics—how easily anger is amplified inside a 4-door Accord with the windows up. It’s not polite to leave during a theatrical performance and it’s not safe to jump from a moving vehicle.

You’ve got the audience right where you want them, in their seats. Still, when people, objects, or life fail to behave as you want them to, is anger the show you’re still putting on? You know this:

  • People won’t do what you want,
  • Objects will fail you,
  • Life will throw curve balls.

Those are givens. Why put on the anger show, again?

It’s time to try a new script. Toss your tired Angry Guy lines aside, and practice the lines of the man who experiences a feeling called anger.

- Read the whole article at: goodmenproject.com

Amy Eden is the author of The Kind Self-Healing Book: Raise Yourself Up with Curiosity and Compassion



Be Charlie Brown

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 4.37.19 PMThis week’s post on my Facebook page for guesswhatnormalis.com drew so many views that I’m posting here, too. This is about why we should keep trying, even when others don’t see the point of our trying and when we also might not see the point of trying.

I saw The Peanuts Movie the other night. I’m glad not to be someone who jumps up once the final scene is over, because while watching the credits I came to understand the essence of Charlie Brown, at long last.

Here’s why you should watch the credits of at least this movie:  You get to see the classic, now iconic “dance” of Charlie and Lucy. By “dance” I mean dynamic. During the credits we see an updated version of Lucy holding the football for Charlie to kick while Charlie gears up to run and kick it. He’s focused. He’s hopeful. Every time in the past Lucy has withdrawn the ball at the last minute, and yet Charlie wants to try again. And as he’s about to begin his run, the audience starts thinking, “Don’t! Don’t be a fool. Don’t fall for it, you know Lucy will pull the ball away — she does every time!”

But he runs for it. He runs and as he pulls his leg back to kick the ball…Lucy does her thing, she pulls the football away and Charlie lands on his back. Then Lucy calls him “gullible.”

What I need to tell you is: Be Charlie Brown.







Even if your spouse or old friend joke at your attempts to learn something new, even if one of your inner voices tells you to give up and that it’s no use to go to the gym, to learn yoga, to take a cake decorating class, to change your hair style, to stop because you’re not getting the hang of it quickly enough, to try new things for the heck of it…to try and try, again and again — do it.

Don’t concern yourself with what Lucy will or won’t do, that’s Lucy’s shtick. Lucy symbolizes chance, life, and the ‘haters.’ Concern yourself with what you will do, your own story, will, and your bliss.

There’s no greater humiliation than not trying. Charlie embodies trying, again and again.

Be Charlie Brown.

- be kind to yourself


Amy Eden is the author of The Kind Self-Healing Book: Raise Yourself Up with Curiosity and Compassion



Did Chronic Stress in Childhood Raise my Risk for Autoimmune Disease?

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 10.51.05 AMThe answer, in a word, is yes.

All along, nestled in my DNA, was a marker for autoimmune disease. Who knew. If no chronically stressful or physically traumatic events had occurred in my childhood and adult life, the disease may have gone un-triggered for my lifetime. It might have just laid low in my DNA forever. Instead, ongoing stress throughout childhood and a life-threatening childbirth in my thirties flipped the switch, and triggered my autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

It took about three years to land on a firm diagnosis, a typical, irritating, confusing, and very common story for others who’ve experienced the long and winding trail to figuring out they have an autoimmune disease. What’s more, my endocrinologist says that while he considers me as having Hashimoto’s, that I actually have only “half” the diagnosis because my thyroid gland is healthy but my autoimmune response is high (extremely high levels of antibodies specific to the thyroid gland). If my thyroid were damaged, I would have full Hashimoto’s.

I eat and live differently now, and will write about that at some point; in a nutshell, I now meditate and eat a gluten-free, plant-based diet. And oh! What that did for my energy levels! (I wrote about the 21 day cleanse that helped me get started, although when I did the cleanse, I didn’t yet know about my autoimmune disease.)

Was Your Childhood Lived Walking on Eggshells?

For those of us who grew up with chronic stress—whether waiting for the next scary outburst of anger, domestic argument, or upsetting reason to run to our rooms and blot out or fantasize-away the crazy reality of our household—we know that our most sensitive and important developmental stages were lived waiting for the other shoe to drop, chair to be thrown, or car tires pealed out of  the driveway and away from the house.

I wish that the fallout from less-than-nurturing childhoods started and ended with the emotional wounds we know so well — the characteristics of adult children of alcoholics, but the truth is there are health risks to understand, too.

Here’s what you need to know:

A chronically stressful childhood, and one that includes anything on the list below, is one that falls into the category of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and are known to raise one’s risk of disease in adult life.

Do You Know What Your ACE Score Is?

Often or very often in childhood, did…

- a parent or adult swear at you, insult, push, or humiliate you?
- your parents separate or divorce?
- a household member struggle with depression or was mentally ill?
- a household member go to prison?
- a parent or adult push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?
- a parent or adult at least 5 years older than you ever touch you in a sexual way?
- you feel that no one in your family loved you or thought you were special?
- you feel you didn’t have enough to eat, wore dirty clothes, or needed more care then you were getting?
- your parents drink too much or get too high to care for you?
- a parent or adult have a drinking or addiction problem?

If those questions resonate for you, take this quiz and get your ACE Score here.

Do You Know What Your ACE Score Means?

If you answered yes to a couple or flew of those questions, please read up on ACEs. Why? Oh my, because you may be at increased risk for any of the following:

  • liver disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • depression
  • alcohol abuse, over use, and alcoholism
  • domestic abuse
  • suicide
  • smoking and/or early initiation of smoking
  • early initiation of sexual activity

That list is science-based, based on a longitudinal study that crossed class and race lines. If you haven’t yet watched Nadine Burke Harris’ TED talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences, please view it (she is a hero of mine for three reasons: her impassioned voice, awareness-raising, and her remarkable, important work of identifying these nascent issues in children). Don’t assume that you’re not as risk — the study’s findings are compelling and show that not one of us is too rich, too poor, too pale, or too dark to suffer from the impact of our childhood. It’s not as simple as growing up and moving away from your family of origin. (The list above was taken from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study website  - I urge you to visit their site and learn about ACEs.)

If you have one of the 100+ known autoimmune diseases—such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Grave’s disease, Celiac disease, endometriosis, or multiple sclerosis—reflect on the frequency and severity of stress in your childhood home as well as events in your adult life, such as a car accident, bike accident, major fall, or chronic domestic abuse. Why? Many people who have autoimmune diseases find that they were ultimately triggered by an accident of some sort.

Steps You Can Take to Live Wisely

I wouldn’t leave you without an action plan, friends. If you’re now wondering about your health in relation to chronic stress in childhood, take the reins and take these steps:

  • Get your ACE Score (take the quiz)
  • Get a physical exam if you haven’t in the past year
  • Tell your doctor about the ACE study if they haven’t heard of it
  • Ask for tests to understand your heart and liver health and establish a baseline to track against
  • Stop multitasking

But don’t wait till your health is poor. You can change your diet now (to include more plants!) Also, check out some books about heart and liver health so that you know what pro-liver and pro-heart living looks like. Invest in your health so that you don’t have to suffer. A couple books to check out are “Healthy Heart, Healthy Planet” and “The Healthy Heart Kit.”

Learn about — and practice — breathing techniques (I recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s breathing techniques) and also, meditation. I love this 10 minute meditation, “10 Minute to Ease Worry, Anxiety, and Urgency” as well as this one, “5 Minute Anxiety Reduction Guided Meditation.  Those will address the chronic stress that it’s my guess you’re still living with because it’s all you’ve ever known.

As always and above all: Be kind to yourself.


Amy Eden is the author of The Kind Self-Healing Book: Raise Yourself Up with Curiosity and Compassion




The 3 Stages of Self-Healing and Recovery Work

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 12.14.56 PM

Recovery Isn’t What You’d Expect

On a recent trip to Portland, I grabbed a copy of Co-Dependence, Healing the Human Condition, by Charles L Whitfield. I’ve long admired Dr. Whitfield’s work. He’s been writing about co-dependence, inner child work, and adult child issues for decades (and authored dozens of books!) His is one of the enduring voices for adult children of traumatic and dysfunctional upbringings.

A Note to Therapists
If you’re treating clients whose parents struggled with addictions or who experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), please study Dr. Whitfield’s work. Therapists are part of the moment as those who help clients turn-around the effects of childhood trauma. You can bring greater understanding of the core issues to your therapeutic work and better help clients by integrating Dr. Whitfield’s deep knowledge into your own.

I’m slowly digesting this fantastic book, and will share gems as I go.

The 3 phases of recovery is one of those gems.

DISCLAIMER:  All of this language is my own, inspired by the book. The concept of three phases and the nature of the three phases is the work of Dr. Whitfield.


This first stage is the “AH-HA!” moment we experience — the flipping of a switch — in which we feel so, so sick and tired of being sick and tired. We realize that there’s something wrong in our life, and we think that ‘something’ is living and operating within us.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 2.36.10 PM

We feel powerless. We are hurting. We know we’re sick of the patterns and we know we want to change them. But here’s the rub:  we also feel powerless to change them. That is the conundrum, and it’s a painful one.

We finally realize that (a) there’s a Problem and that (b) we cannot solve the problem Alone. We decide, “I’m going to seek help.”

This stage brings contradictory feelings:  we feel relief but confusion, we feel hope but huge overwhelm! We are feeling a lot of feelings and we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of feelings. We would give up and return to the chaos, drama, and codependence — except: we are done with the frustration the the cycles, and in pain. We’re really, truly DONE and ready to END THE INSANITY.

That’s when we reach out for help. A therapist, a 12 step group, group therapy, blogs like this, or online communities. We quickly realize we are not alone. We can survive this. There is a road starting here.

Something to watch out for is addictions, addictive behavior, and the whack-a-mole of addictions (you stop drinking but you unconsciously start shopping more). When you’re in pain and feeling overwhelmed, that may be when you reach for:  food, the “BUY” button online, sex, stirring up drama with people, alcohol, dugs – you name it. So, be aware and watch out for new and/or different coping habits.


We begin to think:  It’s not me. It’s my childhood. Something is off. The something is in me, but not because of me or who I am. As we begin to do research we learn a new vocabulary – adult-child, codependence, ACoA, toxic shame, etc. And we begin to relate the theories we come across online with our childhood — we read something like, “Children of alcoholic parents have trouble finishing projects, ending conversations, feeling like themselves…” and we identify. We realize we are one of those people, and that we have a “diagnosis” (so to speak) and even better, that we have a tribe.

Much grieving occurs during stage two.

The grieving comes as we learn how to find ourselves again, and we see what we missed out on in childhood. As we take action to become actors in our lives, as we move out of a life of victimhood and reacting to everyone and everything and into a life that we steer and in which we take action, we grieve what we didn’t get. We grieve who we didn’t become. We grieve the loss of love that we are slowly learning to give ourselves.

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Deep self-discovery and the work of putting what you learn into action begins in this stage. It’s a stage with steep climbs and temporary plateaus. You begin to start saying “no,” to establish boundaries, establish needs, and disengage from codependent dynamics. You might end friendships or marriages, or you may transform them. This stage begins and repeats over time.

As you enter stage two, you will probably believe that it won’t take “long” to heal. You’ll imagine you’re going to work really hard and wrap it up in a year or so. Tee hee. We all find that after a certain period of time (a year, or so) that our thinking was right and wrong, both. We realize that self-healing and recovery are a way of life, not a destination. We see that we’re feeling good when we put what we’re learning into practice. Because of that satisfaction from the work, we stop asking, “How long is healing myself going to take?”

However, if you are still asking that question, read my post from last week.


This stage just creeps up on you. At some point after you’ve given yourself over to stage two being a way of life, a journey without a destination, you suddenly find that your spiritual life is blooming and central to you being You.

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When you’re in stage three, you’ll be regularly practicing self care and doing your daily spiritual practices. For some people, knowing God is what happens in this stage. For others, like me, that is feeling deeply connected to and empowered by All-That-Is. The Universe.

This is where you know, and cultivate, a connection to God, to Goddess, to a higher power, to All-That-Is. Your emptiness is filled. You will begin to think to yourself, “I am loved.” You will love yourself, love being alive, and feel ready to be of service to others making the journey.

You’ll feel overwhelmed during this phase too, but not overwhelmed by pain or by resentment. You’ll feel overwhelmed by love and gratitude.

You can handle small “relapses” without being distraught or destroyed when you fall. You know your identity and true self and have fewer and fewer instances of ‘forgetting’ who you truly are.

- Be kind to yourself.


You can get Dr. Whitfield’s book here, Co-Dependence Healing the Human Condition.

Reference:  Co-Dependence: Healing The Human Condition: The New Paradigm for Helping Professionals and People in Recovery by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D. (HCI Publications 1991).

Amy Eden is the author of The Kind Self-Healing Book: Raise Yourself Up with Curiosity and Compassion