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ROBIN ABCARIAN

In a Season of Stress, We Have Your Number

November 30, 1994|ROBIN ABCARIAN

To: Our Valued Clients

From: Acme Mental Health Clinic

Re: Holiday Tips for Dysfunctional Families

Dear Valued Client:

We'd like to take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful holiday season and to thank you for choosing Acme for all your mental-health needs.

This is a trying time of year for many of you, and we are dedicated to making the difficult month of December as pleasant as possible.

The most important service we can provide is to encourage you to feel your feelings about the holidays, while emphasizing that fear, pain and rage are normal reactions to certain December phenomena, such as the sight of store windows painted with scenes of white Christmases even though it never snows here, the arrival in your mailbox of unbidden photocopied letters from virtual strangers who boast about their overachieving children and their prominent gall-bladder surgeons, and the appearance of idiots dressed like Santa Claus who obstruct the entrance to your grocery store as they ring a bell over and over and over until you feel you are about to go mad.

It would be nice to find a way to avoid the holidays, but flying to Australia is so expensive, and besides, there's no guarantee they don't paint their windows too. Instead of getting upset, why not just take a few deep breaths? Or some pills!

Your dedicated Acme staff of mental-health professionals knows that many of you will be dealing with (or not dealing with, depending on your diagnosis) family-related holiday anxiety. We want to take a moment to remind you (free of charge) that although socializing with your family can be a perilous use of your time, it certainly does not have to be avoided altogether.

As in all potentially destructive behaviors, moderation is the key.

We hope these tips will help you get through the month without losing the serenity you have worked so hard (and paid so much) to achieve.

* For those who are forced to live with their families (parents with minor children, for example), try spending as little time together as possible. To avoid unnecessary inter-familial contact, keep the television on.

* Minimizing regression can mean the difference between a happy family dinner and a 911 call. When your family arrives and you suddenly feel like the icky, pimply faced teen-age mess you once were, remember, you can slam as many doors as you want now because it's your house.

* To cut down on cooking mishaps (and delayed meals, which can lead to low-blood-sugar mood problems that result in criminal charges), avoid over-complicated recipes. Almost any frozen dinner can be made festive with canned cranberry sauce and a sprig of parsley.

* If the weather is warm, try locking the children outside and pretending the door is jammed. If the weather is chilly, lock them in the garage.

* Relatives who get a little "carried away" with the "festivities" can be "helped" if you slip some Antabuse in their eggnog. Then, instead of bothering everyone, they will ask for a bucket and a quiet place to lie down.

* If you must criticize your sibling's parenting techniques, be constructive. Begin with a compliment: "Gee, Sis, Susie is so cute." Then, the criticism: "Shouldn't a 4-year-old be toilet-trained?" End with a compliment: "How creative. She used the cat box."

* Take remarks from family members at face value. "Where did you get that sweater?" does not necessarily mean, "Your nose has gotten bigger," "Your chest has gotten flatter" or "Your forehead has gotten wider."

* Hide the knives. Just in case.

If all else fails, help is just a phone call away. Dial 1-800-AM I NUTS. Our empathetic operators--all of whom have toxic families and have chosen to work during the holidays, so that should tell you something--are standing by. Cost is $100 for the first five minutes; $25 per minute thereafter. (Much less if your insurance won't pay.)

And remember, as we are fond of saying at Acme, "It's OK to hate the ones you love."

What better time than the holidays to embrace that simple, meaningful sentiment?

* Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays.

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