Saturday, October 11, 2014

October; The beginning of the Holiday blues

     Last year I was in the storage closet searching for the bin I had put the Fall/Halloween decor. I had to move quite a few things around, and then mistakenly opened up the Christmas bin thinking it was the one I wanted. Bang! the smell of the cinnamon pine cones stuffed between paper wrapped ornaments hit me. It was like someone punched me, the powerful smell followed by the sight of Christmas things, totems for memories. I think I cried.      

     This year seems to be no different. I care a lot about my home, it's like my temple. Similar to the Goddess Hestia; it is core to my being to maintain the hearth fire and be a center place for others to gather and be warm. It could be seen as something more traditional, but for me this is spiritual. I deeply value my temple (home) as a quiet place that I take care of and feed my own soul as well as being a place where others can gather. So decorating, cooking and planning holiday events for friends and family is something that pulls me in, and with the loss of family it pulls on my heartstrings; I feel a lot of grief.    

      Not only is there grief about not being able to fulfill these inner values in the ways I have before, there is a lot of stress related to the holidays. Giving and being that hearth place is  one of my greatest values, and primary love languages. The family I come from had large gatherings especially around the holiday's. I miss that hustle and bustle, feeding everybody and sitting down to play card games that were a well rooted pastime. And without those things I feel the loss, it stings.      I know I look at the past with rose colored glasses. The stress that plagues me now was just alive back then, and not all those holiday events were warm and fuzzy, even though I desperately needed them to be. I really worked hard to get all those needs met and create the warm and fuzzy feelings that I wanted. I ran myself into the ground. I wanted my family to love me, to show me that all that work and effort was worth it because my gifts and efforts made them happy. But emotional response was not always their strong suit, especially Varsuvius.   

         I have this switch that flicks on inside me each year at the start of the holidays and it is the start of three months of tension, anxiety and running around burning myself out. Now even though I don't have my family I find myself  still trying to distract myself from the negative things just like when I was a kid. And now instead of trying to get Varsuvius to love me, to show appreciation when I give them a gift I do that with my husband. Though I must state that while not a super bubbly person about getting gifts, he is worlds away from being anything like Varsuvius and tells me he loves me all the time. It's really my program and fear that comes up on repeat and not that I have found someone else to fulfill the role of Varsuvius in my life.   

     This program didn't use to hit until December, at the earliest it was after Thanksgiving when I would normally put a tree up with my family. But now it starts out in the beginning of October and peaks out at Christmas eve which is filled with a lot of anxiety. What makes this year and the last different is the accompanying grief and dread of the start of the Holiday cycle. It begins in October leading to Halloween and rolling into Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is the first year in which I dread having to make it through the next few months of Holiday chaos.Normally all the running around and throwing myself into the holiday spirit would keep me from despairing.       

      I have come to loathe Thanksgiving due to tainted memories and epic family drama, and now I partially loathe the idea of Christmas. Something that I have always held onto so tightly and made such a huge effort to make sure it was perfect, and now I honestly don't even want to put up a tree. I thought about the people society labels as humbugs because the holidays are too painful for them, and I feel a respecting sympathy. I also feel a kinship in rejecting the favored trite advice that seems to get dolled out during the holiday's, and understand the seemingly "harden hearts" of these individuals due to their wish to not feel pain. I don't want to feel pain either! And I now quite honestly have to say with new perspective that the advice to “open up your heart”, “feel the joy and love of the season” is not always the answer.       

     I can't ask myself to ignore how I feel and shove it under the rug, I have to honor my grief and respect that the next three months are painful and sad. I feel I need to find a balance. I may not want to do some Holiday activities this year, but feel okay doing others. I think it is most important to find out what it is you need during the holidays. While I do love the Fairy tale, holiday stories of Debbie Macomber "Mrs. Miracle",
 I know that holiday broken hearts don't fit into a one size fits all cure. Yet our culture expects such an angel to make us change without taking into account our very real situations and feelings. People get very sensitive about quote “Holiday haters”, and they feel offended “if only we would open our hearts”. But here's the thing, grief is very individual, so is the timing and the cure. Yes sometimes we need family and friends to prod us a little, but not beyond respecting our boundaries and acknowledging the validity of our feelings and that we have our own timing for these things.     Also as an abuse survivor what is really important to me is others respecting the validity of my boundaries with my family. Holiday Fairy Tales of forgiveness are swell, unless they undermine the validity of the victims feelings and boundaries. Forgiveness is not a sedative you take so you can forget all the violations that occurred, it does not mean that everything is okay, and it is not about the people who hurt you. It is a tool to empower you to move forward, and does not even have to involve those who hurt you. Choosing to re-connect is also a very personal decision and is really on a case by case basis. Abuse survivors do not need to be goaded during the holidays with “if only you would forgive, and reconnect”.   

   I have done some research to try and help myself get through the next few months, and have looked for practical advice that actually takes into account the real feelings of going through the holidays as a survivor and the many obstacles with family estranged and otherwise we might face. I wanted to include a few resources that I have found to be especially helpful.

I am re-gifting Christmas; By Christina Enevoldsen

"I developed many more ideas about what Christmas was supposed to be. Christmas was supposed to be white with snowmen and glistening trees, though seventy degree Arizona winters made that unlikely. Christmas was supposed to be extended family gathering from the corners of the globe, though through feuds and disinterest, that never happened."

Pain Surrounding the Holiday; By Christina Enevoldsen

"In the past few years of healing from childhood sexual abuse and separating from my abusive parents, I’ve approached each holiday feeling a little anxious. Holidays used to be times for gathering with family and now they are reminders of the loss. Even though I’ve worked through most of my grief, I never know when another layer might surface. It’s especially hard to be grieving when it seems that everyone else is celebrating."

I do not yet have permission to link a couple other sources yet, but I want to encourage you to read Faith Allen's blog and her discussions of being a survivor around the holiday's. 

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