Friday, December 26, 2014

It came without ribbons; A survivor Christmas

The Grinch: It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags.
Narrator: The the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
The Grinch: Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...
Narrator: He thought
The Grinch: ...means a little bit more.

Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas Come this way
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas day
Welcome, welcome fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome dahoo damus
Christmas day is in our grasp,
So long as we have hands to clasp
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas bring your cheer
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome all Whos far and near
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Christmas time will always be,
just as long as we have glee
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas bring your light
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome in the cold dark night
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Welcome Christmas while we stand,
Heart to Heart and Hand in Hand
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas,
Christmas Day!

It came without ribbons; A survivor Christmas

     This year one of the important things I learned about how to get through the Holiday season was to be nice to myself. I think this has been said many times by others but to actually have that "aha" moment for yourself it suddenly becomes more than a self help saying. Perhaps others have felt similarly about the advice of be nice to yourself. My reaction has always been "okay...".  Having grown up in an abusive family where the idea of being loved by others feels strange, stranger yet is the idea of self love. How are you supposed to do something when you have no idea what it is? I have struggled with this a lot but this year happily stumbled onto something that finally helped me get a grasp on the self love thing.

     It started with Thanksgiving when I decided to have a traditional dinner, with a large turkey despite it being only two of us. When you are estranged from a dysfunctional family it can feel like you don't get to do all those normal Holiday things, that somehow having a family is required like a license to participate. And when you are the one choosing to have those firm yet difficult boundaries leading to estrangement; it can feel like  you are choosing self exile and therefore deserve to be punished. Then from there it is easy to think that you don't deserve those Holiday traditions associated with family because you are without one. I for one have felt like I somehow deserved to feel bad for the estrangement and that because it was my choice it's my fault. 
Serving the full traditional dinner for Thanksgiving flipped that script. I felt like it didn't matter how silly it seemed to have so much food, or that I did not have a huge family event to participate in. I felt for the first time by doing it anyway that I was not punishing myself. I also felt for the first time what self kindness feels like. And in looking at that I am starting to see a way of looking at self love. When trying to figure out what self love feels like; there is often an underlying message we have learned that says we don't deserve love and shouldn't be nice to ourselves. I didn't think this directly, it was on an unconscious level that the thought existed. The thought that said I didn't deserve a beautiful big Holiday dinner because I was estranged from family and it was all my fault. The other thing I began to realize is that I was shouldering all the blame just like I always have. Yes estrangement is my choice, but all the actions on the other parties part that made it necessary for estrangement is not. It is not my fault that those actions created a hostile and toxic relationship environment and were impacting my health in every way imaginable. When it comes to health and sanity I feel like it's not actually a real choice, and if anyone ever asks you to choose between that and a relationship with them, there was no real relationship to begin with. People who love you would not ask you to do that, and the bad behaviors would be stopped. 

     Christmas this year came quietly and left quietly. It came without a lot of hustle and bustle of a large family event that would have occurred in the past. There was no lack of ups and downs emotionally. I had to give myself leave at certain points to just hate the whole Holiday. I also expressed sorrow, grief and then got angry again when I remembered family Christmases past. The night before Christmas Eve and the day of were particularly rough. I had some good moments of peace and then emotions would shift again. I went to bed Christmas Eve still somewhat loathing the whole experience. I surprisingly woke up  feeling much more cheerful Christmas day. I actually think I can attribute that to feeling so miserable the day prior, and feeling and venting all the emotions instead of stuffing it. I didn't ruin anyone's Christmas with all my feelings either, my spouse is very supportive and did not accuse me of being an emotional drain or ruining the holiday, having a bad attitude as I might have been if I were with family.  That in itself was an important discovery, after years of having to stuff emotions or get in trouble or be accused of having a bad attitude and ruining things for others, nothing bad happened when I chose to acknowledge how I felt and go with it.

    It was important to do whatever I needed to do this year, and celebrate in the way's I felt like, even if that meant not doing some things. I didn't have any set schedule of things I had to do this year and this gave me flexibility to take each part of the two days as it came. It was my focus and intention though to make sure I got out of the house with spouse, so I wouldn't end up sitting in a quiet house all day without my noisy boisterous family. That helps to keep away the assumption that because I am without family that I can't go out and do fun Holiday activities (more self love and belief that I deserve nice things regardless of family or not).

     One of the things I did find difficult was finding meaning in the Holiday. Previous years Christmas would have been a highly ritualized occasion, steeped in family tradition. The meaning and focus was entirely surrounding them, and the birth of Jesus, but mostly around them. I have also had a lot of trouble with the beliefs handed down to me and have spent the last few years trying to re-define God outside of the rigid fundamentalism I was brought up with. And even more recently I have begun to question the existence of God, and trying to rectify this entity who is supposed to be supremely loving with all the petulant behavior documented in the Bible. To say the least I am at a huge exploration point of my beliefs. And when you begin to ask those questions; the power of Christmas as a spiritual Holiday can lose some of its potency. It had left me wondering how to feel about Christmas if I were not celebrating the birth of Jesus. What else is there? Santa Clause? Family? 

     In the live version of the animated classic "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" the Grinch sees that even by taking away all of the Who's gifts Christmas still comes. Everyone in Whoville comes together to celebrate, join hands and sing. Here is a Christmas without the focus on the birth of Jesus and we even see that presents and Santa Claus do not affect its existence either. Christmas came, it came just the same.  Stripping away the commercialism and focusing on what is important, the Who's learn that it is family and friends who are most important. But if you do not have family to celebrate with, deriving meaning from Christmas becomes harder. How do you find enough things in your life to celebrate and make meaningful?

      Lists of gratitude are helpful, but if you are like me you have to stumble into it to so it becomes something more personal than just a favored platitude. I think I started first with being ungrateful, and going with the flow of all my emotions as I mentioned earlier. Simply moving from whatever emotions you are going through straight to gratitude does not allow for acknowledging that what you are feeling is important, and that it is your feelings and there is nothing wrong with them. If you just shut if off and start telling yourself to be grateful you are internalizing all that emotion and doing to yourself the same thing your family probably did to you- tell you to stuff it and get over it.
My moment of being grateful came much later during the Christmas day, and it was because I realized that even though it was just my spouse and myself I still actually had much more than I had ever had before. In a way I have more family because my spouse actually loves me. I have health that has only continued to improve since departing from my family. I have confidence and more mental clarity than ever before. I actually have more of a real loving Christmas with my spouse even if a tiny Christmas, than I would if I were still with my family. I may have stress and panic programs, but it actually pales in comparison to how I would be feeling if I had to spend the holidays with family. I realized that I actually come out with way more.

     I also stumbled into things that were unexpectedly meaningful. Even without all the ribbons, tags, or birth of a savior and a huge family gathering I had a warm and cozy day with my spouse, cinnamon rolls and coffee and a day to sleep in and relax and do some nice things we might not normally do. Cinnamon rolls are not a usual thing for us, so it is a huge treat to sit together Christmas morning with gobs of sticky sweetness and our coffee, and relish that outside the dysfunctional family chaos; we have peace on earth and in our home.   

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