December 20, 2020

Why I Had a Trauma Response to Christmas Last Year.

Year after year, as children, we are told and expected to be excited for Santa Claus.

(Which turned out to be a big fat lie.)

We anticipate the big, jolly man coming down our chimney. (But since I lived in an apartment, he could just come through the front door instead—easy peasy).

We tear off our colorful construction paper rings with excitement, just imagining what we may behold on this wondrous day.

Growing up around alcoholism and drug addiction, Christmas didn’t hold the same magic. I was an only child, so there was no excitement between siblings. The truth is there was stress upon worsening stress over money, and the biggest problem I see now was expectations.

There was the time I was worried my mom wouldn’t have anything to open, so I went to her bottom drawer and pulled out all of her old clothes and wrapped them up for Xmas morning. That didn’t go over well.

There was the time our power went out on Christmas morning and instead of her being able to cook, she cried about having to go down to the corner market for sub sandwiches, but then they were closed, which further escalated her woes.

As a teen, one year, I had gone to visit my boyfriend in Utah and flew home on Christmas morning with hickeys all over my neck, and then showed up to our extended families festivities like nothing was different.

There was no magic for me at Christmas time. No trains circling the tree, no Santa, no cookie making, and definitely no happiness. It was a complete and total bummer year after year. (Unless you count the time I got a Cabbage Patch Kid in fourth grade. Someone must have helped us out that year.)

For me, having children made Christmas seem fun again. Watching the excitement through your child’s eyes makes it all worthwhile. Having enough income to actually celebrate Christmas is what makes it feel fun and not stressful. I get excited about driving around looking at the beauty of Christmas lights. I enjoy attending a Christmas Eve service, and enjoy buying and receiving gifts from family and friends.

Now onto what happened last year:

First, I cried and had a fit when my son wouldn’t come to drive around with lights with me, and my husband was busy working. I think some stuck grief was needing to come up and out because I felt so alone and was probably projecting my sadness onto this one situation, when in reality, it was a snowball of years of feeling let down and alone around this holiday.

I ended up going alone and had a fine time. I even thought maybe it was better, as I could go at my own pace and not hear complaints from the back seat.

We are in a new state and moving here took a toll on our finances. The first two years we were here, we had used up all of our savings we had to move, and started digging into our retirement. When Christmas would come, we would quickly realize we couldn’t afford to buy gifts; but instead of breaking the truthful news to family, we would show up with our fake smiles and distribute things purchased from our retirement account. Yuck.

I have been adjusting to having in-laws after a life without a “real family.” I had a hard time adjusting to people who do things differently, and where there is no drinking, arguing, fighting, and vulgarity.

Last year, as I was setting myself up to go attend the family Christmas, I just lost my mind. I couldn’t fake it anymore.

I don’t like the superficial part of Christmas. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like purchasing mass-marketed plastic crap just to participate in a holiday. I am vegan, and I have really begun to struggle attending functions where a dead animal is lying on the table as the centerpiece. For the last few years, I have made and brought all of my own food to functions, but I got fed up. It honestly sucks, and I feel unwelcome when there is nothing I can eat. I work hard at being conscious of what I purchase and put into my body and, to be honest, it’s just getting harder and harder to participate in functions outside of my values.

I dreaded it. I found myself in a grocery store parking lot after peeling out of my driveway upset, angry, fearful, and overall—done. I bawled and bawled—releasing all of the pent-up expectations, feeling different, the shame of my childhood, the shame around finances, and trying to be who I think I should be. I let it all go. I grieved for my parents. I grieved for my son, who is in another state, and who I miss dearly. I grieved for all that was and released it.

I was able to attend Christmas and felt better. I asked my mother-in-law to provide something we could eat, which turned out to be potatoes and squash from her garden (awesome.) I just had to ask. I was able to participate. I even brought my own banana date bread with oat flour that nobody touched. Ha—it’s okay.

I have to be me. I am the only one who gets to be me. I have to be authentic to myself. I need to feel comfortable in my skin, and I can’t do that while pretending to be someone I’m not. I can’t fit into someone else’s box—and I truly don’t want to.

My past experiences make me who I am today and help me to feel more empathetic for people who join me at Christmas not being full of happy memories.

In dysfunctional households, holidays add pressure to already overburdened, mentally unstable family members.

In my 20s, I could easily show up to holiday functions and participate and eat and be merry. As the years have progressed, I have felt more expectations being placed on women as the matriarchs to have everything perfect and to make sure the china is at its finest. I literally don’t give a rat’s ass or know a thing about china. I cried last year because all I had was a little plastic kids plate to put my date loaf on and I felt not good enough in comparison. What a racket! Total bull*** marketing. I am good enough.

When my kids are older and we celebrate holidays around my table, how can I help everyone feel welcome and comfortable? How can I keep expectations low and make it more about the experience of family—versus gifts and material objects?

With the coronavirus this year, many families will be taking a break from the festivities—will there be sadness of missing out, or an overall feeling of relief? For me, to be honest, it feels more like a relief.

I am sure there are plenty of people who do homemade Christmas and have wonderful memories of “just being together.”

I am not that person.

I have not been that person—but who knows?


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