Christmas Plans

Here is a page with literally hundreds of articles on safety in all sort of places and situations. Well worth reading!

Once again, I am running away for Christmas. I’m going to visit a good friend in Arizona who does not pay any attention to Christmas and we are taking a road trip to Moab, which promises to be spectacular. She says it is like the interior of Australia, which is one of my very favorite, if not my absolute favorite, places in the whole world. I love the desert, the red earth and sand, the scruffy grasses and bushes, the smell of aridity, and night skies with no light pollution. And there will be no Christmas lights and no carols. A welcome emptiness.

I haven’t skipped Christmas altogether, though. I bough a little table tree in the supermarket – a light green Lemon Cypress (Cupressius Macrocarpa “Goldcrest.”) It smells of lemon. Its native home is California’s Monterey peninsula and the tag assures me it can grow to a hundred feet tall and twenty feet wide. But not on my coffee table! If it promises not to die first, I will give it a place in my garden and keep it pruned to a reasonable size.imagesThere are ornaments left over from other years. A little red and green garland, tiny angels, paper flowers, a little teddy bear and beads with thread hangers. If the cats leave it alone it will be beautiful for the whole month.

I can’t cope with a full-sized tree and haven’t had one for thirty years. The trees of my childhood were huge. My father chopped three feet off the top so that it would fit in the living room and the ornaments were to scale. He fussed and bossed his way through decorating the tree; the whole experience was highly unpleasant. Then he carefully stacked the presents so that they appeared to be many more than there were. We were not allowed to go near for fear the pile, and the pretense, would collapse. And this was during the day; I won’t even mention what the nights were like.

After I was married, I did have a tree. It was more modest than my father’s trees and it had no lights and only birds as ornaments. I collected more and more birds and it got more beautiful each year. And every year I made ginger snaps cut out with bird-shaped cookie cutters.

I made a big mistake, though – one year I let in a solitary giraffe, and then things went wild. I loved the decorations the kids made – hand-drawn Santas, linked paper garlands, and one year store-bought figures they painted the day before Christmas. The birds definitely were outnumbered. But we never had lights and the tree never got taller. It was our tree, not a facsimile of my father’s tree.

I don’t know if I will listen to carols on Pandora: some years I do, others I can’t tolerate them.  I know by now that my reaction to a holiday is different each year, and so I just go with what I feel.

One other thing – I don’t give or receive presents. I never got what I wanted during the day-Christmas. One year I asked for books, and guess how many I got? None. And presents for the night-Christmas were horrific. So I happily give presents at random times during the year and that works well for me and the people who get surprised.

I’d love to hear what others do to get through Christmas as best as possible. We can get ideas from each other and we still have plenty of time to plan.

Ephemeral Equilibrium: Another Christmas

When it comes to Christmas, I seesaw between avoidance and doing what I think I am expected to do. (Notice I didn’t say embracing it joyously. This was true even before I remember why I had such a rough time with this holiday.) Each year, I try to get the proportions as right as possible: a certain percent avoidance, a certain percent something else.

As a kid, I did what my parents wanted me to do, of course. I pretended I was having a wonderful time and loved all the presents they had given me. I noticed, though, that they never gave me anything I wanted. If I asked why not, they explained in such a way that it was my fault. “We didn’t give you any books because you read too much. You need to spend more time on your homework.” Bullshit.

After I got married, I had a little more leeway. I still gave my parents presents, but fewer, and I put less effort into trying to please them. They continued to give me things I didn’t want. But I didn’t have to be there! I bravely told them I was going to spend Christmas in my own home. They pouted, but I didn’t care.

My husband loved food, so there was always a big feast. The food was great. When the kids came, I got pleasure from giving them presents and from spending a long time figuring out what they wanted, not what I wanted to give them. I think that is called “projective identification” — I treated them the way I wished I had been treated, and it took some of the sting out of past Christmases. Unconsciously, I identified with them and so I mothered myself in the process of mothering them.

Later, there were a few lonely years when I rattled around. My kids were grown, my husband and parents had died. I’d lost the structure and had no idea what “I” wanted to do. I wasn’t even sure there was such a thing as “I.”

Then came the memories. Frankly, I have no idea what the holidays were like those first few years. I had enough on my plate just to get through the day, any day, in a haze of pain, dissociation, and flashbacks. But gradually I got used to being a ritual abuse survivor and took some responsibility for managing my own life.

I told all my family and friends that I no longer was celebrating holidays because it was too painful. And I didn’t. No special food, no presents, no Christmas cards, no carols, no nothing. Instead, I spent the actual day doing a big job around the house. (This was in pre-arthritis times.) I chose things that would take at least a day and that would stay done for a while because I wanted to see the results of my work. One Thanksgiving I painted the inside of the garage and on Christmas Day I took all the finished compost out of the compost bins. (I live in California.) The work gave me pleasure for months, as intended.

The holidays were almost enjoyable! I thought I had hit upon a permanent solution to the problem. But in a couple of years I was once again restless, crabby, and lonely. I had grown out of the perfect solution without even noticing it.

So I started spending the holidays with those I cared about, although I made it plain that I wouldn’t exchange presents. Then I inched into giving presents to the youngest grandkids. It was okay. I could handle it. I could more than handle it; I could have a good time — at least for a couple of hours.

That turned out to be a phase, though, not a permanent solution. Next I tried spending Christmas with a good friend who ignored the day. It was very satisfying — we didn’t even noticed when the day came and went! This year I’ve traveled enough and want to cocoon with my cats. That’s okay. I can visit my friend later.

Thinking about it, I realize that each year I have different needs and wants because I am at a different place in my healing journey. The old solutions were good solutions, but they invariably needed  updating. So I finally have learned to ask myself each year, “What do I really want to do?”

Just being able to ask that question shows so much progress. And being able to answer it really shows mega progress!  What more could I want?

I hope each and every one of you can ask, “What do I want this year?” If the answer, no matter how deep down you ask, is, “I don’t have the vaguest idea,” remind yourself that’s okay, you are giving your selves an amazing new experience. Somebody cares enough about them to ask what they want (maybe for the very first time) and it’s natural they are speechless. If you ask often enough, you’ll start to hear a timid little voice making a suggestion.

If you come up with an idea, no matter how nutty, great! You are getting a sense of the “you” that has been buried so long under all the debris of the abuse. That’s fantastic!

So Many Holidays

There are certain times of the year when those “difficult dates” seem to come one right after another. This is one of those times — Thanksgiving, my brother’s birthday, the solstice, and then Christmas and New Year’s. There’s very little time to catch my breath. (Actually, they aren’t “difficult dates” at all; they are, as a friend of mine calls them, “hellidays.”)

For me, it is worse when something that is normal or neutral or even happy for most people comes on the same day as a Satanic holiday. Others are sailing along totally unaware of the horrible thoughts that the day stirs up for me.  When somebody asks, “How was your Thanksgiving?” they expect me to actually tell them how it was, and I know I shouldn’t, not if I want them to keep on talking to me. I’m careful these days who I tell and who I don’t because it doesn’t feel fair to catch folks by surprise. Plus their reaction is usually pretty unpleasant for me and my quota of unpleasantness is already filled.

If I am asked, “What do you plan to do for Christmas?” the first thought that comes to mind is, “Slit my throat.” I don’t intend to, of course, but the idea expresses my feelings pretty well. So I hedge and say, “Nothing much,” or “I’ll be alone this year and I’m okay with that.” It’s the truth, (not the whole truth by far) and nothing but the truth. In my book I’m not lying.

I don’t have to worry about others asking me what plans I have for Groundhog Day, which we know is Candlemas. Few people are aware of the solstices or equinoxes so I don’t need to share anything about those days, either. It’s a relief.

What’s an even bigger relief is knowing other survivors and being able to talk to them and tell it like it really is.  I don’t have to walk on eggshells! Not all of us were abused on exactly the same days and not all of us were abused in the same ways. But it’s similar enough that we all know what it was like to live through it and what it is like today to remember and struggle with the effects of the abuse, year after year.

What in the world would I do without you-all? I cannot imagine living without contact with other survivors. You are my family, my real family, whether I have met you or not. Thank you for being brave enough to push through the hard times, for being strong enough to accept your truth and, by your very existence, to witness other’s truth. You give me solace in my own hard times — I am so very grateful for each and every one of you.