Yay for early morning epiphanies that wake you up and you have to write down/express them so you can go back to sleep! (…said no one ever…)
I ponder this every year. I mentioned somewhere in the chaos of my Thanksgiving posts that I really don’t like the holidays anymore. I don’t like them for a variety of reasons, most of which I think I covered already. But now it’s time for Christmas. It’s “crunch time” as they call it. Time to finish decking those halls and time to speed from store to store and spend obscene amounts of money (that most of us don’t even have to spend) on presents and gas and then time to run on fumes until you pass out on top of all the wrapping paper with pieces of Scotch tape stuck to your forehead and butt.
Christmas’s in my home were always spent doing the same thing with the same people and engaging in the same traditions every year for 21 years. I always knew what to expect. The year my dad died (right before Thanksgiving 2005), my whole world changed…including the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas 2005 were the first holidays I celebrated with a family that wasn’t my own. And every year since then, it’s been different. I never know what to expect anymore. I can usually expect some drama and I can usually count on someone getting their feelings hurt at some point between Thanksgiving and New Years and be so upset about it that they ruin everyone else’s mood…and the obvious one to point your finger at would be me but 99% of the time, it’s not (it’s usually my mom, to be honest). I used to love Christmas with every ounce of my being…until the year my dad died. I turned into a Grinch that year. Tidings of comfort and joy could have kissed my lily white ass that year because I was not being comforted and I sure as hell wasn’t in any mood to be joyful. That first year, I chalked my feelings up to grief…but seven years later, I still don’t enjoy the holidays…Christmas especially. Now I wonder if it’s a tiny bit of grief mixed in with the fact that I’m just getting older. There’s no magic anymore. I don’t know if it’s normal for Christmas to stop being magical once you hit a certain age. Of course, if you have kids, you get to mooch off their magic (and their reactions and behavior on Christmas morning are absolutely precious…that will go on my “pros” list as to whether or not I want children).
I remember getting so freakin’ excited to pick out a Christmas tree and decorate it. I loved stringing Christmas lights up all over my room, singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs and putting out all my own personal decorations and stuffed animals and getting to wear those Christmas jammies that I only get to wear a couple times each year. The house I grew up in had a HUGE formal living room with cathedral ceilings so we always had a MASSIVE (9 foot minimum) pine tree. I would get to decorate the middle and bottom of the tree (because I was/am short) and my mom, dad and brother would handle the stuff up top. My cat “helped decorate” the bottom by promptly removing the ornaments placed there and hiding them for us to find once we took all the Christmas decorations down sometime in January. (I miss my cat…even if she did eat my ornaments…) And it was so beautiful. The smell was amazing. I took out each ornament and carefully selected a special place for it on the tree while reflecting on the memories each ornament held. All of my “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornaments were officially handed down to me when I moved out and purchased my very first Christmas tree. My memories move me to tears now just thinking about them because they were all so special. And I suppose they are still special…it just makes me sad because they are now just memories instead of the traditions that they used to be.
I’m sitting here trying to remember the last time I decorated my own room for Christmas (I’ve been home for just over 5 years now)…and I can’t come up with an answer…I don’t remember. My mom is pretty much in charge of the household decorating since most of the decorations are hers and she is a decoration Nazi. You can “help” her decorate by lifting an item out of a box but she will tell you where to put it and don’t you dare suggest another place for it or try to move it when she’s not home. It’s true what they say about moms…they have eyes in the back of their heads. I think my mom has 8 eyes…like spiders. As I look around my Bat Cave right now, I see one set of Grinch pajamas (a tradition in our family, that is thankfully still done, is that all the kids get new pajamas on Christmas Eve and we wear those to bed that night and open presents while wearing them on Christmas morning). I don’t know how long I’ve had those pajamas…just a t-shirt and flannel bottoms with pictures of a little green Dr. Seuss Grinch all over them. Mom usually asks us if there is some particular type or character we want on our pajamas. I asked for the Grinch ones after I saw them in Target one year. (I know I reference “The Grinch” a lot…I’m sorry…but my reasons for doing so are because I truly love the real Dr. Seuss story…the meaning…that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, it means more…and also because I feel horrible for being such a Grinch myself. Maybe I wear it as a label…a warning. I don’t want to take other people’s Christmas away from them…I’m just such a cynical bitch about Christmas now that I can’t think of a better name for myself other than The Grinch-Bitch.) I see one Christmas t-shirt that was purchased for me a couple years ago that says “Oh snap!” with a picture of a gingerbread man on the front with one of his arms snapped off. (I say “Oh snap!” a lot so it’s totally fitting.) I see one unopened box of Christmas cards that I have every intention of preparing this weekend so I can send them out on Monday. That even surprises me because I can’t remember the last time I sent out Christmas cards. For a few years, I made my own damn Christmas cards by hand and went all artsy-fartsy. Fuck that now. Consider yourself lucky if you get a piece of cardstock from me at all. And if you don’t like that piece of cardstock, you won’t get another piece again…and that’s not a threat, that’s a promise. If you knew how much effort it is taking for me to be willing to even entertain the idea of sending out cards this year, you would appreciate the time I put into picking them out, writing a little a note, slapping a stamp on the front and mailing it. Just because it’s “short and sweet” doesn’t mean it isn’t sent out with love and the best of intentions. I’m not doing it because I feel obligated to do it because it’s just what people do, I’m doing it because I want to. If you knew me, you would know that I am not one to follow the crowd. I like to be that proverbial “sore thumb”…I may not be pretty to look at, but you’re looking at me and that means that even if you don’t like what you see, you still notice me. (And as a side note, I think if you do things because you feel obligated to and you do it when your heart’s not in it, whatever it is you’re doing doesn’t mean shit. To me, it’s like giving someone an empty bag. Don’t do it if your heart’s not in it.) The last Christmas item I see in my room is, surprisingly, a new edition…as in it’s only been living here for about a week. But it’s one item that I am quite fond of and is something that makes me giggle. It is a piece of wood, painted white, and in red, sparkly letters says “DON’T GET YOUR TINSEL IN A TANGLE” LOVE IT! But that’s about as much hall decking as I’ve done this year and I really don’t plan on doing any more. (If you’re curious about when I will purchase gifts for people, stop being curious because I am an unemployed suicidal-depressed-overly-anxious-neurotic…ergo, I don’t have any money to buy people presents.) I don’t really care about the rest of the house because it’s not my domain and I’m just really not into it this year. My mom and her boyfriend, after having a huge fight, purchased a Christmas tree last weekend. It sat in the garage for a few days to dry because we live in the Pacific Northwest and you can’t just drag a pine tree into your home without letting it dry off a little first. Because my mom was so mad at her boyfriend last weekend, she dove into her own Christmas collection and has set out some decorations that I once considered staples in our home during this season and things I have not seen in over 8 years. I still wanted nothing to do with the decorating, but I felt some warm fuzzies seeing some of those things. No one puts lights on the outside of the house. I don’t really know why, to be honest. My dad always put up lights on our old house but this house, the one my mom and her boyfriend own, has never played host to outside Christmas lights.
Name a kid who celebrates Christmas, knows some strange dude in a red suit is sticking his ass down your chimney (even if you don’t have a fireplace!) and leaves you some really awesome shit under a half dried out pine tree and doesn’t explode with excitement. I was one of those kids once. My how those presents sparkled underneath that beautiful tree I helped decorate. (I’m serious kids, our living room could have been on the front of a Hallmark card.) I don’t remember, but I have been told that I used to sleep through Christmas Eve and had to be woken up on Christmas morning in order to participate in the festivities. BUT…I have a half-brother who is 8 and a half years older than I am. He needed a partner in crime so he drafted his cute little sister and started waking her up after mom and dad went to bed. (Yes kids, it was mom and dad who left you your toys under the tree. I’m sorry if you are just now realizing this and please feel free to send your therapy bills to me at firstname.lastname@example.org). We were (and still are) allowed to open our stockings before anyone else wakes up and before we start opening presents. Stockings are free game in our house and the only thing we are allowed to touch until everyone else is up. The minute mom and dad went to bed after carefully setting out our gifts from “Santa,” my brother waited about five minutes before getting my cute princess butt out of bed and dragging me downstairs to see our haul. As we got older (and I got wiser), I didn’t need his help to sneak out to the front room. Most of the time, he was already halfway through his stocking by the time I tip-toed into the living room. As HE got older, his feet started to snap, crackle and pop like Rice Krispies when he tried to “sneak” downstairs. When the house was dead quiet at 3 in the morning, he sounded like those Pop-Its you threw on the ground on the Fourth of July. AND my brother’s stocking (handmade by my grandmother) had JINGLE BELLS on it. Oh my word people…if I had a YouTube video of my brother’s adventures in trying to silence those damn bells while rifling through his stocking at 3 AM so he wouldn’t wake up my mom and dad…you would be suffocating yourself with a pillow so you wouldn’t wake up the people in your own house with your laughter. I don’t remember who, but someone cut those bells off some 15 years ago just so my brother would not wake everyone up. I giggle now as I think about this because, as I said before, my brother is almost 9 years older than me and if you’ve been taking notes (or just have a really good memory), that makes him almost 40. (Yes, he acts like a 15-year-old but that’s another post for another late night.) But I’ll be damned if that boy still doesn’t get excited about Christmas morning. If he’s not living at home when Christmas comes (which is rare), he sleeps over on Christmas Eve. He STILL gets up around 3 AM and goes for his stocking and if I didn’t know better, I would swear that boy was gay based on his performance Christmas morning. It makes me laugh and smile…but then it makes me stop and cry. He’s older than me…but he still loves Christmas no matter what financial or legal hardship he’s dealing with. He still gets so fucking excited about it that I daresay I’m almost mad about that. But I’m not really mad…I’m jealous. What went wrong? What did I lose? What changed? I said earlier that for the first Christmas after my dad died, I let myself have a “get out of jail free” card. But what about the last 6 years? I love giving and receiving gifts as much as the next person, but if I wake up in 10 days from now and there is not a single box wrapped in string under that tree with my name on it, I won’t care…and that is the honest to God truth. I would rather wake up on the 25th of December and receive a huge hug, a REAL hug…a real “I love you and I’m so glad you are still here on this earth.”…I would much rather have those things than any iPod, computer or Beats headphones (and seriously, that’s saying something if you know me at all; please refer to my posts in the Music category).
I just don’t know what happened to Christmas. It’s missing in my world. Last year was the first year someone had to come in my room and actually wake me up so I could partake in the ritual gift exchange and breakfast. In my (almost) 29 years of existence, I have NEVER had to be woken up on Christmas morning and chances were, I had already been up for hours before you even decided to get up and go to the bathroom. I can understand and even accept that age probably has a lot to do with it; that transition from truly believing there was an old man who flew through the world in one night and dropped off some of the things we wanted more than anything…to realizing that it was really our parents who did that for us…to now doing it for our own children and getting joy out of seeing the look on their precious faces as they find that doll they have begged you to buy for them for months. (I’m not quite that far yet…I don’t have children…but based on my age, it’s likely I would be doing just that if things had gone the way I had planned for them to. *KNOCK KNOCK!* BRB angel faces…radical acceptance is knocking at my door…)
It’s just not fun anymore. It’s not pretty anymore. I don’t look forward to it anymore. And I don’t know why. Am I just at that age? Am I too exhausted from the other 364 days of the year to give a rats ass about Christmas? Is it because I don’t deal well with changes in traditions? I don’t know. And I probably won’t come up with an answer within the next 10 days. But that’s okay. I’m not going to squash the joy out of anyone else and I’m not going to be a Grinch-bitch (on the outside). It’s just going to be another day for me because truly…that’s all it is…just another day. But you will probably still find me looking under my car, out my bedroom window, behind the sofa, in the mail box…looking everywhere…and asking, “Where are you, Christmas?”
Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter you used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?
My world is changing.
Does that mean Christmas changes too?
Where are you Christmas?
I’m not the same one.
See what the time’s done?
Is that why you have let me go?
Do you remember?
The girl you used to know?
You and I were so carefree.
Now nothing’s easy.
Did Christmas change?
Or just me?
(I know there is an ending to a version of this song that involves finding Christmas again, but I haven’t found it yet…so I choose to stop the song here.)
If I haven’t said or communicated this before, words are very powerful. That “sticks and stones” ditty is a load of crap.
I haven’t had a great past few days and until recently, that would be “normal” for me but over the last couple weeks, I have been in a great mood and have had some really amazing days. (I don’t dare say “happy” because it’s been so long that I’m not even sure what happy feels like anymore.) Someone popped my awesome balloon on Thursday. Granted, I had the choice of letting that person pop my balloon or not and I don’t blame that person for my current mood. But it reminded me of a philosophy/conviction I have: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. (Thank you Bambi, Thumper and Walt Disney for teaching me this lesson.) You may say something to someone (nice, mean or unintentionally hurtful) and not ever give what you said a second thought…but the person you said that to may remember your words for days, weeks, months or even years. I hear kind words so few and far between that if I can, I screen cap a comment or save a voicemail just so I can read/hear someone’s words again.
As I settle in to commence this year’s countdown of the 25 Days Of Christmas with ABC’s Family Channel…I found myself wanting to celebrate my own countdown with 25 Days Of Nice. I invite you to try it with me. Let not one mean, angry or hurtful word come out of your mouth for the next 25 days. Think it all you want, but do not let it come out of your mouth (or your fingers if you happen to be typing/texting). Think before you speak. If someone flips you off on the interstate, don’t cuss them out (however deserving of your expletives that person may be). If you’re questioning a comment, think about how you would feel or interpret your comment if someone were to say it to you. As much as I want to tell some people that it’s not “Happy Holidays,” it’s “Merry fucking Christmas”…I’m not going to do that this year. If someone takes a parking spot I was headed for in a busy mall, I will not leave a passive-agressive note under their winshield wiper. You don’t have to go around complimenting everyone…just monitor your words. Carry on with your normal daily activities and conversations, just think before you speak. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, this time of year is supposed to be about love and joy and kindness…so exude it…be an example. What you say can make or break someone’s day.
He’s making a list and checking it twice…he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…he knows if you’ve been bad or good…so be good for goodness sake!
I used to love the holidays. I still do…sort of. But they’ve lost their magic for me. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve gotten older and more cynical or if it’s because the holidays are huge stress magnets. I can tell you when I stopped loving the holidays. The day my father passed away…right before Thanksgiving in 2005. I think another part of why I dislike the holidays so much is because it seems that nowadays, Christmas immediately follows Halloween and it pisses me off. I didn’t used to be such a Grinch-bitch, but as I’ve gotten older, I refuse to utter the word Christmas until after we carve the Turkey. I boycott anything and everything Christmas until after we eat the bird. I had coffee with some of the “groupies” from my therapy group a couple weeks ago and sighed heavily when I walked into Starbucks only to be met with Christmas lights and a tree. I had to go to the Hallmark store after coffee and I clenched my jaw as I desperately tried to find a “thank you” card amid the three aisles of Christmas cards, all while listening to Celine Dion sing “So This Is Christmas.” A local easy listening radio station now starts playing non-stop Christmas music the minute Halloween ends. It pisses me off because there is a day of thanks that deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated IN BETWEEN Halloween and Christmas. So before we say “gimme gimme gimme”…can we say “thank you”? Our holidays have been turned into retail races and the whole reason for the season seems to be lost on most people. (The only store that gets any credit from me is Nordstrom, who refuses to “deck their halls” until after Thanksgiving.) Saying thank you is something I do often, holiday or not. I never miss an opportunity to thank someone for a gift or to thank them for their time or something special they did. I often thank people just for being themselves because some people are so wonderful to have around. The Three Kings of Orient DID bring gifts, but the holiday wasn’t declared for the sole purpose of exchanging gifts. And for me personally, not being really religious, it’s not even so much about Christ…it’s about love and family and being together. Instead, we come together to eat and exchange gifts. Who goes over to someone else’s house on Christmas or Thanksgiving just to spend time with another person? No one. They go to eat or to exchange gifts. And I think that’s sad. I would give up every turkey and any monetary gift just to have a nice conversation and a genuine smile or hug from someone. That means more to me than any pair of Dr. Dre Beats headphones would (and that’s saying something if you know what a music whore I am). So before you trim up the Christmas tree with bingle balls and woofoo fluff, don’t forget to say thank you.
I grew up in an environment where the holidays were always the same. Not boringly the same, but traditionally the same. I always knew what and who to expect every year because for 21 years, it never changed. We had the exact same Thanksgiving dinner every 365 days. We had the exact same Christmas traditions every 365 days. In 2005, that stopped. I lost my dad in the beginning of November that year. That was the first Thanksgiving I spent away from my family and celebrated with another family. Christmas that year was also spent, for the first time, with another family and not my own. Ever since then, every year and every holiday has been different. I never know what to expect. Well…I can expect a few things…stress, anxiety and ambivalence. For the past 7 years, I have shut down beginning in early November and I refused to start up again until February. I have to shut down so I don’t have a nervous breakdown. It is a survival mechanism. I have to shut down to get through the anniversary of my dad’s passing, Thanksgiving with a family I don’t particularly care for, a Christmas I couldn’t care less about, my dad’s birthday in January and mine shortly after. Boom boom boom boom boom…each significant day a small explosion of emotion.
I don’t want to imply here that I hate my family. Hate is a very strong word and just because you dislike someone doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You can love someone but you don’t have to like them all the time. My family “shrunk” after my dad passed away. Many extended family members cut ties and communication. I won’t get into the details of why because it doesn’t really matter…it is what it is. So for the most part, my “family” consists of myself, my mother, my half-brother (my mother’s son from a previous relationship), his girlfriend and my mom’s boyfriend. Five people. That usually works out fine for me because I don’t like big groups of people, no matter how close of a relationship I have with them. I’m very introverted and for the most part, I don’t enjoy just chatting amicably with groups of people, family or not. Plus, I don’t like being fake. I don’t like hurting on the inside yet forced to slap a fake smile on my face just to please those around me and not make them uncomfortable. I would prefer, instead, to just take myself out of the whole situation thus relieving my anxiety and so I don’t force people to walk on eggshells around me. I may be a “gloomy gus” at times, but I don’t enjoy raining on other people’s parade. I would prefer, instead, to be alone and have the rain fall on just me rather than on everyone around me.
As November approached this year, I felt myself starting to shut down so I could prepare for this year’s war. I mourned my father’s passing alone, spending my day talking to him, telling him how much I missed him and how I hoped that he was still here with me and that he wasn’t disappointed in me for the decisions I have made and the things I have done. My father was cremated and I have his ashes. My family went so completely ape shit when he died that no one could agree on (or pay for) a permanent home for him…so there is no where I can go to mourn him or put out fresh flowers for him. Although I wish I had a place for him sometimes, I suppose I am secretly glad that if anything, he’s here with me, quite literally. I don’t intentionally try to “keep” him from anyone else…but not once since his death has anyone asked me about his ashes. So it can’t be too much of a big deal to anyone else but myself…and that suits me just fine. Death is said to bring out the worst in people…and it is absolutely 100% true.
This year, as I felt myself start to shut down more and more with each passing day, I stopped myself for the first time in 7 years and said, “Instead of getting all wound up about all the things and feelings that MIGHT happen…know that they’re going to happen no matter what and make an escape plan.” So that is exactly what I did. I had 7 years of experience that told me that the same thing happens every year…stress, anxiety and invalidation. So I made a pretty good assumption that the same thing would happen this year…and instead of worrying about it, I expected and planned for it.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of DBT-focused therapy, but there is a module on Interpersonal Effectiveness. It centers around respect for yourself, respect for those you communicate with and how to communicate effectively without harming yourself or anyone else in the process. This module teaches you how to stay true to yourself and your values and feelings while letting others know where you stand. One big key component of DBT therapy is that you cannot ever control what another person thinks, does, or says. But that’s where the self respect comes in. Make your feelings known and stand your ground no matter what other people do or say. If you’ve communicated the best way you can and people still don’t respect your stance, that’s it. End of story. You did what you needed to do, the ball is in the other person’s court and they can choose to hit it back and engage with you or they can let it hit them in the face. This is easier said than done, of course. I’m still working on it but I’ve gotten better about stating my wishes and remaining firm on where I stand no matter how much another person tries to manipulate me or get me to change. I can walk into a room or event, state that this is how I feel, this is what I’m going to do (don’t confuse assertiveness with arrogance) and you can understand/empathize/work with me, but I refuse to “cave in” and do what you want me to do or feel how you want me to feel.
A big thing, for me, is a feeling of obligation. These people are my family and thus, I am obligated to love them and be happy about spending time with them. When I don’t, I often feel guilty and beat myself up about it. I’m working on trying not to do that. I do love my family, but I don’t like them all the time…or even most of the time. They make outings and holidays very stressful and miserable. My mom could really care less that I don’t feel like smiling or socializing on Thanksgiving; she will tell me to slap a smile on my tear-stained face and get my ass out to the dining room and socialize with the people who make up my family. Not this year, mom. Another part of interpersonal effectiveness is negotiation/compromise. Okay mom, I will come out and have dinner and join you all for a couple hours, but that is my limit. After that, I am retreating to my Bat Cave (my bedroom/laboratory) and putting my headphones in and turning the music up. To my great surprise (and relief), it worked this year. I spent a majority of the day in my room, watching TV, listening to music, snuggling and self-soothing. I spent a little over an hour with my family for dinner and conversation and after I was told to shut up after telling them that the blue whale is the largest animal in the world, even bigger than the dinosaurs were and their tongues can weigh as much as an elephant (I love learning new things and discovering mind-blowing WTF facts), I retreated to my Bat Cave, reinserted my headphones and sat down to write…my therapy away from therapy. My therapist once asked, after I started sharing some things I had written with her, if I was writing for her or for myself. I told her it was 100% for me but that I was sharing them with her because I found that writing allowed me the time to think more about my feelings and allowed me to express myself more accurately and with more clarification than when I am just sitting in my therapist’s office pulling stuff out of my ass. Not only did the writing turn out to be a great thing for me, my therapy away from therapy, it also allowed my therapist to better understand me. (Fifty minutes a week is just not enough sometimes.) Two birds with one stone. I don’t walk into her office each week with a dissertation, but she loves it when I do.
I suppose now that Thanksgiving is over, Christmas has officially begun and I said earlier that anything and everything Christmas goes after we carve the turkey. So Celine Dion, sing your heart out to “Ave Maria,” trim up the tree with Christmas stuff like bingle balls and woofoo fluff, trim up the town with goowho gums and bizilbix and wums…trim every blessed window and trim every blessed door…hang up wooboohoo bricks then run out and get some more! Hang pantookas on the ceilings, pile pankunas on the floor…trim every blessed needle on the blessed Christmas tree. I will cease to be a Grinch (until next year). But even after you open your gifts this year, say thank you again…not only for the gifts you received, but for the people who are in your life and for the love you receive, no matter if it’s from your family or your therapist…because Christmas doesn’t come from a store…Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.