My tree. I can’t get used to that…it’s always been ‘our’ tree, ‘our’ presents, ‘our’ ornaments. What are we going to get for ‘our’ pets this year? As I face the first Christmas in my entire adult life, without a ‘significant other’, I explore a plethora of feelings and I hope, being the recipient of a few individual’s concerted efforts at providing support, I can give something back by writing of my current experience. My only advise is “don’t try this at home alone” (or at least don’t try it at home alone if you have been through the breakup of your long term relationship in the last 4 months, the deaths of 12 pets in 30 months, and your mother’s immediate health crisis, without first hiring a therapist!)”. I am lucky, I keep reminding myself. Although I am currently disabled, I am in my own home. Even though my partner of 15 yrs has ended our relationship and moved 3000 miles away, I am still living in ‘our’ (not completely ‘my’) home. At least the scenery didn’t change. The rooms got a little bigger, but I am where I am comfortable, not living in a rental unit and I am able to keep all of the remaining pets. I am lucky, I remind myself again. I already know what my ‘childhood’ holiday issues are, and have done much healing of them. I am lucky! I am one of the very few, whose mother came to her a few years ago, owned her part in the abuse and dysfunction, and apologized, and unbeknownst to my mom, I had worked those issues in therapy to the point that I was a place of acceptance and forgiveness and no longer “needed” the apology. It was icing on the cake. This holiday season, my mother apologized for not knowing and getting treatment for me because I was depressed as a kid. “You were always down around the holidays.” I treasured the words and accept them as the gift they are. Although I know that it was her high expectations of the holidays that contributed to my depression during the season, I no longer have to ‘confront her’ in order to feel my personal power. My power now is in knowing and accepting my truth and trusting my own judgment about what needs to be acknowledged directly to her and what I can safely let go of and what to look at in therapy. Right now, mom is facing a ticking time bomb health problem, physically located in her brain, which is neither treatable nor predictable. It feels good to trust my own judgment and strength. Currently, my therapist is working with me on letting myself be “weak”, but that is another chapter! I am always working to find that middle ground.
Again, I am lucky. A few years ago, I had walked out of my parent’s house; the house had grown up in, on my mom’s birthday. I had heard more than I could tolerate of my father’s violent talk. Even though he was not a violent man, he talked this way for appearance sake, after having been harassed in the prison guard locker room for 3 years. He wasn’t rough with the prison inmates and the other guards called him “Lady fingers”. He couldn’t take the teasing and took a solitary job in the boiler room of the same institution, where he worked alone 48 hours a week, with his pet cat as his only companion, for the next 27 yrs. For some reason, the night I walked out, he followed me out of the house, held me in his arms while I cried, tried to hide his own tears, and managed to get out the words “Daddy loves you. You’ll always be daddy’s little girl!” I was in my mid 30’s then, and definitely not “little” but the wounds from childhood got a powerful dose of medicine that night. Furthermore, he has, except for a couple of backslides, treated me respectfully as an adult since then.
All of that brings me to now. Tonight, I wish I were feeling something other than little, small and alone. While the ice storm weighs down the branches of the trees outside and threatens to cut off the power, the weight of this holiday season feels like it might cut off my personal power-the power to give and receive love. Holidays! This year, I was not going to have a tree. Of course, when my partner and I were together, there was a lot more money than my disability income provides, and we purchased a very nice ‘deluxe” fake tree. It was pre-strung with 1000’s of lights and, since I always hated dealing with the lights, I thought it was perfect. Now I find, I cannot physically move the tree and get it set up on my own. It is too big for one woman to handle, and with all the feelings I have surrounding it, I leave it gathering dust in the storage closet. I knew as early as last summer that I would have trouble with managing that tree, (and the whole holiday season). Last July, I purchased a box labeled “musical, pre-lit, spinning 3’ Christmas tree” at the local Kiwanis auction for $3. Ha! I won’t have to deal with my feelings about Christmas and “our” tree. I will just circumnavigate the process with my own little musical tree! Two weeks ago, I pulled the tree out of its box…no lights, no music and it doesn’t spin on its base. What was in the box was a fake Charlie Brown tree! It was exactly what my ex always wanted and I had always said “NO” to. I made sure we got the biggest, the flashiest, the best. I shook a bit as I put together the small tree and set it up on my two-person kitchen table. It is an unplanned reminder of her and my part in the demise of the relationship.
My therapist has been encouraging me to “grieve”. Right, just what I want to do this holiday season! I want to forget, not grieve…I want a distraction. With storms raging both outside the door and inside my soul, there are no distractions and I drag the box of ornaments downstairs. I had already sorted through ‘our’ stuff and got rid of most of the things that my ex left behind, so I figured there would be no surprises. Wrong, again. I unwrapped the ornament painted in the image of my now deceased dog. I felt myself start to hold my breath, unintentionally. Then another deceased pets ornament, then another, then a pin that my long deceased grandmother wore every Christmas and then an ornament crocheted by a family friend who died much too early. There were ornaments given to me by my now ex-in-laws, whom I loved. I physically had the urge to throw up. Some ornaments went back in the box. I took a breath. The ones that I felt both pain and some fond memories for were placed on the backside of the tree. They are present, but I can deal with my feelings about their representations on my own schedule. Back to more memories, more ornaments that represented my history with someone else.
My heart was breaking and I felt like crying but no tears would come. On the stereo, an oldie was playing “united we stand, divided we fall” and something about “calling and I will be there”. Was this one of those times my therapist referred to, when I should be picking up the phone and calling her, so she could “hold out the branch of hope” to me when it feels like the pain is unbearable? Or, is this one of the times I need to go through it alone, to build my confidence and self worth? I am too hazy to know for sure but before I can figure it out, the phone is ringing! Maybe it’s someone who will understand! Someone to verbally grasp my hand while I am feeling this pain. No, it is a ‘telemarketer’ ignoring the ‘do not call’ list, and for a moment, I forget about the peace crane ornament I had just held and thought of venting all the rage of this pain, loss, grief and despair at him. HOW DARE HE COME INTO MY PERSONAL SPACE AND INTERUPT MY GRIEVING PROCESS???? I FEEL LIKE I AM DYING! I wait for him to take a breath, so I can do the “right” thing and politely say “I am on a do not call list.” I was always a “good little girl”. I didn’t get angry. Later in life, I let all that anger loose in the fashion I had learned as a child. Today, having finally found some middle ground and no longer desiring to be ‘perfect’, I simply hang up. I don’t have to do it “right”, he didn’t belong in my space, and the problem is taken care of.
Some events don’t require the processing and practice they did when I started the recovery process 14 yrs ago. I return to the tree, with the persistent nausea and expectations of more unpleasant feelings, when I am suddenly pleasantly surprised. “Look, there are the new ornaments I bought at the 66% off sale last spring!!!”-A backpack, a canoe and a sleeping bag! They were purchased in celebration of my recovery process. 17 years ago I was not able to travel 10 miles from my home. Presently, I have the ability to and enjoy getting into my car and driving solo, across the country, with no particular destination. I smile deeply and put these ornaments on the tree. Is this what “hope” looks like? I have had a glimpse of it now. It, like other feelings, disappeared as quickly as it came, while I opened the next box of Christmas items, but then the memory of it quickly returned. I don’t have to put them up! I can only put up what I want to! It’s all about me! No lights on my tree, so what!
I know I will be riding this holiday roller coaster after the last branch of the Charlie Brown tree is folded back neatly into its cardboard box, but I have momentarily seen, felt and touched hope. I have felt pride in the “I-ness” of ‘my” tree. My ornaments. My home. My life. Me!
Written by ‘Ellvis’