The Holidays: Giving myself permission to enjoy them

A strange thing has been happening with the holidays approaching. I will begin to feel excited, happy, anticipating the fun to be had, when an anxious, unsettled feeling percolates through the happiness and warns me to slow down with the happiness. I’ll be smiling to myself, then my smile will fade, and I’ll think, Is something wrong? What is it? What is it? It’s just like that feeling you have when you know you are forgetting something important that you’re supposed to do but you can’t for the life of you recall what it is.

For years, now—I guess about 9 years to be exact—the holidays have been difficult for me. First, it was the separation and divorce from my boyfriend-then-husband of 14 years. He and I did actually do a lot of things well together, and one of them was the holidays (for the most part). The holidays were very important to him and there was a lot of baking, cooking, and present-making. Until I broke his heart on New Year’s Eve of 2007-2008, and everything fell apart. And the holidays became so difficult to navigate without my longtime partner, especially since we were so entwined with each other’s extended families.

I remember running into the bathroom one Christmas Eve and crying. I remember feeling so out-of-place, so single, with all the kiddos running around, and wondering if every Christmas for a long time was going to be a struggle with aloneness.

I remember drinking wine, alone, in front of the Christmas tree and wondering if I had irrevocably fucked up my life and my chances of having a happy family.

I remember watching a sappy Christmas movie and sobbing uncontrollably for hours halfway through in my little loft bed in Greenpoint, in a room without windows.

When I met DH, Christmas became difficult for another reason: his Korean parents did not accept me because they thought I was too old (two and half years older than DH) for having babies. I wasn’t welcome in their home. And then, after DH talked to them extensively, I was invited at Christmas, and I had to (for DH’s sake, for the sake of our relationship) swallow my pride and go with him to their house and try to make things right with warmth and charm. Stressful to say the least.

Then my parents had a major upset with the housing market crisis and the family business going under, retirement lost, and the family splitting apart over arguments over care for my grandma, whose Alzheimer’s was worsening. That Christmas was stressful because DH and I tried to cook for the entire family and take care of several other things—we were utterly exhausted.

Then the pregnancy losses.

Then the holidays took on a sadness and stress that I could have never imagined.

Just thinking about them gives me a cold, sad feeling. Seems very long ago.

The anticipation of the worst. The thoughts about children enjoying the holidays. The remembrances of my own childhood Christmas morning. Thinking that there was no reason to celebrate without children. The embarrassment over not having children. The feeling of being out-of-place with my extended family, the children running around. The feeling that I was old and growing older and somehow my life looked nothing like I wanted it to.

The resentment. The sense of injustice. The wondering if I had done something to deserve holidays so bleak.

Losing babies right before the holidays.

Crying so hollowly and so long in my bed.

Seeing reminders of the holidays everywhere. The holiday cups at Star.bucks and the scent of strong coffee and snow. The Christmas lights. The children. They were everywhere. They were in bulky winter coats. They had little boots. I saw them. I wanted to hug them. I also wanted to run far away. They were my Kryptonite, and yet I loved them. But I was not allowed to love them.

It hurt more than anything has ever hurt, wanting them and not wanting them near me.

Those Christmases were so dark. I remember one Christmas we just went for a hike and made a nice dinner, during which we talked very little, and went to bed very early. No family gatherings. A day during which we had been forcefully cheerful, the little we said. I remember one Christmas Eve trying to have fun by watching a silly holiday movie and drinking wine in DH’s arms, but the wine only made me feel sad, and after the movie, the quiet of the house was so bleak I could barely breathe.

I remember being at my parents’ house and enduring the onslaught of holiday gifts featuring my relatives’ baby faces—blankets, calendars, mugs. “Oh, look, isn’t this adorable?” they’d say to me, showing me an image of a happy child in the snow, not knowing that everything inside me tightened at the sight, not knowing that I needed to hide in the cool basement afterward, breathe deeply, gather strength for joining everyone again.

It’s so horribly hard. If you are there right now, enduring this, I am deeply sorry. I hold your hand. I am thinking of you.

I’m not there any longer. I know this. I feel joy and excitement most of the time. But it’s like those psychological experiments with the dog—after a while, you shut down. And it is now taking me a while to be completely spontaneous with something like the holidays, a time that has been rife with stress and loss and sadness for me for nearly a decade. A decade! Incredible to reflect and see the years added up.

At the same time, those spontaneous moments are happening. After I bought our tickets to see my family for the holidays (a long stay) I was grinning, thinking about how our little family of three is going to wake up with my parents, gather in front of the pretty Christmas tree, and open presents. S and my parents are in ga-ga love with one another and their antics are amazing. It’s going to be incredibly healing to do that. To smell the strong coffee and Christmas cookies, to enjoy the tree lights, to enjoy S opening his gifts and being the hilarious little ham that he is.

My extended family will come over and the house will get loud and full. I will pass out my own mugs, calendars, photo albums with my baby’s face on them.

I can relax. I can have this. It’s okay. It’s okay.

Nothing is going to come and take it away.

There will be no dark bedrooms. Hollow cries. Forced cheer.

No sense of “Thank fucking god the holidays are over, I survived,” but a sense of wanting the holidays to last so we can enjoy them as much as possible.

A fun holiday and peaceful new year—I am allowed to let all of that into my life.

So when the mysterious anxious feelings arise, all I have to do is acknowledge that they come from a decade of holiday stress of trauma and remind myself that the trauma is in the past, and it is time to move on…with a lively little elf in my arms.

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2 Comments

  1. Funny how feelings can become part of a pattern that we experience, even when we’ve moved past that phase of life. Have a joyful holiday season and a peaceful new year (love that). ❤️

    Reply
  2. Well deserved joy <3

    Reply

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