The Least Wonderful Time of the Year
Just before Thanksgiving I boarded a plane to nowhere. The place doesn' t matter really. I wanted to extract myself from the unending circle of family tradition that rolls straight through Halloween to New Year's Day. Not only am I a survivor and carry the weight of CPTSD, I am single and estranged from my biological family. Holidays mean heightened awareness of my outsider status. Holidays are a dance I am never invited to--where I stand on the wall watching the crowd, perhaps a bit jealous (but mostly hopeful no one sees me) and terrified to be asked to join in. I am 13 again.
I left home at 15. My idea of holidays in my childhood did have feasts with multiple homemade pies, a plastic reusable tree and ornaments--and even, presents with my name on them. There was also a lot of screaming and crying, especially when late on the way to Church. There was also the time my mother burst into a Tasmanian devil cloud of anger at my father for having spoiled me with a Donkey Kong mini video arcade game. There was joy in singing holiday songs. And there was shame, guilt, self-consciousness, fear and anxiety. There were moments that we acted like a family because the world had given us a framework--a set of instructions: here is how to love; this is how you give; do this and enjoy being with family. We had the whole world of Believers to show us "how to."
As an adult, I am not a follower of the Catholic faith in which I was raised. If anything, I relate to the basic lessons of Buddhism though I am not deeply learned about the philosophy beyond what I read in Pema Chodron books and hear in her YouTube videos. I stopped celebrating with friends, who once gathered for Friendsgiving and Christmas dinner, when they started having families of their own now replete with 220.127.116.11 kids, in-laws and all the extended relationships that come with marriage. I also, as much as I have good intentions, have not connected with a volunteer community for those who are in more visible need during the holidays. Or maybe their needs, in fact, haven't changed moreso than other seasons--but, again, the social construct of holiday tradition shows us how to serve them in November and December.
Back to my flight, it was a one-way ticket fortunately provided by my frequent flier account. I knew when and where to evacuate; I did not know when it would feel okay to come back home. I spent time comforted in the lack of pressure and expectation of strangers. Better, I relaxed in the spaces without any engagement at all save for nature. I spent three weeks contented to have chosen my outsider-ness, instead of dealing with the barrage of physical must-dos that society and commerce shove in our faces. I rejected it all.
When I came home, due to fatigue and a virus that was dampening my solitude and my ability to even do things on my own with congested lungs and brain fog, I retreated into the privacy and quiet of my home. I received a few invitations to friends' holiday gatherings with their small families. I melted at the invitations and shuddered at the pressure of a response that wouldn't out me as someone without a place to go. In the end, I stayed home. I cowered inside myself, just like when I was a little girl.
I didn't allow myself to watch Christmas movies or listen to holiday music or hang anything around my home that made me aware of my aloneness at the most wonderful time of the year. I did buy foods I like and slept a lot and came to The Mighty to selfishly take the microphone that is the welcomed ability to tell it like it is to people who might be more likely to understand than anyone else in my home life.
Here's the zinger: I did/do not want to be cheered up. Instead, I want to be understood. It's not comforting to have to stuff down true emotions so that others are comfortable with my choice to be alone. I don't want tips on how to get through it. Newsflash, my mad survival skills are why I'm still here today. I simply want to be acknowledged for the fact that this is different reality that a whole segment of an unseen world live--and no one wants to really look at it. At us. I think I can speak for a lot of people who struggle with CPTSD--some without even knowing it--that what would be great during the holidays, that wipe out more than a quarter of a year, we can function without judgement, most especially self-judgement, and live the truth. It is simply that this isn't the most wonderful time of the year--and it's okay to do whatever we need to do to stand in a crowd where we can't belong. We want to be with you and bask in all the goodies that the majority of the world embraces. But our life circumstances, our brain wiring, our trauma--all of that clashes with the family togetherness that frames the holi-days. Many of us wouldn't have the trauma to begin with were it not for our families.
So let us save space for the ones who wish they could belong. Let us allow the outsiders to at least own their own words and feelings. May our holidays be whatever we need them to be, not what has taken shape in passed down traditions that shut out less shiny experiences. Let us shed love and light on those who carry darkness through no fault of their own.