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Forming Traditions With My 'Chosen Family' Keeps Me Alive Over the Holiday Season

Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

December 2013

I’m on Christmas break. My parents are once again angry with me for no reason. They take my phone, isolating me from any support and connection I have. After I’m finally able to escape to my room, thoughts of hurting myself become louder and louder. I try to cope in a healthy way instead of being self-destructive, and leave to go for a walk in the snow. They stop me. They tell me I am not allowed, and I must stay in the house for “family traditions.” I swallow my hurt, pain, tears, and tell myself to keep it together until tonight, when I can break down once everyone is asleep.

December 2015

It’s Christmas Eve. My family is downstairs, playing games and laughing. I should be down there with them, I know. I have about 10 minutes until I get a knock on my door. I don’t want to be alive. As bad as school can be, being at home deepens my depression exponentially. As tears fall down my face, my soul aches for escape. I reach for something to self-harm with, desperate to let the pain out any way I can. The clock is ticking. I hear footsteps. I wipe my face, take a breath, swallow the suicidal thoughts, and go downstairs.

December 2017

As summer winds down and it starts to get cold for the first time again, a renewed hope washes over me. I decorate for the holiday season excitedly, watch Christmas movies, and people see a side of me that doesn’t often come out. I dread going back to my parents’ for winter break, but I’m thankful to be in college, to finally be in a place I don’t feel trapped anymore. The depression and suicidal thoughts are still here, but I’m thankful for the family I’ve found in the friends I’ve made. We turn on my favorite holiday movie, “Elf,” order Chinese food, and enjoy each other’s company. I go to bed with a full heart, not knowing this would become a holiday tradition in our friend group for years to come.

Last Week

I don’t know what’s going on, but this is the worst I’ve felt in a long time. I should be happy. I love this time of year. But instead of Christmas carols stuck in my head, thoughts of suicide run on loop. I can’t imagine living another moment, I feel like I’m losing hope by the second. I start looking for ways I can end my life, and fear begins to rise up in me. I consider going to a hospital, but my past experiences keep me from following through. All I can think about is dying, and I’m not sure I’ll make it to tomorrow morning. I drive to a friend’s, knowing as long as I’m sitting in a room with someone else, I can’t hurt myself. When I feel safe enough to drive, I go home. I pacify the suicidal thoughts with self-harm, though I know it won’t help long-term. Right now, I don’t care, though. I turn off the lights, and eventually fall asleep, hoping I won’t wake up.

A Few Days Ago

I just got home from helping decorate the church for Christmas, and I’m feeling the Christmas spirit. My roommates and I go pick out a Christmas tree, and bring it home. A few friends come over, and we head to a Christmas festival, filled with games, activities, food, fun, and a trail of lights through a corn maze. I haven’t had this much fun in ages. When we get home, feeling merry and bright, we raise a glass (or two) and celebrate being together. There’s a knock on the door and our Chinese food arrives. We turn on the best Christmas movie of all time (“Elf,” of course), and my heart feels full. We play games until the wee hours of the morning, and as I head to bed, I take a moment to capture this feeling.

The holiday season has always felt conflicting to me. I love the buildup, I love the reason for the season, I love decorating, and I love holiday cheer. But at the same time, my suicidal thoughts worsen and the depression still runs deep. The actual day of Christmas Eve and the ones to follow are difficult for me, as I return to my parents’ and I am surrounded by family once again. I see friends enjoying holiday traditions with their families, and I feel sad. And then I feel guilty for feeling sad because I know on paper, it looks like nothing is wrong.

But that’s why beginning traditions of my own, with my chosen family, means so much to me. I hold it so close. Yes, I love “Elf” (probably more than anyone you’ll ever meet) and I do love Chinese takeout. But, it’s so much more than that to me. It’s recreating memories. It’s life-giving time spent with people who genuinely refresh my soul. It’s a reminder to me there is still good here, and I don’t have to be confined to what I grew up with. It’s hope and joy — and isn’t that what the Christmas season is all about? Most importantly though, it keeps me going. For the weeks like last week, and the nights spent feeling trapped, remembering these moments keep me alive.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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