Holidays are hard for me. Especially Christmas. They are for a lot of survivors.
I go through the motions of the holidays for my kids, because it’s expected, and the joy on their little faces makes the work and the pain worth it. (I do enjoy some things about it, but, by and large, I’d skip it, just get a bunch of new books or movies, grown up snacks and hunker down ’til it passed, or I’d write my way through it.)
I guess a little background is in order.
Back when I was a kid, I lived in a very ‘Brady bunch on the surface’ type of family with my mom, dad, (brother lived elsewhere), and little sister. We seemed like the perfect family. We went to church every Sunday and some Wednesday evenings, we took part in the community (as much as they let us, long story, we’re mixed race, wrong side of the tracks… ‘nother time). Dinner was ready on time, every night, we sat around the table together… you know, the illusion of normalcy.
Both my parents came from abusive backgrounds, and as an adult, I can see they were probably doing the best they could with what they had, maybe better. They tried, I think. For a while.
Unfortunately… mom’s way of trying involved drinking when no one was looking, smoking like a chimney, and maxing the credit cards to give mounds of presents to us kids (when I say mounds, I mean, you literally couldn’t see the tree because of all the gifts) to give us a ‘happy Christmas morning’.
The gifts we didn’t immediately play with were returned because we didn’t like them enough and well… she’d maxed the cards to get them, (we weren’t even close to middle class) so if we didn’t like them, no need to keep them.
She used to wake us up at 4am just to prove that Santa had come and given us such munificence. I don’t remember enjoying most xmas mornings because I was so sleepy, and later–when I knew what the scent was–the reek of alcohol on her breath. At 4am. (I have no issue with adults drinking responsibly, binge drinking as frequently as my mom did isn’t responsible.)
We’d have a few hours to play with our gifts while mom went to bed, then she’d be up and stuffing us into itchy clothes and dragging us to church (which, to be completely honest I hated every second of, always. Too many lies for my autistic brain and no one to help me understand why the lies existed.)
Then dragging us home, drinking while she made dinner (socially acceptable to drink on the holidays ya’know) and stuffing us into handmade (mom was a seamstress) period reproduction gowns to greet the extended family for Christmas Dinner.
Something she cursed through making every year and sobbed into her wine after everyone had left. Most of my extended family wouldn’t know the meaning of kindness if it smacked them over the head, especially the women. The guys are a bit better, but they’re all from abusive homes, and that old maxim of ‘abuse begets abuse’ was accurate at the time. (I’ve been through years of therapy to deal, learn, et cetera, and I’m hopefully not a terrible parent.) It was always catty comments and tear downs aimed at my mom. (Woman wasn’t perfect, but she was still trying, then.)
Something people rarely understand about autistic people is that we (most of us) SEE everything. We HEAR everything. Even if it doesn’t seem like we’ve heard or seen, trust me, we have. Most of us have memories like a steel vault, too (I can remember the color of every one of those gowns, and how they itched, I remember the arguments… )
So I saw it all. I heard it all and gods I wish I didn’t remember it. Some things no child should ever have to see or hear.
Dad would go off to his current affair after dinner while mom got us to bed, then she’d sit with her music and her wine and cry.
Or they’d argue.
My sister is too young to remember, how they argued and fought, and to this day she blames my mom for their divorce. I don’t, nor did my brother when he still lived, they were better apart than together, by far. If they were together on any holiday, they’d argue.
Next morning, we’d be shuffled together for Christmas dinner at my mom’s family, as guests, and I’d have to sit on my creepy FAR too touchy-feely step grandfather’s lap while he passed out gifts until I was old enough that he picked one of my younger girl-cousins…
Step grandfather was a five-star chef when he wasn’t drinking, could still cook well even sloshed, so at least the food was good.
Then it was all over but the fallout.
Every year it got worse.
You know… I forgave my parents a long time ago for doing the best they could with what they had. They did better than their parents did by them. Part of therapy is often forgiveness. Though that forgiveness is for YOU and YOU alone. You don’t owe anyone a place in your life. Not even blood.
Yet… the things I just can’t get over are the crap my mother still does to this day. Look, I’m well aware that as an abused child, you tend to be emotionally stunted in some ways, slower to learn/grow/feel. Mom was abused, no doubt about it, but she’s also been an adult for decades (I mean, I’m 40, she was in her 20’s when I was born.) Yet, to this day, it’s All About Her. (Updated Dec 9, 2017. I no longer have contact with my mother. I can’t, she went too far the last time.)
I try to think of anything that hasn’t been about her, for my entire life, and I honestly can’t come up with a blessed thing. I couldn’t be in my Aunt’s wedding and wear a princess dress (gods, I wanted that so badly) because mom was mad at her sister. Mom didn’t come to my University graduation because she was fighting with her Mother (my grandmother and an Aunt I didn’t know well came, my dad came… I was the first person in my family to go to University, much less graduate.) There hasn’t been a single thing in my life that’s been ‘about me’ that she’s had anything to do with.
Maybe when I was a baby and she took care of me? I mean, I’m here, so she didn’t drown me in the bath or leave me anywhere but a bar, and that was just one time. I was 7 the first time I took my sister out of the room to get away from an argument.
Maybe younger than 7, I don’t know for certain.
This whole shit-storm about the election, and more importantly the fallout with my mother has made it crystal clear that she doesn’t care about ‘me’ (not the idea of me, which she looooooves, but, you know… the real me… The non-binary, kinky, pansexual, polyamorous, pagan, open-minded me). (My dad is another story, but I don’t have a lot of bad memories of him, mostly cause he wasn’t around much ’til after the divorce. I don’t have a lot to do with him either, for which I’m grateful, but we do still speak.)
She messaged me this morning because I’ve been too busy (and disinterested TBH) to send her my new address.
She wasn’t polite, she was vituperative, and ended the conversation with ‘Fine, I’ll send my grandchildren their Christmas cards.
I just wonder, does she think a piece of printed paper is going to change the fact that they’ve rarely seen her face because she doesn’t bother to come see them? I’d let her. I want nothing to do with her for myself, but if my kids want to know her and she behaves, fine.
In her mind, did the plethora of gifts (many returned) make up for the fact that ‘happy families’ will always be a myth to me except in my little family (and that my husband and I work hard to maintain for ourselves and our children?)
Does her self-justification (she still hasn’t asked, never will, why I was so hurt by the results of the election) make it right that the perception of reality was (still is) so much more important than the reality of our lives?
The older I get, the more I just don’t understand how that woman thinks.
I dread this time of year, every year. It’s hard, physically, having fibromyalgia and the sheer amount of work that goes into playing Santa each year (kids are still young enough to believe) is nuts. The emotional burden of it though is what hurts the most.
I dread the advent of Christmas music starting as early as November first, I don’t even hate Christmas music, there are some songs I genuinely enjoy, but it’s the reminder.
This year, there were Christmas decorations next to the Canada Day (July 1st) decorations.
I get it, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for most people.
For people like me, though (and there are so many survivors of abuse/war) it’s a hard time of year to get through.
Which is okay. It really is.
We can get through as best we can, do what we can manage to do, and it’s really, truly, okay. IT’S ENOUGH.
If we have to avoid stores to avoid seeing the decorations, and not listen to the radio because we feel like we’re going to gag on the xmas carols. That’s okay.
If we can’t bear to go to a holiday dinner, or if we have to duck out early, or hell, if you have to cope by having a glass of wine or three (as long as you aren’t driving) do it.
If you want to eat special chocolate or smoke a little (and it’s legal) do that too.
If you need to curl up in a ball, bury yourself in a book or write your way through the holidays, that’s okay too.
It really is.
Cause you know what?
So did I, and for that, we’re big damned heroes.
Grab what sharp, bright moments of happiness you can out of this season, cling to them and share them if you can. Even if the only bright moment of happiness you can see is that it’s almost over.
I’d hug every one of you if I could, but know that I hold a spot in my heart for every survivor out there.
We got this.
…and if you’re still going through it. Hang on, survive, reach out for help if you can. There’s a lot of life beyond abuse, much of it heart-wrenchingly gorgeous, and so worth it.
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