Sorry, couldn’t resist! Is this not the saddest holiday card ever? Blue Christmas indeed. And they made Kim stand next to an empty chair!!
“It’s the hap- hap- iest season of all!” Unless, you know, it isn’t. The holidays can be a wonderful time but for a lot of people they can also be a difficult time made even more poignant by all the well-intended cheer, gifts and hippopotamuses getting thrown around. And this year I’m one of those people. For reasons I’m not quite ready to go into on here (mostly because I haven’t got enough distance from them to articulate them in a non-hysterical way), the past few weeks have been really hard. A constantly churning stomach, clenched jaw, nightmares and PTSD-induced panic attacks have been de rigeur. And crying. Lots and lots of crying. (And not just because I bought a Costco-sized jar of kimchi that exploded and I can now smell in every single room in my house.)
At first, I’ll admit to a bit of Grinch-i-tude. When you are suffering, the holidays can make you feel like a stained glass window… that someone threw a brick through. But I’ve come to realize that both the pain and the timing of this are a wonderful gift. Indeed, while I’ve always been a Christmas person in the past - I love giving gifts! I love my kids’ excitement! I love junk drawer cookies! – this year the ache has made me profoundly grateful for it in a way I have not been in the past. While I can’t tell you the why yet (I’m sorry! I hate it when people do that too!) I want to tell you the how. Because I know I’m not the only one hurting this year.
My gifts this season:
1. Understanding that pain means growth. Sometimes you have to be broken down before you can be built back up. And this destruction is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It means holding up every thing that I believe about myself to the light and willing myself not to look away, even when it hurts so much it takes my breath away. But I can’t change to be the person I hope to become if I don’t get rid of the dysfunctional parts of the person I am now. While these growing pains have been far more intense than I had expected, this needed to happen.
2. Being surrounded by loved ones. At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone – not in real life and not on the Internet – because something triggered an avalanche of difficult memories and I felt buried under the weight of the shame and guilt that I’ve been holding on to for years. I’ve always thought that if people really knew me they wouldn’t love me and so I tried really hard to hold it all together (must! control! everything!). But I’m a terrible actress and I wear all my emotions on my sleeve so now I’m just embracing falling apart. And you know what I’ve discovered? Whether it’s the spirit of the holiday season or that they’ve always been there and I just haven’t trusted them enough – I have a lot of people waiting to catch me.
3. Being on the receiving end of a lot of service. Part of opening my dark places to the light means letting other people see them and I am overwhelmed by the compassion, understanding and love people have shown me: My husband who loves me unconditionally, the bishop at my church (in LDS parlance a bishop is similar to a pastor or rabbi or other clergy person) who spent a gut-wrenching hour and a half listening to me, my fantastic therapist who knows when to push and when to listen, my friends who have rallied around me even though I can’t answer their questions yet, my sister who calls every day to check on me. Even my children help. Yesterday sweet little Jelly Bean came and sat on my lap and asked “Mama sad?” When I nodded, she brought me her favorite doll and blanket and then did a little sympathy whimper. And their sacrifice means even more to me because it doesn’t get any busier than the holiday season.
4. Being able to give a lot of service. The best way to put our problems in perspective is to help someone else with theirs and this year I’ve been given some amazing opportunities to be that person for others. It amazes me how quickly I can go from heart break to joy and how thin the line really is that separates them. You can’t have one without the other. Somehow just realizing this is part and parcel of the whole human experience makes me feel less alone in it.
5. The baby in the manger. If you are not religious, feel free to skip this part but I would feel remiss if I didn’t give thanks for my most precious gift of all this Christmas: the miracle of a tiny baby born in the humblest of circumstances who grew to be the greatest man who ever lived. And then who chose to die, for me, so that I would not have to pay for my mistakes the rest of my life. This year I’m accepting that gift. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. A lot. And I have a hard time letting them go. (Because it’s so much fun raking myself over the coals? Dunno, still trying to figure this one out.) But it’s time to give them back to the One who has been waiting to carry them for me all along so that I can move on. And make more mistakes to learn from, yay! I love doing things the hard way!
Life is messy. And I’ll admit I’m a little afraid to show you my messy life right now but here it is. If you are having a rough go of it this year too, know you are not alone. My heart goes out to you and I hope you find comfort and peace, even if it’s just in knowing that I too have refused to listen to any carols because I’m just not feeling it. And if you are having a wonderful holiday, know that I love you even more for it – your happiness gives me hope and makes me smile. I love you guys and I am ever grateful for all the love you’ve given me back!
Anyone else have a hard time letting go of past mistakes? What is your favorite gift (given or received) this holiday season? Anyone else laugh themselves silly when they saw the Kardashian Family Christmas Card?