Out of commitment to the counselling process I’m going through, I’ve not written anything here for 3 months, focusing instead on journalling, and taking the raw form not the formed thoughts. But currently, I’m during an enforced break – no, not Christmas, but at least 6 weeks immobilised with my left leg in plaster. It was unexpected, disappointing, difficult, but holds a few blessings in disguise.
I struggle with Christmas. Unlike most, I don’t struggle with the apparently logical impossibility that some 2000 years ago, the son of God was born to a young Jewish virgin. I marvel at a God who is both inconceivable and completely empathetic. Wow.
But it gets drowned, despite churches everywhere trying to keep the message out there, in competitive consumerism. I’m guilty of some of that, of setting budgets and then breaking them, of seeing and reading perfect family portraits and feeling envious, of feeling pressured to be cheerful and fit everything in.
But like many, just hearing the word Christmas, and from early November, I experience feelings of dread, anxiety and fear. The reasons are two-fold, one is that my experiences of Christmas as an older child were very negative, and secondly my daughter’s birthday falls on Christmas Eve. Back to them in a minute.
Much newsprint and blogprint have been devoted to the struggles that many face to make Christmas seem and feel like family-centred bliss. These impossible expectations cause many, not only but mostly women, to feel inadequate, and lonely. But on the other hand in the few weeks before Christmas, I have seen or been on the receiving end of this Christmas competitivism being applied to those who find Christmas hard, as if there’s some sort of “my pain and distress is worse than yours” competition that I didn’t know I’d entered. This just isn’t the way to go about it; what will work is empathy and mutual support, remaining available physically and emotionally to each other through the holidays, and remembering that our Biblical model came from pain and family discord.
I think the difficulty with the “lots of people find Christmas hard” defensive line is the unsaid “and they get on with it!”. My gut reaction many times in the last couple of weeks, is that, you know, it’s really not a competition. I find spending my daughter’s birthday without her, the day before Christmas, incredibly hard, and sometimes overwhelming. I am honest about it in advance, not because I don’t see and empathise with what others are going through, and not because I think I’m special or different for struggling, but because this is my truth and I will not pretend it’s all ok. What I’ve been learning is that I don’t need to put “I’m sorry but…” in front of “I get very upset on Christmas Eve/ I can’t manage x or y”, or to feel the platitudes of “it’ll get easier” are remotely helpful. I sincerely hope it will get easier, but just now I need to sit with it.
I miss my daughter – although I know legally she’s not my daughter any more – every day, and especially more on these days. I remember times of togetherness and they are like this thumping pain in my heart. Without going into the specifics, things have been very difficult with Social Services the last 3 months with a lot of broken promises. I have been typecast in black, the birth mother, from whom the child must be protected. The adopters like white avenging angels are able to keep my court-promised letters from her if they deem it in her best interests. And my own, repetitive, childhood-learned behaviour is to try for some sort of absolute ‘right’-ness, if you’re not for me you’re against me, chucking out all the shades of grey I’ve spent months learning to paint in. My other cyclical thinking causes me to want to reject as ‘not on my side’ anyone who dares occupy the grey, and then self-pity can descend, “poor me”, as AA would say, “poor me another one”. Deliberately, one thought at a time, I am unpicking this and burning some new neural pathways. I am not bad, and they are being as reasonable as they are able. Step back, leave it a while, and see how I feel then. Talk selectively, neither bottling or oversharing, and don’t force others into agreeing. Let those feelings out, acknowledging them as they are, but not being held captive by them either.
It’s taken quite some time to write this, started in the days before Christmas, because I’m out of the habit, and even though housebound I’ve had other things to do! But 2013 is ebbing away, and it has been full of pain, heartbreak, and joy. Not much normality, I’m still not sure what that looks like in my life. As John Newton said “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, but by the grace of God I am not what I once used to be.” Amen.