Thursday, December 18, 2014

It is okay to not always be okay during the Holidays.

I have tried to write this post several times and it just never would come out the way I wanted it to in my head. So, I finally figured out that I had to quit fighting myself and just go with it. Things like this happen a lot. It is part of being a recovering people-pleaser. I know what I REALLY want to say - but first I have to shut down that inner voice that says, "Oh, you can't say that - someone will be offended." Or, "What if they don't understand or think they need to send me to a therapist?" Well, I can't control what others think, and for the record, I already have a counselor. So, there you go.
As I am finishing this post there are exactly six shopping days left before Christmas. Ready or not - and I am uncharacteristically ready this year - just had to share that - Christmas morning will dawn in a week's time. I love Christmas. I always have. I love all the good things about this season. In so many ways it really is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I will be honest - I love presents. Go ahead, judge me, whatever. I love giving them more than receiving them - but receiving is nice, too. Go ahead, keep judging, just being honest here. I love celebrating with friends and family. And I love the chance to remember all that God has done and continues to do in my life. There is such a wonderful atmosphere of anticipation. And let's not forget the food. From Thanksgiving to New Year's the bar is raised considerably and family meals and desserts and snacks galore abound. I enjoy ALL of it. Just keep judging - you know you like it, too. There is special music and special movies and tv shows many of us look forward to. I love the traditions that we celebrate. There is just something magical about this time of year. 
But - yes, here comes the BUT....along with all the joy and wonderfulness is a deep darkness. We live with darkness in our world all year round - but this season seems to magnify it. I remember the first Christmas after my divorce. I naively thought that since it was my turn to spend Christmas with my girls that everything would be fine. We would enjoy Christmas just like we always had. And we tried - we really did. But I was in denial. Because nothing about our life was really the same. Yes - there was much we had that was good and wonderful and should be celebrated. We had each other. We had our health. We had cookies. But none of that undid the fact that we had experienced a significant heartbreak in our lives. It infiltrated everything we did and was especially pronounced during this season. We got about half-way through decorating the tree and decided to take a break - and somehow managed to never finish. Christmas that year and every year since has felt different and looked different. We lost something significant. And it sucked. 
The hardest thing was that other folks - even friends who had also experienced divorce - were unwilling to let us express our sadness. Most of us are uncomfortable getting a glimpse of someone else's pain.  I used to not be very good at letting others share their unhappiness. It is almost an unwritten rule at this time of year that you focus on the GOOD and the HAPPY and the JOLLY. "I am so sorry you are sad, but think about all the blessings you have." (Christian friends are especially good at throwing that one at you when times are tough.) "I know things are tough, but God will see you through." "Just pray. He will comfort you.""Just think of the wonderful gift God gave us in Jesus. That will outshine all the bad the world has thrown at you."

I know that these friends meant well, but their words were anything but comforting. They actually intensified my tendency to feel that I had somehow failed them and God and my family for not managing to soldier on as if nothing had happened even though my life was torn apart. And as this was early in my journey as a recovering-people pleaser it was even harder to shake off. 
I have said this before, but it bears repeating - focusing on the good in your life does NOT undo the bad that has happened. Nope, sorry, it doesn't. Life is full of contradictions. The truth is that most of us have just as much crappy stuff in our lives we have to deal with as good stuff.  There is a saying, "Either you deal with the sh$t in your life or it will deal with you." I am suspicious of friends who are almost manic about shouting out all the good things they have been blessed with. It looks a lot like denial to me. I am speaking from experience here, because I lived like that for decades. It is not healthy and will mess with your head like nobody's business. 
And for all you "think-positive until it kills you types" - Yes, I do think that it is important to look on the bright side. I am not trying to be Debbie Downer here. Rather I am advocating for finding a healthy balance in dealing with all that life throws at us - no matter what time of year it is.
Which brings me back to Christmas and the Holiday season. Folks my age will remember the movie Gremlins. Remember the scene where Phoebe Cates's character Kate tells us why she hates Christmas? I remember thinking, "Well, yeah, that would be awful to have your dad die like that, but surely you wouldn't really hate Christmas forever because of it, right?" I was a lot younger then and had not experienced much personal tragedy yet. Over time life has a way of bringing us lessons to learn whether we want them or not. In the 30 years since Gremlins came out I have had several lessons on why the Holidays are not everyone's favorite time of year. Obviously my divorce was a huge one. Then just this year alone we have added a few more tragedies and losses to life's list. My girls' Grandma G. lost her battle to cancer. Her absence this season leaves a huge gaping hole that nothing else can fill. A friend's daughter overdosed on medication just a few weeks ago. She survived, but their holidays are anything but normal as they struggle to cope and begin healing.  If you make any effort at all to look at the world around you - even right in your hometown - you will see folks struggling financially or facing devastating medical diagnosis or broken relationships or the loss of a loved one. All of these are difficult to face anytime of year, but even more so during Christmastime.
The best present I got that first post-divorce Christmas was a visit from a dear friend who didn't try to make me look on the bright side. We had talked on the phone earlier and I had expressed to her some of my sadness at how the joy of the season just wasn't showing up this year. When she came she hugged me which is always what I need. She also brought the girls and I a new Christmas decoration so that we could start building new memories and traditions together. Whether she realized it or not she gave me just what I needed - the opportunity to share that I was not okay and that is okay to acknowledge that. Just being able to say that and have someone hear it made the season seem a little brighter. 
I still love Christmas and I hope I always will. But there will always be that darkness that dwells right alongside the joy. I miss Grandma G. And this year my girls will spend Christmas with their dad. That will always be shaded with sadness even as I do what I can to make the best of a less than ideal situation. It can be tough not to let the bitterness take over. My new husband and I will be together. That helps make the sting of not having our kids with us a bit less sharp. But not having our kids with us at this time is something that we will never be okay with. Add that to my list of reasons why being divorced with kids will always suck. I have faith that 2014's Christmas will be a good Christmas - full of joy and seasoned with sadness. And that, too, is okay.

If you are struggling this season - know that you are not alone. It is okay not to be okay. And if you need someone who will let you say it out loud I will be honored to listen. 

'Til Next Time.
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