Do I deserve all the love I have in my life right now? My body feels anxious and I have to focus to keep my mind from looking for danger. My mind always looks for danger, threatening situations, and hurtful people. Even if there is no danger in the present, my mind is good at conjuring up dangerous situations from my past and having me relive them. Is everyone like this? I don’t know, because I don’t know how everyone’s brain works. I only have access to my brain, and my thoughts. I can talk to you about my feelings. But what goes on in my brain when I am alone, or right before I fall off to sleep are the thoughts that no one has access to but me.
But I really am happy!
Especially right now because I have my daughter and my husband all to myself on vacation. I have 4 more days of the 3 of us being together, and there is no place that I would rather be. This is my happy place! But my mind counts the days until I have to go back to reality, and we have to separate. My husband and I will go back to work, and my daughter will go back to college. It makes my stomach hurt thinking of it. So, part of my mind is going there already and preparing for it. I try and live in the moment, but it is hard. A lot of the time I am remembering past Christmases or preparing for future ones.
My mind wanders to past Christmases when my parents were alive.
I was living in a house that now another family calls their home. I only remember snapshots of situations from those times. I am not even sure if what I remember happened in the same year or if my memory is taking snapshots of different years and putting them all together. One constant every year though was my mom nervously cooking and my dad pacing around our house, quiet and awkward. I would play with my brothers until it was time to open gifts. I don’t really remember being excited, so I don’t know if I was or if I have blocked it out. I had to block out most of my good feelings about my family so that I could leave them. It is the same mechanism that I used later in life to block out feelings towards a boyfriend that hurt my heart. I had to remember only the bad, mean and careless situations so that I didn’t keep going back to be hurt. That is what I did with my family, so that I could move forward without being dragged back into a place that was unhealthy for me. A place where I had no singular identity. I had a shared identity with 7 other people; my parents and 5 siblings. We weren’t a family unit we were a unit of emotions. If one person went off script or stepped out of their family role, there was a chain reaction that affected everybody. And I never knew when that was going to happen, because I couldn’t control 7 other people. So, I would just wait. I would watch. I would survey the landscape of my family in search of danger so that I could be prepared to protect myself.
I remember the very last Christmas I spent with my parents and siblings.
I was 22 years old and I had moved out of the house but decided to go back for the holidays. As I said I only remember snapshots of these past Christmases, but what I do remember very clearly and distinctly about that Christmas was my father picking on my 2 year old niece. I remember him being mean to her. In witnessing that interaction, it was almost as if I could see into the future. And I just knew with overwhelming certainty that my father was setting up the next generation to suffer the same abuse and neglect that I had suffered. I felt sick and disgusted and so completely helpless to stop it, that I promised myself that I would never go back home again for the holidays. I had no idea what my future was going to look like, but one thing I did know in that moment was that my future was not going to look like my past. That was the very last time I saw my parents at Christmas.
The Christmases right after I moved away from my family, I was alone.
I was with other people but my heart was alone. I didn’t want to be alone, but at least I could feel the emotion of being alone rather than no emotion at all. At least I knew enough about myself to know that I was lonely. And for me at the time, that was a start. Better lonely, than ignored. Better lonely than misunderstood. Better lonely than being confused and humiliated. At least I could work with lonely. I could start to experiment to see what made me feel better, what I liked, what I didn’t like. At least I could learn how not to be lonely. And I could experiment and learn because I wasn’t just trying to survive, or ‘make it through’ the holidays.
My daughter’s first Christmas was in a new state where we didn’t know anybody.
When I first had my daughter, my inclination was to hide myself. So, my husband, daughter and I moved to a different state shortly after she was born. I even considered changing my name. My husband and I used to joke that we were in the witness protection program, looking around every corner to see if someone was going to discover our true identities. But, it was more than that. I found love. I found a man that loved me, and I had a beautiful baby girl that filled my heart with so much love that I thought I was going to burst. This was a good thing, a happy thing, so why did I want to hide? Because I didn’t want anyone to take it away. I didn’t want anyone to discover that I found love, and tell me that I was undeserving. I wanted to protect my new found love. And the only way I knew how to protect it at that the time in my life was to hide it.
There is no danger anymore, and I need to let my brain know that.
I am safe now, and no one is going to take away the love I have. I need to breathe, relax, and let go of my fears. I have come such a long way from the scared quiet girl that I was. It has been a long and painful road. But I walked it. Well, sometimes I crawled it. Sometimes I took wrong turns, and sometimes I stood still and then went backwards. But I didn’t give up. I never gave up.
This Christmas, I have my husband who knows everything about me.
He has been by my side through all of our ups and downs for over 20 years. I have my daughter that lights up my heart just by being in the room. We are a family. I am at the place I used to fantasize about being in. I made it out of the confusion, misunderstandings and humiliation of the family I was born in to, and created my own family. I found my own love.
Some people may think I have chosen the harder path in life.
But the truth is, I didn’t even realize I was choosing until much later in life. I saw it as the only option at the time. And to this day, I would choose loneliness over helplessness every time. Because helplessness is the end and forever, and loneliness is temporary and the beginning of something new.