I always loved Christmas as a kid. I think I did, anyway. I have a sense of being mesmerized by the wonder of the season – all of the lights, glitter, music, and overall festive nature of late December.
I also remember a Christmas morning when I was a teenager. Our family had been fighting, per usual. I don’t know what the fight was about, probably something stupid. But I left the house and walked to church. I sat in the front pew for the early Christmas Day mass and cried through the entire service. Back then, church was a safe place for me. I loved being there. I love the pastor and the stories and the music. I was in awe of the old gothic cathedral that was never quite warm enough, but still felt cozy.
As I’ve gotten older, the meaning of Christmas has changed. Primarily because I no longer identify as Christian, but also because of my estrangement from my family. For me, Christmas has always been about the gathering of loved ones. I enjoyed getting presents as much as the next person, but I was also really happy to see the joy on someone else’s face when they opened that super awesome gift they’d really been hoping for. And there’s something about everyone finding their way to each other for one day a year just to eat, drink, and be merry.
Or it was.
The holidays have been feeling decidedly less magical in recent years. Two years ago (my first Christmas completely void of immediate family) Wife and I stayed with my “sister” so we were able to experience the joy of seeing her two little girls open their presents. There’s nothing like being with children on Christmas morning.
But then they packed up and trekked from house to house to see various members of a family wrecked by divorce. Wife and I ended up driving mindlessly around my hometown and eating at a Chinese buffet.
Significantly less magical.
Last year Wife had just lost her job and Zooey had just thrown my life into chaos by terminating my therapy, so we stayed closer to our own home. We did spend the holiday with Wife’s family, but it was painful for me to be away from any of my own family. I don’t really remember much about it because that particular period of time was very much about day-to-day survival. It’s hard to connect to anything from those days.
This year we spent a week with our nieces and nephew and I did get to see my family, but we left just shy of Christmas Eve. For one thing, Wife had to work on the 24th. For another, I just didn’t think it would be good for me to be near my childhood home on Christmas. It’s too activating for a system still warring over what is and is not real in regards to trauma and memories.
It felt safer to be in my own home, my own bed, my own City during a time that is generally incredibly triggering.
I made the right choice. I missed my family, but I realize now that the holiday magic I long for is gone. Possibly forever. I’m not naïve anymore. Or, rather, I’m not as dissociated as I used to be. I know now what is real. Or real enough, anyway. I understand enough about what happened to me. I have a different idea of what “family” means.
I enjoy my in-laws. They’re decent people who are generous with gifts. But the day felt so empty. Hollow. Robotic.
I spent most of my time obsessing over food anyway, which is the beauty of this damn eating disorder – it blocks out everything else. I can fuss and panic over carbohydrates and calories rather than face the excruciating pain of the world around or within myself.
I know I chose this estrangement. I cut my family away from myself. This decision was mine.
But it is still very painful. Perhaps it will always be that way. To be honest, the holidays feel somewhat unnatural without my family. Strange, considering the unnatural nature of what led to our estrangement in the first place.
Wife suggested it may begin to feel different if we have our own children and start new traditions and generate new magic. Maybe. That’s assuming we ever have children.
Either way, I think I will just have to keep working to transition the holidays into something that is meaningful and special to me, based on who I am now and where my life is now. I am not that mesmerized little girl. I am not that tormented teenager, either.
I don’t know who I am. I guess I need to keep figuring that out.
Still, I miss the magic.