Monday, December 19, 2005

Get out the violins!

Here comes a long one!

My annual Christmas depression is in force right now. This last week is very tough. I can’t even turn on the radio without my favorite stations playing a bunch of Christmas music. My whole life is disrupted and there’s no escape from it. I can’t wait for the morning of the 26th when everything returns to normal. That’s the day when we are furthest away from Christmas.

I have lots of bad memories from Christmases past… LOTS of them…. And without fail every year all that stuff gets dredged up and it hurts again like a whole bunch of fresh wounds. I will NEVER be able to heal, not unless I can find a Christmas-free zone, and that will never exist for me. If it’s a real physical location, I will not be going there. It’s not really a practical or realistic possibility, so I’m stuck with just trying to get through the damned thing.

The depression goes all the way back to early childhood, I figured out pretty fast I was an unloved and unwelcome guest at other people’s parties. You see, my mother was not really accepted by Dad’s family, and when she had a girl instead of a boy that deal was sealed. I was the last hope for their family name as he had a bunch of sisters and his brothers were childfree, so when I turned out female they claimed that I must be illegitimate. (I am the spitting image of him in reality). They shunned my mother and me for the most part. We always had to make those long winter car trips across the country to spend Christmas with the folks. They were long, dread-filled trips either spent listening to arguments or enduring the silent angry vibes. Once we were riding along, all three sitting on the front bench seat (remember those?), and my mother decided she’d had enough and jumped out of the moving car. Just a few bruises for her, but it had a very lasting impact on me.

She start explaining to me when I was as young as 2-3 (yes, OK, bright child and already very conversational, and I do remember this stuff and it meant something to me at the time) how they treated us, how they would, for example invite her to a gift-exchange party and instead of a beautiful gift like the others were receiving, she would be given a steel-wool scouring pad, or something of that nature. It was even gift-wrapped. I was somewhere between 4 and 6 when we made one of those winter trips to the large family gathering. He had 8 siblings and there lots and lots of cousins there. I remember seeing the most amazingly high pile of presents that I could imagine. Seemed like it was as tall as me, and must have been an 8 foot circle. The gift opening ceremony was endless!! Each child (and sometimes their parents) was called by name to open a gift – over and over—seemed like hours, and some kids were called up many times to pick up a gift. It finally got down to the bottom of the gift pile. Not one of my aunts, uncles, or even grandparents had gotten me anything. It really hurt. I was crying, of course. One of my cousins offered me one of her gifts saying that she had plenty extra, it was a huge doll nearly as tall as we were. I was touched by the offer but turned it down. It wasn’t really about going home with something. It was about being included, and I had not been.

My parents never had much money. We usually lived at the poverty level and sometimes below. There really wasn’t ever extra money for Christmas presents. One year they bought me something expensive and went way into debt for it. They were paying that thing off for probably 2 years, and I heard many of the budget discussions so I knew that it was a real hardship for them to have done that.

Shortly after that, we joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My mother was the leader on this and my dad and I went along with it. It was a pretty big change, I now needed to be exempted from birthday and Christmas celebrations, along with saying the Pledge of Allegience (that restriction was for idolatry) and these were accomplished with notes from home and parental visits to explain in person to the teachers who didn’t understand. So Christmas celebrations went away completely for several years at our house.

After I grew up into a young adult, my mother and I had by then continued to evolve in our beliefs and had distanced ourselves from the Witnesses, but were both strong Christians. When I got on my own after high school, I starting jumping into the Christmas mood with both feet. I went hog-wild with decorations, bought my first tree, ornaments, everything down to Ho Ho Ho toilet tank cover sets. This was around the time I became an evangelical fundamentalist. I let the religion become not just a crutch, but a whole stretcher – and proud of it too, I might add. So when I talk about the attitudes of fundies, I know what I am talking about because I’ve been there --- and believe me I had to go through some serious transformations to find rationality. Another day, another blog on that one. This is already too long and getting longer. Anyway, for several years I dealt with my Christmas stress and depression by diving in – couldn’t beat ‘em so I joined ‘em. The gift-giving ceremonies were still hard though. I couldn’t go through them without all that pain flooding back in. I was at a long-term boyfriend’s house for it once, and since I was not a “real” family member I got to watch everybody open up really nice expensive gifts while I was given a handkerchief or something. I started feeling real bad (I honestly couldn’t help it, there weren’t any hard feeling toward present company) and went into the basement to cry. He followed me down there. He was really, really angry. He told me that was the LAST time he would EVER bring me over to his family’s house for Christmas. My only crime was excusing myself so I could cry in private. I really liked his family, actually. They were decent and fun people that I thought of as my own family, especially since he and I lived together. Too bad he was such as abusive, intolerant ass.

I got away from him, and found myself a husband, staying married to him for 8 years. Christmas Eve was our special day of the year. We’d spend it together (we were both working long hours so this was rare) and not allow the rest of the world to intrude. I was blissfully happy at least one day a year! (Christmas Day would be our day to visit his folks). I could tell that we are on a serious downhill slide when he invited his family over to our house one Christmas Eve. That was the first nail in the coffin of our marriage. We lasted 4 more months after that and signed the papers to end it. After the divorce, I soon met someone new and we started seeing each other exclusively right away. We’d been a couple for 7 months and practically living together (not yet officially though) when Christmas rolled around. I bought him some really nice Christmas gifts since I knew that he celebrated the holiday and had been shopping for nice gifts for his family. But not only did he not invite me to spend Christmas with him, he had neglected to get me anything – not even a card. He explained that he didn’t think we knew each other well enough to exchange gifts, and he figured I’d be spending it with my “family”. He knew that my family consisted of an invalid mother who despised Christmas and wasn’t really able to even sit up for very long, much less have a “celebration” even if one was desired. She retired to bed in the afternoon and I went home to be alone with my stupid Christmas decorations and a bottle of booze. OK, I was mad, but just hurting more than anything really. The booze got my nerve up enough to go over to the exe’s house (still technically my house too, since it was not yet sold) and drop off some gifts that I had for my ex-inlaws. I still liked them and missed them, and our breakup was quite civil. It was our first Christmas apart and was lonely. One of the weird things about divorce is that you instantly lose family members. I drove by the house and saw their cars – yes, they were there – so I hardened up and rang the bell. There were there, and so was my exe’s new girlfriend and her child. It was all “Oh come in! We’re so glad to see you!! Won’t you stay? Have some cookies! Blah blah!!” Pretty embarrassing for me. Legendary embarrassing, in fact. I dropped off the gifts and went home. Another Christmas to spend crying for being unloved, unwanted, and unwelcome.

All of those holidays were experienced as a Christian, and my current (lack of) beliefs have nothing to do with the hurt and bitterness I have about Christmas. It is for entirely different reasons. While I still believed and on through to the time of not believing, I continued to keep up certain traditions because they seem to be obligatory, such as sending out huge stacks of cards to relatives. Letting them know I'm not dead I suppose... like THEY care. I am struggling right now with myself on the Christmas card issue. It’s very hypocritical in most cases for me to send out cards to people I don’t even think about the rest of the year (and have not yet and never will “out” myself as an atheist to most of these people… there’s simply no point in it). I still participated in helping my husband come up with personal and inexpensive thoughtful gifts for his family, but for our friends I merely sent a very secular greeting (actually it was a webpage) with a very secular picture of us taken in spring. If you got that in email from me, it was heartfelt. It means I like you, enjoy your company and hope to see you soon. It also means that if you celebrate this upcoming holiday, I hope that it is happy for you, and wish you all the best in the new year. In fact, for anyone reading this… I wish that for you!

As for my part, just wish for me that I make it through to the 26th without some kind of a breakdown or bad scene. It’s been hurting for a couple of weeks now at least.


Anonymous Assclown said...

What would you have if it wasn't for pain?

Blueberry said...

Guess I'll let you know next week. ;-)

Ellie said...

I know exactly how you feel right now. I have my own stories of being excluded as a child at Christmas, by my own grandmother. Read a lot, that's what I do.

Ptelea said...

The way you were treated was unspeakably cruel - I just don't see how anyone could mistreat a child due to the perceived wrongs of their parents. I know what you mean about ex inlaws and divorce. Actually, mine supported me against the actions of my ex-husband. So I never lost that part of my family which made it easier. I look forward to the end of this holiday as well. If nothing else, since I don't have a large family, I find it a very lonely time of year and I actually look forward to the return of a routine.

isabelita said...

What a sad story, blueberry. My wish for your upcoming year is that you find friends who will value you.

Blueberry said...

Thank you isabelita! I'm sure I already have. I plan on getting even with those people who treated me badly by adding something good to the world before I leave it. That way I win. It's a matter of being strong.

Jeen Lilly said...

In this whole world there are a handful of people who matter to me.

I can be amiable; I'm not tribal or elitist: I just recognize that 90% of people exist to give you a better appreciation for the other 10%.

There is no guarantee anyone's ten percent will be filled by blood relatives. Truthfully, I find families that aren't disfunctional weird. Like -- ummmm have I stumbled into a cult, and am I going to be tied up and sacrificed to a writhing pit of snakes in the cellar before the dessert course?

I agree with Ptelea -- who the hell leaves a child on the outside looking in, at Christmas time?...

Christmas is for Children.
Which includes the child-like adult... and Santa should deliver coal to child-ish brats regardless of chronological age.

Bah Humbug to the Unfeeling, Unseeing, Uncaring Stupids of the world.

The best thing about being an adult, I find -- is that I get to decide who is and who isn't family For Me.

And you are Family.
A joy filled, relaxed Day After to You, Blueberry.
Big Hugs and Head Butts.

Blueberry said...

aaaaaahhhhh.... shucks..... thanks.... [blush]

I agree with that 90%/10% balance, and picking your own family. Just venting stuff helps probably most of all. Thanks for all the good wishes, comments, head butts, etc. :-)