For years I hated Christmas. I left home when I was 17 years old. I moved across the country when I was 19 in an attempt to escape the emotional mess that I was in, and I avoided Christmas for as many years as I could by volunteering to take the holiday shifts in the hospital where I worked. I have not had Christmas with my mother since I was 15. I have not had Christmas with my father since I was 18. And looking back, none of that made Christmas much easier. There was a LOT of baggage that came along with me and it stayed with me throughout the years.
I felt “bad” and “wrong” and “guilty” for avoiding Christmas with my family. I felt obligated to be with them. I felt like “the problem” and that my absence caused my mother to be lonely.
The last time I had Christmas with my mother, she guilt tripped me into staying home while my brothers went to my father’s (about 300 miles ~ 500 kilometers away) but then my mother ditched me and spent the entire holiday with her new boyfriend and I was the one who was alone. So then I felt bad that I ditched my father. AND I felt bad that I felt bad ~ because I still believed that my mother needed me that year even though she ditched me. I kept trying to convince myself that I had done the right thing staying home with her. I kept hoping that she would spend some time with me BECASUSE I had made the sacrifice of not going to my Dad’s with the rest of my siblings, but she didn’t. I was only fifteen. This is such a good example of the conflicting emotions that we get stuck in as victims of emotional abuse. Even in my own mind I couldn’t win. Even with myself I believed I could not possibly make the right decision.
I never considered until about 4 or 5 years ago, that neither my mother or my father have ever once made an attempt to be with me for Christmas all these years. Just as abusers do not follow the rules they set out for others, victims don’t consider that the rules we accept for ourselves are not followed by the ones who set them out.
There is this universal “pecking order” that we all seem willing to stay in because we are not really aware of it. (we learned it from such a young age) No equality for children no matter how old they are; we must obey the wishes of the parents no matter how unfair. And I didn’t think about it! The truth is that we don’t think about “fair” in clear terms anyway because we learned to accept “unfair” from such a young age. I didn’t even notice anything wrong with that system. I just complied except that when I stopped going home for Christmas I always felt WRONG. So the guilt hit me anyway ~ every year even though I stayed away.
And when I think about it this is still related to compliance; I didn’t go home but I felt bad about it ~ as I “should” feel as I was “trained” to feel.
I was manipulated into staying home with her and for her and then she “dumped me” ~ I felt like I was punished for caring about her feelings, for being considerate. AND she wasn’t even sorry she did it. She acted like she didn’t notice that I was left alone all the time. And so the following year when I was 16, (and it wasn’t my father’s “turn” to have us) I went to my girlfriends house for Christmas day and although I felt really cared about there, I also felt like I didn’t really belong in their perfect family Christmas and I thought they just felt sorry for me ~ but it was great to be a part of the day with them. However, I still felt “bad and wrong”. (And yes it was a little bit related to rebellion and revenge that year.) BUT in the years to follow I didn’t stay away for those reasons anymore, however deep down I still believed that I did stay away for those reasons. Subconsciously in my mind’s eye, I saw a 15 year old teenager ~ angry and putting my foot down because I was rejected when I gave up Christmas with my father, my baby half sister and my brothers. And subconsciously I believed that each year after when I didn’t return home for Christmas was based on that resentment. So although I avoided the mess of family Christmas and all the crap that went with it, deep down I blamed myself for the turmoil that I still had around the holidays. I believed that I was hurting because I was selfish, spoiled and resentful after all those years and therefore in reality, I didn’t really avoid anything!
I have come a long way with this terrible spin. Tonight is Christmas Eve and I am thankful that my little family will all be here. My husband and I and our three kids will make finger food and appetizers and have a party in the living room. This has been something that we started doing when the kids were very small and as long as everyone wants to do it, we will. I am aware that each year we are all together is a gift because children grow up and things can change. I have two children leaving the nest this next year.
On Christmas day, we will open gifts from each other and prepare a big turkey dinner and celebrate in the ways that mean something to us. On Christmas day afternoon, my daughter is going to visit her friend, who is having a birthday and has never in her life spent time with a girlfriend on her birthday because it falls on Christmas Day. My other daughter is going to her boyfriend’s house right after we have Christmas dinner. We don’t have rules and expectations born out of obligation in our family today. We are together because we want to be and each year may bring something different and that is okay with me.
I am no longer burdened by guilt, shame or self blame when it comes to my family of origin. They made choices. I made choices too. I am filled with gratitude that I finally realized that I am allowed to make choices. I no longer have resentments either. Freedom came as a result of the work that I have done in recovery.
Wishing each of you a wonderful day filled with peace and contentment. Whatever you find yourself doing this holiday season, take a moment to acknowledge yourself. Remember that you are worthy, that you are loveable; that you deserve equality. We are all equally valuable. For those of you who celebrate the birth of Christ, that is the message that Jesus came to deliver.
Thank you for being part of my blog and for sharing your journey to emotional healing and overcoming abuse, with me.
I invite you to share your Holiday time victories or struggles or whatever else you would like to share. There is always lots of feedback in this healing community.
Merry Christmas ~ Happy Holidays.
Love Darlene Ouimet
Related Blog Posts: On EFB ~ Thanksgiving, Christmas and Dysfunctional Families
On Overcoming Sexual Abuse ~ “I’m Re-gifting Christmas”