It doesn’t bother me when someone says “I read/listened to you and I need more information because I don’t understand how to be helpful.” In fact, that is a terrific response because it indicates that someone is trying to understand, wants to be helpful and is willing to invest a little time and energy into doing so – not just fix the problem or fix me.
I can’t begin to explain my convoluted irrational thought process around the holidays. But I do understand why people drink every night. I understand why for years I used to throw myself headfirst into holiday toy projects for weeks on end- to avoid having to think about the thoughts. I understand why food, booze, sex, shopping, etc become balms for our expectations, expectations we struggle to articulate. And what that doesn’t work – when we aren’t transformed by the holiday trappings into the merry and bright creatures everyone wants to be with – we argue, whine, and take it out on the people we love.
In all these years, I never took a breath and the time to examine my own expectations. That would have required me to listen to my inner thoughts and the litany of crazy, irrational thoughts that pervade my life. And that’s a lonely conversation to have.
Occasionally, I’ve tried to discuss my specific irrational thoughts – the ways I’ve tried to use illusion, whimsy and make-believe to transform a really difficult time on year into something the remotely resembles the fantasy.
And this is where you might be tempted to tell me to make my own traditions, to not feel obligated to what other people expect. And while you may be right, your advice is not necessarily useful because what you aren’t exploring is *how* to do that. It is not an attitude adjustment. It is not a weakness of character or a flaw in temperament. It is a real thing and “buck up, Sue” reinforces all the worst things I think about myself.
But when you try to explain why and how getting a tree decorated matters, it sounds ridiculous even in your own head. Where are the words to explain what it’s like to see a fully decorated tree used a projectile? Or disassembled and neatly packed away two weeks before Christmas Day? Or the dissociation of watching an adult relative’s tree when you are being babysat? Those aren’t conversations people want to have. They sure didn’t want to have them back then. And its really hard to put the past to rest when there’s no one with whom you can discuss it.
And this is where you might be tempted to send me a poem or meme or letter about letting go and moving on and creating my own life. All good sentiments, but trauma isn’t fixed by a Facebook meme no matter how well-intentioned.
This is hard. It is hard to want something very much and reject it at the very same time. It is compounded because my hands don’t work right so I can’t even go get a damn tree and put it up. I can’t carry boxes of ornaments from the attic.
I can shop online. I can wrap my gifts in bags. I can make a play list of holiday specials to watch on Netflix. I can even order cookies and shop for egg nog (on a good day.) But I can’t decorate. I can’t put up lights. I haven’t even left the house in 9 days. And I can’t really explain why. So I can’t ask for help. I just sort of limp along with a Charlie Brown Christmas. And I piss off people by my focus on external projects at the expense of personal projects.
That’s the reality of experiencing the holidays with a disability. Very real constraints on things that most people take for granted. Yes, it is irrational. And lonely. So I get frustrated and retreat. I take long naps to sooth my brain, I watch movies. I listen to music. And I stay home.
There’s a new meme going around about doing kind things for people rather than focusing on the naughty/nice list. What a lovely thought. That gives me some hope to have a new acceptable distraction for the holidays.
Still, maybe I should get that Bailey’s. Just to take the edge off in the mornings, eh?