We all have our own Christmas/holiday traditions and memories that our unique to our own families.
When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was also my father’s birthday, so we would have cake after dinner, and he would open up his birthday gifts. Then after dinner, I would do a Christmas gift exchange with my relatives who lived next door and across the street. Usually, it was liquor and something for the dogs. Or some kind of food item. I liked that part because we got to open those gifts on Christmas Eve, and usually we got a big gift box of cheese and crackers and candy from my father’s sister. This was back in the day when the pizza people wouldn’t even deliver to our house because we were so far outside of the city, so anything that was a snack out of the ordinary was considered special. Plus, we got to have soda with it as well.
So special was this gift to me, that when I first met my soon to be husband’s mother and we had our first gift exchange…well, guess what I got her? Who doesn’t like cheese? Well, his mother, from the look of disappointment on her face. That was one of the first of many life lessons for me. Life as I had always known it, would never be the same.
I have always loved buying gifts for people at Christmas. But, once a gift is given, it is up to the recipient as to what to do with it. Or even if they will acknowledge it.
As I shared in our group meeting, I ordered and sent cookies to two people I knew and got very different reactions. One person was pleasantly surprised and was happy to be remembered. They said they were enjoying the cookies. The other? Not a word. None.
True, once the gift has been given, we have no control over what happens. But we do have control over who gets cookies sent to them next year. Some kind of acknowledgement is nice. Even just to know they got them.
We talked a bit tonight about the holidays and about families and dysfunction and avoidance of certain family members.
I was very hurt this past week. I’m trying to do something to help my eldest son. It’s a big something financially. The thing is, like giving a gift, if you choose to help someone, there shouldn’t be any strings attached. However, my son usually works every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday but this year, he has both holidays off. He spent Thanksgiving with his dad and his father’s family. He told me outright this week when he stopped by to drop off his rent that he will be off for Christmas, but that I should not expect to see him.
My first reaction, instead of saying something to him, was to reach out to a friend to say……”why me?” Because family does not just say one thing when they speak. Family lives in a hall of mirrors, where words hide in corners and come out after many years and bring their friends with them, magnified and multiplied and bouncing off surfaces over and over again.
“Who was always there for you?” I wanted to ask. Who held you when you cried? Who took care of you when you were sick? Who was home every night with you? Who went to school meetings and to court when your friends were jerks and who got the DNA test when you were 16 years old and had a child? Who took care of your child every weekend? Who drove your child back and forth and had to deal with the lunatic other grandmother who was trying to get kids to beat you up at school?
Who has been paying for repairs for the house you have been living in and who has been charging you only half of what I owe each month so you can have what you need?
And as I told my friend this, how unfair it all was that my son does not see me as the “fun” parent, or the parent he wants to “hang” with, I had to ask myself…well, then, this is nothing new, is it? He has always gotten what he has needed from me. It was his father that he craved the closeness with.
So, now like his dad, he tosses out verbal abuse and rudeness like turkeys from a helicopter on Thanksgiving. With pretty much the same effect. (Not everyone will get that reference)
There was a time when I felt trapped in abuse. I left my ex-husband to get away from what was going on, only to go back to the life I had been trying to escape by moving out and getting married.
And I didn’t understand why this kept happening to me.
And as I told my friend about how hurt I felt that my son did not want to come to see me….and his brother and his baby nephew…on Christmas…after all I had done for him…the answer was pretty clear.
Why am I still giving him so much? What am I not taking care of myself? He is a grown man. And my kid or not, he is not appreciating what I am doing for him enough to treat me with the respect I deserve as his mom.
I read something that a survivor sent me this week. It was about the responsibility we carry as victims when it comes to being abused.
“Responsibility” does not mean “fault”. And it sure as heck does not feel like we are able to do anything about the abuse we get when it happens. I don’t feel like I can do much more than tell my son that he has hurt my feelings when he does not seem to care how I feel. And that doesn’t seem very powerful.
What I am going to say next is not going to be very popular. When we are involved in a dysfunctional dance, we are still dancing even if someone else is leading. Why do I do so much for my son? Because I love him, obviously. But if I am being honest, it’s also because I want him to need me or I want to still be needed. Otherwise, I would not continue to be over-supportive. In some way, I am asking him to love me, instead of taking care of myself first.
Someone said to me, “I think I have a right to be mean after all I’ve been through.” Well, I think we have a right to be angry, and to express our anger, but I don’t think we have a right to be mean to anyone.
But there is that line that we have to learn about when we have been abused and unhealthy for so long. I understand. I used to think being assertive meant that I should say anything without caring how someone else felt. It’s not. But it’s a learning process.
I can still love my son without over-giving. I can pull back my support if I choose to do so without being mean. I can still be fair and treat him as I would anyone else who takes what I give and then does not speak to me lovingly.
Someone mentioned that being alone for the holidays is nicer and more peaceful than being with toxic family members. Perhaps I need to look at it that way as well. Toxic people will tend to leave your life as you grow less tolerant of their behavior and begin to take care of yourself. Instead of feeling a loss with my son this Christmas, perhaps I should look at it as I would rather not have you here if you are going to upset me.
It sounds sad, as family and the holidays just seem to go together. But sadder still is feeling the need to grab onto someone’s pant leg as they kick you away.
Healing and growing is a constant thing. We can go from feeling like we are at a “10” one moment and then go to “0” when something triggers us, and emotions take over. But from what I read, it is far better to focus on our own growth and what needs to change within us, than it is to only see what someone has done to us and to feel the need for revenge in order to feel whole.
Very often, it said, getting justice is not as satisfying as we think it is going to be. And by the way, seeking justice is always up to the individual. It is not mandatory and certainly not something that needs to be done if it is going to retraumatize someone. But abusers are out there, not just in the church. And being a nice person or doing nice things does not guarantee good things will be done in return to you. Sometimes people will take you for granted or will take advantage of you. Sometimes we need to learn that it is okay to get angry enough to stop being so nice to people who will not return your kindness.
So, during this week of giving, make sure to give enough to yourself. Make yourself a priority in this season of love.
Merry Christmas to all!