What type of holiday person are you? Are you a Scrooge or are you Buddy the Elf?
For years, I have been a Scrooge. Well, maybe more of a closet-Scrooge. For the sake of my children, I decorate the house; go all out with gifts and we do the prerequisite holiday activities like decorating the tree as a family, visiting Santa, and baking cookies or making a Gingerbread House. I’m actually very traditional in that sense because I want my kids to have the full Christmas experience, but at the same time I dread the holidays. Christmas music especially depresses me. If I had to work in a department store listening to Christmas music for eight hours a day, I would have to be institutionalized after a week. But seeing our Christmas tree finished and lit makes me happy and excited. But then again, don't even get me started on those cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies...GAG! However, I absolutely LOVE dancing in the living room with my kids when "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey comes on the radio. It’s like I can’t make up my mind. Do I hate it or love it? I hate it for me. I love it for my kids. Bottom line…For years and years I have been eager to get the holidays over and done with because of how chaotic and sad they make me feel.
I have known for a long time that there is really a very good reason for being depressed during the holidays. It all goes back to comparison and expectation. We see movies and commercials of perfect families having a perfect Christmas morning in their matching pajamas, sipping hot cocoa by a warm fire, with their department store Christmas tree perfectly decorated and their gifts perfectly wrapped. These fictional characters later have a perfect Christmas dinner with family and friends where a perfect turkey is served and everyone is dressed perfectly to the nines. But that is not reality. At least not mine. But I want it to be. Every. Single. Year.
My Christmas reality usually involves chaos, mismatched pajamas, gifts that look like I wrapped them with my feet, me yelling at my screaming kids, a lopsided Christmas tree, watching the KTLA fireplace burn on TV because we don’t have a fireplace; and usually someone is sick; someone is disappointed (me); someone is offended (me); someone’s feelings are hurt (me); and someone is upset (me). Every Christmas I ask Santa for perfection but all I get is imperfection. Basically, I have a hard time letting go of what I think is supposed to be and accepting what is. (Just like BrenéBrown's book "The Gifts of Imperfection" talks about.)
I have had many grumpy Christmas mornings – I’ve been angry that my son didn’t sleep literally ALL NIGHT and kept me awake with him ALL NIGHT, while my husband snored like a train (This actually happens every year because my kid is an insomniac the night before Christmas and really, truly does not sleep ALL NIGHT. I kid you not. I've even resorted to giving him Benadryl to help him sleep, to no avail and I reiterate...ALL NIGHT!) I’ve been upset that my son’s reaction to his gifts from Santa wasn’t what I anticipated. I’ve yelled at him when immediately after opening 10 gifts from Santa, he asked to watch TV. I’ve been pissed that my husband didn’t help me take photos and video of the kids while they opened gifts and instead he actually had the “audacity” to just watch them enjoy the moment. I’ve been disappointed that our Christmas breakfast wasn’t an extravagant buffet brunch, but rather scrambled eggs and frozen waffles on paper plates. And in my warped mind, I am convinced that I am the only woman on the planet having an imperfect holiday, which only further aggravates and upsets me.
I started wondering when exactly I became so Scroogey. I think it has gotten progressively worse over time. When I was a kid, I loved Christmas, like I imagine the average child does. Then my mom died when I was 16 and I experienced my first sad Christmas. From that point on, all of my Christmases have had an element of melancholy to them. And as the years have gone by, I have kept adding to the list of reasons to detest the holidays – my dad moved thousands of miles away; I suffered the loss of my unborn baby; I dealt with infertility for many years; and I spent a couple of years waiting to adopt. Certainly, none of these scenarios resulted in joyful Christmas mornings for me because I have lived most of my life missing someone or wishing someone was here. Throw some family drama into the mix and it helps to understand why these factors in my life culminated in turning me into a Scrooge. Even after becoming a mother to my two beautiful children and enjoying Christmas morning through their eyes, I still can’t let go of the scars my losses left behind. I also see now that I will never achieve the perfection I desire because of the losses. And that my desire for perfection is in a desperate effort to control the little control I feel I have. I wasn't able to control what I've lost but I fool myself into believing that I can control other aspects of my life - like having a picture-perfect Christmas that lives up to everyone else's.
My therapist used to reassure me that I was quite normal for feeling depressed during the holidays. She used to tell me that a lot of people suffer from depression during the holidays for a variety of reasons, usually involving loss, grief, loneliness, disappointment, etc. So that was validating to hear but I never got to the part of how to make it go away; how to make it stop. Or maybe we did go over that and I just wasn’t ready to hear it because I wanted to hold on to the familiarity and comfort of my old wounds.
This year though, I want to do the Christmas season differently. I want to continue on the path to changing my story and embracing a perfectly imperfect holiday.
|Christmas 2013 - Note the fireplace on the fingerprint-smudged TV|
I never watch TV in the morning but today I wanted to watch because the cable company was coming to switch out our DVR and I had so many shows I recorded and never got around to watching. Some of them were as old as nine months. My DVR list had about seven Super Soul Sunday episodes, some Oprah’s Lifeclass and Oprah’s Master Class shows as well as a few prime-time dramas and comedies.
I only had time to watch one show. Of all the shows I could choose, I decided on this week’s Super Soul Sunday. It was a re-run but I had missed watching it the first time because it had been deleted from my DVR somehow. The show was about Madonna Badger, a woman who lost her three daughters and her mother and father in a fire on Christmas morning three years ago and her resilience through her journey of grief.
It’s been three days since I started writing this post about my sad Christmas-pasts, but as I was watching this brave woman talk this morning about how she has learned to survive and heal from such tremendous loss; an unimaginable tragedy that occurred on actual Christmas morning…I realized how fitting it was that I had picked this show to watch because suddenly I gained a new perspective for the way I view the holidays; for the sadness and grief I carry during this time of year. I reminded myself that this precious, magical time of year is not one I need to spend focused on what I don’t have or on what I’ve lost or on of all the imperfections. Instead, I need to direct my attention and energy to what is right here, right now, in front of me. Because for so many years I’ve been depriving myself of true joy during the holidays by staying stuck in my old story of loss; chasing after perfection to make up for the emptiness. Sure, I have been happy and excited to experience Christmas through the eyes of my children, but I don’t think I have fully enjoyed it for myself in a very long time.
Madonna Badger spoke so many profound words but one of the things that stood out the most for me is what Wyatt Webb (a renowned psychotherapist whom I had the great honor of doing a workshop with in 2012 during my visit to Miraval Resort in Tucson, AZ) told her in the midst of her raw grief. He said she just needed to find someone to love her. Madonna Badger believes a big part of healing from loss is allowing others to love you and take care of you.
This resonated so much with me because as I was watching the show, I had a flashback to last year’s Christmas Eve and how sad I was all morning. My children and husband were taking in the excitement and wonder of the holiday but I could not. I cried like I do every Christmas Eve. But then on my quest to change my story, I decided I had had enough of being sad, so I wrote myself a letter and did a watercolor page in my art journal to lift my spirits.
In the letter to myself I wrote that I need to remember that I am loved and I am not alone. I reminded myself that I am treasured and adored by my husband and children. My mom wasn't the only one who did that for me. I told myself to accept, embrace, and allow myself to feel the love and the joy in my life. I encouraged myself to let go of the old story and pain of the past. I wrote that I need to enjoy Christmas and give my kids the same kind of joy I had as a child during the holidays. I told myself to let go of the sadness and choose happiness instead.
|September 2012 - Maggie and I with Wyatt Webb|
As Super Soul Sunday was ending, Oprah stated that Madonna Badger says her daughters come to her in unexpected ways – sometimes in the form of a butterfly. I wept as I heard validation that I am not crazy for feeling that every time I see a butterfly I know it is my mom and my baby Gabriel letting me know they are with me.
In fact, four days ago, I returned to the butterfly park to share it with my husband and to take more photos of the gorgeous Monarchs. As I sat on the ground, snapping pictures of my children running around, I heard a little girl calling out loudly, over and over to a little boy ”Gabriel….Gabriel….Gabriel…” I smiled wide allowing myself to feel the love of my baby boy letting me know I am not alone.
The next day, we went to the Venice Canals to walk around. Just as I got out of the car, a giant Monarch butterfly flew literally in front of my face. It was so big and came so close to me that I thought it was a bird. I laughed, imagining my mom watching me from heaven and coming along with us to the Venice Canals.
I know I’m all over the place with this post; My writing isn’t flowing. But the thoughts flow perfectly in my mind as I am making sense of all I have been through and connecting the dots of the past to the lessons I’ve learned in the last two years.
My intention this season is to embrace our mismatched pajamas and lopsided Christmas tree. It may be an imperfect holiday but it will be a joyful one. If you have never written yourself a letter…do it. It is a very healing, therapeutic, and self-loving act. As Brené Brown says, talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. And I encourage you this holiday and every day, to let yourself be loved. Let yourself be taken care of. Love is what helps us heal and move forward. Perfection isn't necessary; love is. Love is enough.
|November 2014 - A Monarch at the park|