It’s a weird thing, the expectations and idealizations we project onto the holidays. Given that beyond the glimpses displayed on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or the long preserved and manicured narratives of T.V. and anywhere you can shop; the majority of my personal experience has shown me we’re constantly vexed by the large gap that exists between these images of what the holidays “should” be and what we actually experience. Even in movies like the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, which attempt to bring humor to the conflicts of the seasons, there is a happy ending that addresses all of the preceding conflict(s). And of course, there is. Who would want to watch a comedy that is exactly what really happens without any embellishment or a nice bow on top? That would be masochism.
In real life, the happy moments that we might possibly experience during the holidays stand in the eye of the tornado. A tornado – of all of the issues that come with your family of origin, debt, insecurities long held, newer insecurities that developed, health issues, and the many many systematic conflicts that engulf people who are less privileged than those who are privileged (in any way, shape, or form) – that is moving constantly, violently, erratically, and will not go away easily, if at all. Eventually we will take our eyes off the shiny things, wherever they’ve come from, and see we are in a storm we cannot escape. If you doubt me, just turn on the news. If the news doesn’t get you, go back and spend more time with all of your relatives. If that still doesn’t work, then go back and spend more time with all of your relatives to talk about what you saw on the news – politics must not be omitted. We are inundated with messages of idealization that surround us like a thick dome but are as delicate as a Fabergé egg crushed under the indifferent weight of reality.
So, with the New Year and the traditions of setting goals, celebrating or trying to get a “new you,” dieting, exercising, etc., etc., etc., please excuse me if I don’t feel that there is much of a clean slate ahead and within the grasp of a few line items being listed in the books. In fact, as I am writing this, a bird just shitted on the window to the left of me at my house. An omen of things to come perhaps? They say you’re lucky if a bird poops on you…what a way to spin being defecated on. That said, I think these resolutions can be like the psyche trying to wipe the shit off of the window when the idea of luck is overridden by the fact that what just happened is just plain gross (and I did promptly clean my window even if it means my house is now blessed with luck).
I guess this is partly why these traditions exist. To bring a sense of hope and order to the recent past in which hope has been replaced with a pile of messiness and disappointment. Do this and that and maybe we’ll we be out of the storm. And why not? It’s logical to find resolutions. So why am I so bothered? I think it’s because despite this logical ritual, and trying to find a way out, the storm deserves appreciation for what it is. It’s the need to grieve all of the things that’ve happened in 2018. Things that deserve grieving. I mean, how absurd would it be for a person to have someone significant to them lost through death or breakup or whatever it is that can cause agonizing separation, and then expect the sudden turning of a calendar page to ameliorate all wounds and usher in feelings of freshness and vivacity? That is delusional.
In my psychodynamic therapy practice, I try to allow a space for human experience to be named. Where the many parts of our selves, of which many can be in conflict with other parts of our selves, can be processed in relationship and dialogue, instead of internally hidden and fragmented. It is this fragmentation of experience, where our losses in life do not match the fulfillment we desire, and where wounds are made, that our humanity has such a difficult time with. Denial, avoidance, anxiety, depression, self-contempt, nightmares, self-destructive behavior, self-sabotage of relationships, neurosis and psychosis all involve degrees of fragmentation. Integration of a cohesive self, then, involves naming experience…the part of you that still remembers the hurtful thing and things that happened, giving it its deserved space…even if the calendar page has turned.
And so for me, I am still processing the choice to have left my non-profit agency and all the unfulfilled hopes I had for it while I was there in leadership; all of the wounds incurred as I tried and tried to work those dreams into reality; the unresolved strife. It was soul sucking, and at times I felt I was at the edge of my capacity to function. Near the end of my time there, I was definitely beyond my ability to function as a “normal” human. I felt like a shell of a shadow of myself. So, leaving that place in April, saying goodbye to clients and colleagues felt like surrendering in a battle that I could not have won but desperately wanted to.
I feel somber as I think about the many health scares pregnancy has involved, which reminds me of our miscarriage the year before. There are too many thoughts and feelings I still haven’t faced from that time, which still feel raw and beyond reach of my mind and heart. That said, I can name with clarity that as much as there was profound loss, there is profound joy; and those two things continue to be inseparable.
The family-shaped hole in my life has felt gaping wide, and hasn’t really felt any smaller, after my dad suddenly died in September after keeping his prostate cancer hidden. After discovering the vast amounts of debt he incurred, as well as other things he long kept secret. My wishes to be fathered in a way that feels safe and intentional are now vapor in the wind. And I especially saw that vapor floating and lingering in the air like a ghost on my birthday, which also fell on Thanksgiving this last year, then throughout the Christmas season, and now with the New Year, with January 1st being when my mother passed away. Today is the 10-year anniversary of my mother’s death; but it feels much closer than that. Sometimes, I still have dreams that she’s alive, that her death was a mistake and she came back from the hospital in even better health than when she was near death, able to walk and talk, and coherent. In other iterations, she awakes from the casket at her viewing. But it’s always me who wakes up, wakes up and feels sad it was only a dream and with the realization that the reality is even sadder. This year the sadness is amplified with the loss of both my parents, the pain greater than the sum of its parts.
So, as I have no choice but to step forward into 2019, I do it trying to make space for all of my parts. Parts named here and also the parts too tender for me to put into words in this space. The hopes and dreams are here, as well as scars and wounds still open from the past, long ago and fresh in time. Maybe the tornado will calm and I will find myself lucky, and hopefully ready for future storms with no delusions about it.