Every year it is the same. I dread the end of summer. Finally, I get used to fall. I even begin to enjoy it. I love ginger cookies and homemade stuffing and baggy sweaters and stretchy pants and boots. Stores and QVC and mail order catalogs burst with holiday deals. I like all that. At first. But just about the time I start thinking that the holidays might actually be fun this year, I am hit by this incredible, overwhelming sense of loss and sadness.
We Christians like to declare that Jesus is the reason for the (Christmas) season and that Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks to God…But no matter your religious persuasion: the holidays are all about Family. Family gathering. Family bickering. Family going to church together. Family traveling to see family. Family gift giving. Family. Family. Family.
It becomes nearly impossible to limit the thoughts of my family of origin. The questioning (maybe they weren’t that bad? Maybe they’ve changed? Maybe I should reach out again?) starts up again. The aching feelings of abandonment. The loneliness.
I believe I have something called trauma bonding. Especially with my mom and to a lesser degree with my dad. Going no contact with them was very, very difficult. It remains difficult. It was also something I knew in my gut that I absolutely had to do if I was going to crawl back from the very dark hole I ended up in after a lifetime of denying the extent of my childhood abuses.
I have made such good progress in climbing out of that hole. But I can still get very low and I don’t like it. So lately I have been researching how to break trauma bonds. According to this article, there are chemical reactions in our brain which can take place automatically due to our feelings of love for another. To quote the article:
Through the process of love, our brain will have many chemical reactions, which take place automatically. Therefore, when we are trying to move past this type of painful relationship, we can reduce the chances of the brain having those reactions (of bonding) by limiting the time around the person with pathological narcissism or psychopathy.
And so the holiday season brings near-constant reminders of family which reminds me of the painful reality of my family situation. As well as constant temptations to forego reality and go back into the fantasy land of pretending that my family of origin isn’t completely toxic.
My therapist tells me I can’t outright call my parents, siblings, and other close relatives ‘narcissists’; or I might get sued…but regardless of what actual pathology they may have, I know I had to go ‘no contact’ in order to save myself and to try and heal. That is the hard reality.
And so, when I see all the obvious signs of Thanksgiving, and Christmas…
I wonder if there are just automatic chemical reactions in my brain which occur. I suspect that the holidays themselves, with the constant reinforcement of family ties, are a bit like having actual contact again with the toxic people I choose to avoid. Because I’ve been doing CBT for years now. I’m containing. I’m reframing. I’m counting my blessings and being thankful for what I do have.
And the holidays are still very, very hard for me.
If anyone else is struggling with loss and the holiday season fuels your feelings of loss, then I feel your pain. Prayers and much love to you. And if I may offer some advice (advice which I am saying to myself as much as to anyone else):
Stay in reality. Don’t slip back into the fantasy that just because there is a turkey and a tree you can have a ‘normal’ time around a table with toxic people. You can’t.