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Unwrapping Holiday Trauma

Every year I face November with dread and guilt.

The dread is a longstanding, entrenched reaction to the upcoming holidays, and specifically Thanksgiving.

The guilt is because people I love were born in November, and it feels ungrateful to hate a particular month so thoroughly. There are November days I enjoy. Warm, sunny days where the leaves are glowing, or are crunchy underfoot, but most November days, it seems, are overcast, cool, damp with the hint of rain about to fall or the remains which are the aftermath of a good soaking.

When I was younger, and then much older, I spent holidays working. I took the shifts no one else wanted so they could have it off and I would be relieved of any holiday obligations.

Early in my life, I questioned the legitimacy of Thanksgiving as a pilgrim thing. Look to indigenous authors and speakers for more on that. It seems shitty, though, to celebrate an undertaking that cost so much human life.

The gratitude part, well, I try to sneak in as much gratitude as I can muster on any given day. Sometimes it’s overwhelming how much I have for which to give thanks, and sometimes I’m really scraping around the bottom of the barrel to come up with the basics, such as they are. Food, housing, transportation, health.

No one wants to hear of the trauma bearing down on the holiday love. Nor should anyone have to listen to that year after year.

Trauma identity may eventually morph into survivor identity which may eventually grow into thriver identity, but if you’re not there yet and the holidays are raw, painful, and full of gloom, it’s okay to step back and not participate.

Self healing and evaluation can take many forms. When I stopped working holidays and had the days off I was at a loss for a while. I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so how would I spend the day?

I took to the internet at times, posting random stuff I was doing that day, cooking or taking things apart. Hoping to be a cheerful-ish presence for anyone out there quiet and struggling, while maintaining that whatever someone feels at the holidays is valid. Sadness, grief, loss, love, joy, numbness, apathy, bitterness, guilt, peace. It’s valid. It’s okay.

Year after year of experiences both lovely and difficult, and everything in between, can build up and intertwine around turkey and stuffing and pie and arguments and cheery twinkle lights and magical trees, and mysterious presents, and shouting and embarrassment and broken glass and cinnamon.

Healing sets its own pace. No amount of therapy can undo what’s been done.

The best that can be done is to allow the feelings to flow and to develop strategies for self-care, self-connection, and meet the emotions when they show up drunk and unruly, or robed in death, or staggering with haphazardly hastily wrapped memories.

The crying and the missing and the pain of being separated from loved ones. Valid.

The unpacking, unwrapping of a forgotten treasure or repressed nightmare. Valid.

Isolation or solitude. Valid.

Reading and resting. Valid.

The anger and hurt and disappointment of what might have been, what could have been, what should have been. Valid.

Because you should have been loved.

You could have been loved.

You might have been loved.

Here’s the real thing though, and I hear this from people, and I see it in myself sometimes, that you can be blind to the love in your life. I owe this insight to my children.

You can be blind to love in your life by focusing on the people who didn’t love you when the might have, could have, or should have.

I evaluate my days.

I observe how I behaved, what I did that was good, what needed more work, what opportunities I may have missed, where fear overruled intuition, where instinct sabotaged sense.

I try to envision how I might try something different. The ever evolving experiment that is life begs and answer to the questions what worked, and what didn’t?

How can I bring more joy, and peace, and happiness into my life? Where can I give something away, give something back, add some kindness into to the world?

I write it down.

I mull it over in my mind.

I practice.

I try it out and see what happens.

Sometimes, it is by not participating that I reach peace. I will hole up with a good book and a mug of cocoa and let myself be.

That is a freedom.

No one gets to tell me how I feel.

Feelings come and go.

Anyone who tells me how I should feel about anything, they can just step back. If I’m struggling with difficult emotions and someone says, just be grateful. I’m unlikely to be grateful.

Let me struggle. If I can’t feel it, I can’t address it.

I write a lot of poetry about growing and hope and striving and opening, but the path to get there has been fraught with darkness and suffering and painful realizations interspersed with joy and love and acceptance.

I set forth with my life trying to reach my highest intentions, to develop beyond the limitations of what I have survived, but when the shadows roll in heavy, I grab my blanket, my flashlight, a box of tissues. There’s a system of meeting the dark, developed through experience, and the best I can figure out is to meet it, greet it, and deal with it as gently as possible.

The holidays can be hard. From losses to joys, and the roller coaster that can come emotionally calling may be overwhelming.

Being around others. Valid.

Taking time for yourself. Valid.

I hope the holiday season comes in gently full of soft, wonderful surprises and meaningful connections.

I hope that if you’re struggling through grief, and ups and downs, and working through stuff, that you find a way to make yourself a soft place to land, a safe place to sort it out, a loving place to just be.

It is enough to just be.

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Alone is All Right

Alone is alright

I am good company

There are books in the corner

Stories waiting their turn

Violins in the air

Weaving peace in my heart

Twinkle lights twinkling

In bright cheery shapes on the wall

Crossing off quests from the lists that I keep

Each adventure leads to a new mystery

Alone is all right

After all this time

Turn up the music and sing

Turn up the music and dance

I fold myself this way and that way

I stretch out beyond these four walls

In contemplation I grow like a vine up the trellis

My mind flowers and releases each seed of new hope

I am right where I need to be

Doing my thing

I show up with love

Conscious and aware

I choose every day to be here and to stay

To do my best by the people I pass on the way

The secret is that I am never alone

My solitary existence is watered and grown

By the love of my family and friends near and far

Infrequently touching by phone or by message

Our prayers for each other are always a blessing

There is plenty of room

There is plenty of space

In this way

To reach out to people I haven’t met yet

For the ripples of love to touch more than my circle

My purpose is greater than self satisfaction

Playfully playing with life’s interactions

I let down the walls that defined me

Turned up the flames of the fire that refined me

Over and over again I take wing

Flying free from the ashes of yesterday’s woe

You put a torch to a beautiful thing

Burning, I hold your gaze as I sing

Alone is alright

I am good company

Alone is all right

There’s no wrong to this song

I take wing

yellow and white smoke during night time
Photo by Rostislav Uzunov on Pexels.com
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Buried Alive

There’s a moment of desperation

When it all goes awry

A breakneck pace of events

Wondering

Will you live or

Will you die

Inevitable

Of course

A chance encounter

Might brush one off the path

Without warning

And yet

That stark clarity

Ultraviolet black light

Superimposition

Wreath while waiting in between diagnostic tests

Adrenaline rush

Of an intruder within

One’s own body

Sacred

Terms of terror

Biopsy

Will you live or die

Heads or tails

And how does one prepare

To say those

Words to family and friends:

“I’ve been caught out with a fatal condition

(LIFE)

with no cure and no hope but for a painless end.”

~ diagnosed to die
Waiting with a wall quilt

And to feel like I’ve

Let them down

And failed somehow

To survive another chapter and that

The writer of my life

Has no mercy

Is killing the character

I had loved to hate and

Hated to love

The character I learned to

Cherish and value

And yet here we were

We were buying burial plots

And stitching a shroud

Of memories for the end

Images were taken of

My insides inside out

Technicians tears and mine

Were mingled in the doubt

This year spent shielded

From the virus

Only to be vaccinated

And find death sneaking

In a back door left

Unguarded

In the waiting room. It would be good news, but we didn’t know that yet

How death cheated I supposed

How apropos I figured

Because again I felt

That precious wonder in

Each breath

I want to live

I want to live

And all those images

Would say that

There’s a small suspicious spot

It’s early

No matter if the worst

Case comes to pass

You’ve got this and it

Feels just like

A second chance

Life is short, and we never know, really, how short it will be

My good friend went with me to the urgent care, and to the stat diagnostic appointment the next morning. The period between the initial visit and the test results were fraught with tension, grief, preparation, and panic. The nurse, doctors, technicians were all compassionate, caring, and made this process less isolating than it could have been. A later appointment with the surgeon confirmed a probable positive prognosis. There still may be a significant journey ahead, but my chances are good, and I am grateful for that.

In addition to that, I am making some big life changes – in the middle of moving back to a place a used to live. I’m shedding all of my possessions but what fits into two car loads. The rest I have been, and am still, giving away. What I bring back into my life will be carefully evaluated for usefulness and beauty and character.