I hate when people say “merry” Christmas to me. Or “happy” holidays.
Because I feel like I am being forced to feel something that is not there.
I’ve been no contact with my family for almost 8 years. The reason for no contact is complex and multilayered but to keep a long story short, I spoke my truth and they didn’t like it. So I had to rid myself of the toxicity and be gone.
My Christmases and other holidays stopped being Merry after that. The first Christmas I spent without them was one of denial. I thought “for sure they will come through the door, forgive me, and give me a big hug and things will be back to normal.” I waited and waited and waited, for hours. The children I was caring for were at their parents home, celebrating with their first families. I was home, alone. In tears. Wanting to reach out to these people but knowing that if I reached out, I would be the “prodigal” child who returned….and I was not a prodigal child. I had not gone anywhere. My truth had scared them, and they left.
Ever since I was trafficked, my Christmas was not merry. How could it be? Every year I sat with a strange family that didn’t look like me, we sang, opened gifts with a white Santa who sat in the big chair, and I kept looking around and couldn’t find my real mom, or my dad. Merry is not something I could ever be during this particular holiday; any holiday really.
Each year went by and I waited for my mom to come and get me. I waited for her to tell my adoptive mom “give me my child back.” I waited for my real name to be used when calling me. I waited for my hair to be done by the person who gave birth to me. Every year I waited…for years. No one ever came. Adoptive parents, THIS is your adoptee in the home. I promise. They may not share how they feel, but sharing and feeling are two different things. Be open to this very important conversation and relinquish your right to be fragile.
After turning 28ish, and going no contact, I was in disbelief that not only was I abandoned once, but a second time. This time I had a choice in the matter. I was tired of being treated like crap and I was tired of being the black sheep of the family. I had to do something about that. I couldn’t keep feeling responsible for my family’s dysfunction. I had to speak my truth. I had to tell them about the sexual abuse, I had to let them know how I felt being adopted. And all that came with a cost.
Separation once again.
So I used part of my inheritance and went to Puerto Rico. My trip there included sobs and tears. I needed to get as far as my visa would permit and yet not so far that I couldn’t come home to the kids I was raising. So I got on a plane, in tears, and landed in Puerto Rico.
It was in Puerto Rico where I had an awakening. No matter how much you hate someone, if you were raised with them, there is still a connection, even if it is unhealthy. This does not mean, however, that you stay in an unhealthy relationship. You need to find a way to move on.
Physically removing myself from an abusive relationship was my first step. From then on I would have to figure out how to live in the same small town as they did, knowing the amount of influence they had on the people around them; I had to navigate the need to be even more independent, but also aware of how my life to come would influence the children in my home.
Merry is not something I was. Real? Yes. I had to allow myself to feel. During the holidays I had to tell myself “during this time, you feel whatever it is you need to feel and be ok with that.”
But what happens to us when people tell us to be Merry on Christmas? It’s like a command. There is this feeling that we HAVE to be Merry. There is this feeling that we HAVE to be happy.
But no. No you don’t.
What happens when people say “enjoy” the holidays? I feel like I’m being forced to enjoy something I never really did enjoy. Am I capable of finding a way to enjoy it? Of course. But the command is pretty intense and straight forward.
And then our response to “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is usually you too or thanks. But there are never any follow-up questions. There is rarely a “how are you spending the holidays? Do you have family to go to? Do you have loved ones to spend time with?”
Why do we not ask the hard questions during this very difficult time of year? Do we not have “time” for strangers? How about the people we love? Everyone is fighting their own battle. Everyone has some kind of pain that keeps them dying quicker, or living longer. Why do we not take the time for strangers?
I’m not talking about giving someone a dollar on the street, or saying “I pray you have a good Christmas.” I’m talking about doing what we were meant to do from the day we were created: Connect.
Aren’t we supposed to care?
How is telling people to be happy or merry really caring about who THEY are. Telling people to be happy or merry is assuming they are, or assuming they are not and telling them they should have a different attitude.
Telling people to be happy or merry is in fact another way of tone policing. It’s like telling a person of color to smile at work. Or asking a person why they don’t smile.
It’s like telling anyone at work to smile. What if they can’t?
What if there was a death in the family?
What if there was a separation?
their goldfish died.
What if their cat has cancer?
What if they can’t put food on the table for their kids?
What if their child just told them they were being touched by a relative?
What if they are dying inside?
How do we force someone (using words) to be or feel something they are not?
I think we need to get rid of these “well wish” greetings and start really reaching out to people. Instead of wishing them well, how about we ask them what will help them feel well.
Instead of wishing someone a Merry Christmas, how about we ask them how they celebrate this particular holiday, or if they celebrate it at all.
Instead of saying Happy Holidays, how about we ask them “what will make this holiday happy for you? What can I do to make it happy?”
Can I get you some wine?
Can I pay your Cable bill this month?
Can I pay your phone bill?
Can I give you money for gifts?
Can I give you some gift cards?
Can I take you out to lunch, breakfast, brunch, or dinner?
Can I do your laundry (yes, even that is a blessing)?
What can I do to help make this holiday “happy” for you?
Can I just sit with you for a while?
According to the CDC, “suicide remains a major public health problem and it is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans.” It is not really clear whether suicides are more frequent during the holidays but it would make sense that people who don’t have family, friends, or are just having some struggles would free themselves in this manner at such a time when they are expected to be happy.
Internal pain is deceptive because it is not very visible to the outside world. It takes time to get down to what is really wrong, how one really feels. On the outside, people look a certain way, but on the inside most are dealing with intense sadness.
So how do we become that “happy” and “merry” adjective for someone else? How do we really help someone get there? We ask questions. We take time out of our day. We let go of the “what will people think” fear and reach out.
Use caution, be wise and remember, you have been empowered to BE that thing which you want others to feel.This holiday season, instead of wishing someone a command, be that command by asking “what would make you feel merry/happy?”