Sunday, December 12, 2010

Living the Unspoken Life

by Leann

For many, this season brings joy and bustle and connections and decorations. For me, no matter how much I understand my past, no matter how well I accept what happened and forgive those who were supposed to love me unconditionally, there are days leading up to Christmas where I am overcome with sadness. It is a sadness so deep and profound, I cannot explain it and I cannot contain it.

Some might label it self-pity, but as I explore these feelings, I don't accept that explanation. It is a wound never healed that is ripped opened at this time of year. Perhaps this happens, I think, because Christmas is about children, about giving and loving and being there for others. But there are many of us, the children of alcoholics, the children of abusers, the children who were too sensitive, and far too willing to bear the burden of all their family's dysfunction, who remember Christmas past as some of the most painful days of their lives. I know about you and you know me. We understand each other.

I have recently come to comprehend that as one famous someone said,(I honestly do not know who that is), children live the unspoken life of their parents. I take this to mean many things: you do what they could not, you are who they wished they could be, you do what you think they could not. Because you must.

Another favorite quote goes something like this: "If you want it done perfectly, ask the child of an alcoholic to do it." That is all part of the unspoken life. There is no perfect, I have learned. There is no fixing the unfixable. Yet the need remains to repair, to go back in time and to find that perfection. Impossible. A dream. A wish. Love. Magic. All the things that Christmas represents.

The unspoken life has, on a less morose note, led me to books and writing and the ability to give myself to the world and be accepted. For most of the year, that is enough. It is good. It drives me. The unspoken life of my parents, I believe, was to be the best, to achieve the most, to leave the world a better place. I hope I am living that life. But at Christmas, the sadness is almost too much to bear.

What about some of you? Do you understand? Have you been there? Are the holidays bringing more sadness than joy? How do you make it bearable?

23 comments:

Nanc said...

Leann,
I, too experience a few unguarded moments of profound sadness during the Christmas holidays. Not because of abuse, alcoholism or other horrors but because this is the season my mom loved...though it has been over 25 years since her death I am always brought to tears the first time I hear "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" or watch White Christmas...I don't put my sadness to equal of yours but I do empathize. Oh how I wish that my mom had had the opportunity to meet my children...or for them to have had a Grandma Christmas just one time so that they would have the wonderful magical memories that I do...instead she has left me with those memories and the ability to make the holidays magical for them. Sending prayers of peace and healing your way...and prayers that you find solace in the true meaning of the season.
blessings,
nanc

Dru said...

Surrounding yourself with loved ones, whether it is family or friends, and seeing the smile and joy on their faces will lighten the load.

jbstanley said...

Leann, you have expressed this burden of the past perfectly and profoundly. To me, creation helps obliterate sad memories. Baking, writing, painting, all of those things we can do to bring to the world ease the blues. And there's something you do regularly that is an incredible lift to the spirit and that is to show kindness to others. Know that your sincerity and goodness does not go unnoticed by your friends and readers.

Aubrey said...

All too many of us know exactly how you feel. At Christmas it is impossible not to compare the perfect families in the advertising to the one I grew up in. I don't deny the sadness, to do so is to deny the validity of my feelings.

I do try to remember though that the sum of my experiences have made me who I am now. Without them perhaps I would not be as kind, as generous, and as compassionate.

I expect the same is true for you.

Molly Swoboda said...

Bravely spoken, Leann, and I do understand. Building on Nanc's comment, the result is that we often grieve the loss of our parents and our childhoods over and over. We grieve again when parents die and childhoods wain -- a lifetime of grief for what might have been. Grief is a process; the end of which is acceptance. They did the best they could, and now, so must we. I wish for you your *very* best. ~m

Bookwoman said...

Leann and Nanc: I can identify with both of you. My father was an alcoholic and so was my mother but I didn’t realize she was until I was an adult. My dad was one of those guys who could never accomplish what he wanted and always wanted to blame it on someone else. So he drank. My mother was Joan Crawford incarnate. For my dad I was a way he could squeeze money out of his parents, for my mother – I was someone to clean the house, run herd on the other children, and to be yelled at when she wanted to yell at my dad. My parents split when I was twelve and then we added an abusive stepfather to the mix. But God gave me to gifts to help me get through all of that: books and my Granny. Books for me to escape into and my Granny for a safe place to feel loved. Christmas with my mom was horrible because as the oldest child I was responsible for making sure all the other kids behaved and since I looked like my father nothing I ever did was right. Christmas with my dad was ok, because it was really Christmas with my Granny. She loved me no matter what. She’s the one I consider my mother. And thanks to her I do have some lovely Christmas memories, but she died 17 years ago and I miss her every holiday. My children never got to meet her and that makes me very sad. I’m not my mother, but I’m not perfect and I wanted my boys to have someone like my Granny should they ever need to talk to someone and felt they couldn’t talk to me. Leann my heart aches for you and all the others who have gone through what you have. I think you are an amazing person – a survivor. And it takes a strong person to admit those feelings are there and to confront them rather than trying to deny or hide them. My prayers are with you.

Leann Sweeney said...

I hesitated to bare my soul on what is usually a light and funny and wonderful blog. But all of you have told me I did the right thing. My story is like so many others and yet we all hide it because we think it will dampen the spirit. But the sadness lies beneath the surface and emerges at unexpected moments. Thanks to all of you, for you are the support so many of us need.

Leann Sweeney said...

Jenn, your words hold special meaning. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you all for understanding.

Mare F said...

The holidays tend to bring up the worst memories as well as the best. It took me a long time to realize that my friends are my family. We have chosen each other and cherish each other. You have already made my life much better and much happier by knowing you. Please know that you are in my heart and the hearts of many others.

Anonymous said...

Leann, Bookwoman, to each of you, I have a similar story, and the one thing I want to give each of you - remember that you are special - you are stronger than you ever thought you could be - you are brighter than you ever thought you could be - you are beautiful - you are giving - you are a nurturer - now look at those qualities - isn't that someone you admire? Isn't that woman a treasure? Wouldn't you like to be her friend? Value yourself, and if the holidays get you down, be sad for a time but also involve yourself with people, enjoy the music and remember it will finally pass. You are loved!

Debra said...

Leann,
You are a very brave woman. With all you went through, you came out the other side. Faking Christmas happiness is not honoring who you are -- a talented person who lived through so much and came through it.

Leann Sweeney said...

Sometimes I regret being so open, but not today. You wonderful people lift me, spare me, help me write one more chapter in my now spoken life. Thank you.

Wendy Lyn Watson said...

Leann, Thank you for this.

I, too, am conflicted by this season. Some of my best memories are about Christmas ... as are some of my absolute worst.

I keep the bad memories at bay by having a low-key Christmas every year. Just me and Mr. Wendy, a simple tree with a few homely ornaments, and a morning spent with cocoa and cats. We avoid the gifts, the buying, the malls, the expectations ... it's just a day in late December for us to enjoy each other's company. It's surprising how much that helps.

Leann Sweeney said...

Yes, just a day. We understand each other in a new way, now. :-)

Kate Collins said...

Leann, I echo J.B.'s sentiments. What you've gone through has made you the kind, generous, loving person you are. People who've never known hardship, suffering, loss, don't gain the depth of understanding and compassion you have.
I have happy memories of Christmases past, but without my soulmate, this is the first Christmas I'm dreading.
There is a large community of people who understand your pain, Leann. It's a small but important comfort. Best wishes, dear friend.

Leann Sweeney said...

Kate, I know you will not be alone at Christmas but you will not whole, either. May your family bring you some solace. I will be thinking of you.

Miki Willa said...

I had a similar experience as Leann and Bookwoman. Over my 64 years, I have begun to enjoy this season. It took many tears, and professional help, but I know understand that saying - That that does not kill us makes us strong. Today, I work hard to create a quiet but fun Christmas for myself and my family. I try not to get caught up in the commercial side of the holiday, but focus on the spiritual side. I sincerely hope you are able to find some peace this season. You have so many gifts, and are so generous with them. Look to that inner wise woman who has brought you this far. Each year, you will get stronger.

NoraA said...

Leann,
I spent years in therapy... from the age of 8 or 9. The end product of all that money spent was "get over it", "suck it up and move on". There are just too many things that happen in a young life that can never get moved past and will always haunt us.

Anonymous said...

The only time my mother was ever nice to me was during the Christmas Season and for that reason I never wanted it to end.We know so much more about depression and personality disorders than we did when I was growing up.

Leann Sweeney said...

Fortunately my therapist understands, but Nora, your words are ones I have heard from others and have said to myself. Doesn't work, as you know from experience. I suppose we are all haunted in some way. My demons choose Christmas to make their appearance.

Miki, I have no tree, no decorations. I am still working through this. One day, I will find peace.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think about it until after I read your post, Leann, but even with the emotional, verbal and psychological abuse my mother dished out when I was growing up, I do have good memories of Christmas. Perhaps because it was a time when grandparents were involved; I'm sure it was also a time for Mom to indulge her love of shopping. Decorating and presents were in abundance. I know now how hard it was for my dad financially...but she didn't care...I guess another time it was "about her".
The upside is that I have always enjoyed the holidays and even when I was single in an apartment I decorated and entertained. Then in 2005 I lost my brother and in the years since have lost several dear family members including my father, my college roommate/best friend, a beloved teacher, and two very much-loved dogs. For three years there was no tree, although two years I did have one that stood bare in my living room for a couple weeks.
I realize now I went through a depression, a tendency I now realize I probably inherited from my mother. Losing Dad 10 days after I retired (with plans to spend lots of time with him) sent me reeling. It's taken a couple years, but I'm coming back.
It may sound strange to some, but I started attending a Psychic Study Group in September and between that and venting to the dear friend going to PSG with me, I'm coming to terms with a lot, and I'm starting to let go. I'm not there yet, but one day at a time...
You are a very special person, Leann...talented, caring, and brave...and now you know you're not alone with your feelings. I send you a huge hug, and a wish for healing of that big heart.
Sara

Nanc said...

Leann...
I realized after I "sent" my reply to you that it was perhaps too much about me. Please forgive me and accept my sincere apologies...when I heard your pain I wanted to walk along side you for a short minute...to share with you that you are not alone in your pain. I pray that your friendships will sustain you and lift you up this season...that the love you so selflessly extend will come back to you in great measure and that you will find some of the magic and the peace that does truly exist if one takes a quiet moment...Christmas is but one day on a calendar...your friends and readers are with you each and every day. One of the many life lessons that I learned from my mother and try each day to pass to our children is to never allow people to live "rent free" in your mind...
Your power, kindness and generosity of spirit are reflected in each and every one of your posts all year long.
nanc

Leann Sweeney said...

Nanc, I never thought for one moment your comment was too much about you. I can only thank you for sharing. You are walking beside me.

And sstude, I thank for your insight and for sharing. There are moments of darkness but so many of you kind people posting has taught me that I am not alone. Thank you for that.