I have had a nice pleasant Christmas, but a low mood is customary at this time of year and has been for as far back as I can remember. In previous years, I might have blocked it out with the help of mind-numbing substances. This year, I am identifying those festive-emotions as disappointment and loss.
In my short experience of psychotherapy, something very powerful happens when we connect a problem in the present moment to where it originates in the past.
All of this started in childhood, and hindsight can see how childish and immature these experiences really are. Nonetheless, that familiar sense of disappointment and loss is as powerful today as it felt back then and no logic or adult thinking can change this.
The holiday periods can be one of the worst times for a dysfunctional family. The atmosphere was never a bundle of laughs at the best of times, but when Dad was off work, more tensions, bickering and arguing ensued.
My sister and I didn’t get much as children. Birthdays were usually gifts of clothes or shoes. Cakes and parties were out of the question. Christmas presents meant a great deal, so I would hate for any of this to sound like I was an ungrateful little brat.
Every child is excited leading up to Christmas day. We plead for particular toys and wish for even better. We read the stories and watch the movies of happy families sharing in a joyful time of year. From an early age, I sensed my own family didn’t quite meet the mark.
Our parents love and giving always came from a distance, so they put our presents by our bedside sometime during Christmas Eve night. In the early days, when sis and I shared a room, we would quietly look through our presents with strict instructions not to wake Mum and Dad. Later, when we had our separate rooms, we would go through our presents alone. If my behaviour hadn’t been up to scratch that year, that would reflect on what I got.
Mum and Dad did not stay in bed long. Christmas dinner needed prepared in time for the other dysfunctional family members to arrive. Mum would stress over preparations, Dad always got in the way, and an almighty row would erupt. They were guilty of taking their rage out on their children, so bickering was always a stressful time.
One year I made a big mistake of trying to get everyone into the festive spirits. I jovially said, “Cheer up.”
I thought Dad was about to blow a gasket. He turned bright red as his enormous hand landed hard across my face, “We are bloody cheery,” he frothed at the mouth.
Mum piped in, “You always expects us to be swinging from the chandelier. Give you the moon and the stars and you still wouldn’t be happy… “
As I write, childhood Christmases flit in and out of conscious memory like a reel of flashback images. Each one of them possesses a familiar sense of loss that seeps through into my adult-Christmases today.
The loss is for the sense of family I never did have and the bonding with parents that would never exist. It is for the love, connection, and togetherness that are still amiss today.
I thought about them on Christmas day. My nephews grown into young men without ever knowing their Uncle to be a part of their family unit, gathering each year to share a meal and Christmas gifts… with Mum and Dad still bickering in the background.