I had a conversation with a member of my congregation yesterday in which she described an older gentleman, a Depression baby like my parents, who just couldn't let go control of all sorts of things-- being in charge of his food, being in charge of his medicine. Now, let me say, first off, hat's off to him. Do not go gentle into that good night, and all the rest. Just a few hours earlier than that, I read the text of a sermon that was delivered to my congregation on the Sunday of my vacation (January 3). (No, I don't read all the sermons that guest preachers deliver to my church. This one was written by a good friend.) A line of the sermon brought tears to my eyes: "It's hard to pull away from this scene." A couple was standing in a windy, barren downtown on Christmas eve, on their way to volunteer at a shelter, gazing into a store display window in which there was a manger, with a doll for the baby and mannequins for the mother and father.
I too am having a hard time letting go right now, of all sorts of things.
I sit writing this in my darkened living room, by the light of my Christmas tree. I suppose you could pretend with me that I've re-framed "Twelfth Night" as the 12th night of January, but that would be disingenuous. I don't want to let go of Christmas this year, in the worst way I can remember.
I don't remember whether I've written of this here (I don't use those handy labels... my bad), but I grew up feeling fairly Christmas-deprived. My mother, especially, hated Christmas. To my parents it was a crazy-busy season that meant they and we had to work all-out. They owned two liquor stores, and the push was not just through December 24, but through December 31. They made enough money during the Christmas season to get to the Fourth of July, and enough money on the Fourth of July to get to the Christmas season-- that's how they described it.
I should note here that my mother, particularly, hated Christmas. She hated Christmas carols. She hated the obligations of the season. Before my brother and I were even born she stopped sending out cards, she felt they were such a burden. And the whole thing reminded her of a childhood in which there was no money for presents, and there was barely enough money for food and clothing.
So December would find my brother and me in the back room of the store (over which we lived in a big apartment) gift-wrapping boxes and bottles for my parents-- they had lots of items that were popular enough that we pre-wrapped cases of them, as they could depend on selling them as gifts. The last year we had a tree I was seven years old, in 3rd grade. After that we never had a tree because my mother took my brother and me to Florida as soon as school was out, and my dad joined us, either right after Christmas or right after New Year's.
I must have whined and complained about my tree-less existence, because I remember a couple of attempts that were made to satisfy my itch by sending me to the homes of relatives who did have trees and decorations and traditions that looked like the one's in the Ladies' Home Journal. Thinking back on it now, it was a pretty bad strategy. It just made me feel more deprived.
As I write this I am fully aware that not having a Christmas tree (*pout*) but having to go to Florida on vacation instead (*sigh, stamping my foot*) is hardly anyone's definition of "deprivation." It's pretty embarrassing, in fact, to confess all this. I am very aware that my definition of "deprived" sounds pretty much like that of a spoiled brat who doesn't know the first thing about it. My mother did. (Read a bit about it here.)
What I'm really trying to set up for you is this: I now find myself professionally obliged to observe, at least, the religious significance of Christmas, beginning the first Sunday in Advent and going right on through the second Sunday after Christmas. Cool! None of this is to say my house resembles anything I ever saw in the LHJ (though I may be a good candidate for a photo in one of those "Declutter Your Home!" articles). But I do have a tree. Always. And we do have our Christmas traditions, such as they are. And this year, I fervently, almost petulantly, don't want any of it to end.
This is not all I don't want to "walk away from." As I write this I am nearing the 90 day mark in my abstinence (from flour and sugar), again. It's a big milestone. But I approach it with an inner unwillingness to commit myself to this program for life, which all the "successful" people in my 12-step program have done. I know, I know. It's supposed to be "one day at a time." And that is how I'm doing it. But not exactly. I'm committed to this program while it helps me lose weight. That is a big secret at this point-- something I haven't admitted to just about anyone. I don't want to give up a glass of wine (whine!) or a cookie for the rest of my life. I just don't. For today, I will do this, and probably for tomorrow, too. I make no promises about a year from now.
Last night I dreamed of cookies. In my program we call that a "freebie." In the dream I was unable to stop eating, and I was filled with regret. I was also filled with anger towards my mother, who was feeding me the cookies, and I was making plans to run away from home, a replay/ reinterpretation of a terrible argument from my college years. But as the dream progressed, I thought, I'm not a college kid. I'm an adult, with a job and responsibilities. What am I doing?
And then there was the dream from the night before, in which my ex figured, a recurring dream in which I believe we are getting back together (and I am hoping for it).
I am someone who has a hard time letting go:
Christmas, and all it represents: the fantasy of some kind of childhood dream.
My addictive substances: the fantasy persists that I will manage them well, or at least better.
Hurt and anger, whether at my mother or at my ex.
As I write this I can hear Beloved moving around upstairs, getting in the shower. She has been living with us for nigh on a month now, I think, as the work continues on her building and apartment. And I love it, I love it even as it disrupts everyone's lives and schedules and routines. I love curling up next to her at night, every night, like an old married couple spooning. And... at some point her building will be finished, and she will return to her home (which she so dearly loves) and most nights, again, I will sleep alone.
And I will have a hard time letting go of this too.