Posts Tagged ‘holidays after child abuse’

This week, I have been talking about the aftereffects of my mother-in-law’s death the week before Christmas. This has been a very long and very hard couple of weeks.

Even if this holiday season had gone well, my baseline would have been struggling. I have so many negative associations with Christmas – so many traumas that I endured around the Christmas tree. I cannot make Christmas a happy time. My goal is to make it bearable.

This year, I had to deal with a death in the family and being surrounded by grieving people on top of my own baggage. I have also dealt with people misunderstanding me and my motives, which I just don’t understand.

I have found myself dissociating more and more. I have not lost time, although I have been tempted to go that route again. The thought of waking up and discovering that this phase of my life is over sounds appealing at times, but I don’t want to go down that path again. I have also leaned on wine and Xanax (but not together) a few times to get through the tougher days, but I don’t want to go there, either.

I just want my life back. I want to get back to blogging, working at my new job, and hanging out with my friends. I have spent too many years of my life surviving — I want to live! I want to embrace life and enjoy all that it has to offer, but that always seems to be just beyond my reach.

What’s worse is that I am afraid to embrace it when I have the chance because I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Twice this holiday season, I gave myself permission to enjoy being alive. Both times came to an abrupt end with the news of the death of a loved one.

I want my life to stop being so hard all the time. I am not asking for singing birds and Prince Charming to come riding up (which would definitely complicate my life as a married woman!!). I just want to be able to stay present in my body and want to do it. I keep hoping that day will come, but then I wonder if I am just deluding myself. Maybe I am not intended to be at peace. And yet I hope…

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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As I have been sharing this week, losing a loved one during the holidays is hard. I have also shared that my mother-in-law (MIL), who passed away the week before Christmas, and I were not close. Thankfully, birth and marriage are not the only two ways to build a family. If I had to rely on my family of birth and my family of marriage to meet all of my emotional needs, I would feel very lonely.

Fortunately, I have a very large family, and they are the family of my choosing. They are the friends and acquaintances in whom I invest myself in my day-to-day life. They have been incredibly supportive during this difficult time, even as they have had their own responsibilities to deal with so close to Christmas.

Over a dozen people showed up to my MIL’s funeral who only knew me. Some have met my husband in passing once or twice, but I don’t think any of them had met my in-laws. Numerous others would have come if the funeral had not been scheduled right when school let out for the day. These people did not come to the funeral, send condolences, make us food, call to check on me, and do all of the other loving things that they did because they felt a bond with the deceased. They did these things because they care about me.

I can never express my gratitude deeply enough to these many wonderful people in my life. They are my family, even if we don’t sit around the same table at Christmas. Some are like cousins who are there for you when the going gets tough but, otherwise, are not very close. Others are like sisters who set aside a couple of hours to take me to lunch when they could be preparing their own houses for their own family holiday celebrations.

I am so grateful that I have built a life for myself in which I have a support network. If this had happened a couple of years ago, I don’t think I would have made it through.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This week, I have been talking about the challenges of dealing with my mother-in-law (MIL’s) sudden death the week before Christmas. In light my child abuse history and negative associations with Christmas already, this has been quite a challenge. I might have to flee to Fiji for Christmas next year.

Hub and my in-laws have been so impressed with how I took over and took care of everyone right after my MIL passed away. My father-in-law (FIL) could barely get the words out when he called to tell me that his wife had just died. I told him that I would tell both of his sons for him. I also told him to write a list of who needed to be notified, and I would take care of it.

When FIL said that he hoped there would be lots of flowers at the funeral, I went out and ordered $200 worth of flowers, broken into three bouquets (one from hub and me, one from our son, and one from my sister and kids) so it would look like more flowers.

When FIL said he hoped that a lot of people would come to the funeral (even though nobody in that family has many friends), I emailed everyone I knew here in town and asked them to come. Even though it was a week before Christmas, over a dozen of my friends showed up to support us, and most of them had never even met my in-laws.

When hub said that he did not want his coworkers to come to the funeral because he did not want them to see him cry, I told his coworkers politely – and then bluntly – not to come. I told hub’s secretary to blame any “misunderstandings” on me if there was any political fallout from this.

I comforted them as they cried. I listened to their very normal and understandable reactions to sudden death and gave them the reassurances that they needed – that she loved them and knew that they loved her. I did everything within my power to ease their pain.

When they wanted a family member to deliver the eulogy but feared not being able to stay composed, I offered to write and deliver the eulogy. I got their input and made sure that everyone liked what I had to say. I held myself together to deliver a beautiful eulogy in front a room filled with people.

So, I was quite taken aback when hub expressed surprise that I had cried some during that week. He thought that my strength came from a lack of caring.

Why is it that people who do not have the same level of strength tend to assume that strength is a result of not caring? Everything I did during that time was from caring. It was incredibly hard for me to do the things that I did the week that my MIL died, but I did them because they had to be done. Cracking up was not an option. Someone had to be the strong one, and I was the only candidate.

Yes, I am strong person. I had to be to survive my childhood. But superheroes bleed, too.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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There is no getting around it. Losing a loved one during the holidays is completely awful. Of course, a death in the family is never pleasant, but there is an added pain when it happens right at a time when society at large is “jolly.”

It is okay to laugh at this blog even though it might feel morbid. My life over the past couple of weeks has felt like a cosmic black comedy. It is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” kinds of things.

My father-in-law (FIL) telephoned me early Monday morning to tell me that my mother-in-law (MIL) had passed away that morning. She was not in very good health, but we still did not see this coming. He could barely get the words out to me, so I told him to write me a list of who needed to be notified, and I would take care of it. (Always the child abuse survivor being the strong one.) I then left to tell hub and my brother-in-law (BIL) in person separately.

Of course, that morning, my son and I had distributed Christmas presents to the staff at his school. I had worn my tackiest Christmas sweatshirt for the occasion, with Santa and the presents falling out of his sleigh. So, yes, that is what I was wearing when I delivered the devastating news to hub and to BIL.

Hub took the news hard, so I just sat there with him for a long time. Then, I drove out to tell BIL, dreading how he would react. I turned on the radio to distract myself, only to hear the opening of the song, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” I thought to myself, “Yep. That’s about right in my life.”

I have never had to be the one to call a list of people to deliver the news that someone they loved had passed away. The reactions were all over the map, intermixed with goofy answering machine messages with Santa saying, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” One person took the news calmly. The next went into hysterics. A third said, “Oh, s@#$,” and then apologized. (I assured him that was my first reaction as well.) I was careful to break the news gently, so I was taken aback when another woman yelled to her husband, “XXX died!”

The weirdest part of losing a loved one during the holidays is sorting the mail. Each day, I would pull a large pile of envelopes out of the mailbox and sort them into “Happy Holidays” and “Sympathy” piles. Believe it or not, I even had one that combined the two, writing this on the back of the Christmas card: “You son is growing so big. Our grandchildren are now roommates in college. We were sorry to hear about hub’s mother’s death. Love, XXX”

You gotta laugh to keep from crying.

During a time of year in which I am already struggling even in the best of circumstances, losing a loved one was really hard. It plays with your head to have people all around you singing “Holly, Jolly Christmas” while your family is falling apart emotionally. There is no getting around it – losing a loved one during the holidays is simply awful.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Hi, everyone. I am back from my hiatus (I hope!). I stopped blogging abruptly in the middle of a series on dealing with issues surrounding sex after sexual abuse. I do plan to get back to that topic, but first I feel the need to pour out the last couple of weeks. They have been very rough.

Like many of you, the holidays are a very difficult time for me. My baseline is anxiety, nightmares, and feeling out of sorts. Throw in a mother-in-law passing away a week before Christmas, and Christmas turns into one big, fat, ugly mess.

My mother-in-law and I had a strange dynamic, which I guess is true for many mother/daughter-in-law relationships. She said that she embraced me as a daughter, and I sooo wanted to believe that was true in light of my own history with my mother/abuser. I desperately wanted a mother, and I saw my relationship with her as life giving me another chance at having that bond.

Unfortunately, when I married, I was so emotionally unhealthy that I saw my husband’s family as the “perfect” family that I never had. I embraced them as such. But, as with most families, they had their own dysfunction, but I did not see it, much less understand it, so I would step into emotional “landmines” with regularity and assume that it was just me doing something “wrong” again.

It wasn’t until I entered into therapy and began the healing process that I grew to recognize that hub’s family was dysfunctional, too. As my therapist pointed out, my family was so “out there” that my in-laws looked “normal” to me because they were at least “on the map” of normal. However, as I healed, the dysfunction became more glaring.

Without going into details, my mother-in-law needed to feel needed (which I equated to dependent) in order to feel loved. Anyone who reads my blog with regularity knows that I have issues with being reliant upon anyone. This was a train wreck waiting to happen, and it did a few years ago. Since then, I downgraded my relationship with my mother-in-law to being a “polite outlaw,” and we found a rhythm that worked well enough. However, I did grieve mightily the loss of yet another “mother” back when it all happened.

So, when my mother-in-law passed away a couple of weeks ago, I had already done much of my grieving. I had already grieved the loss of the relationship in my life. Now, it was time to focus upon the grief of my husband, son, and hub’s family.

Also, even though my relationship with her was no longer what (I thought) it had once been, she was still a strong presence in my life. I saw her at least weekly for Saturday night dinners with the family. In many ways, I still cannot believe that she is gone.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Clock tower (c) Lynda BernhardtHappy Fourth of July everyone!! Well, Happy Fourth of July to those of you in the United States. Those of you who are from other countries probably do not give a flip about the United States’ Independence Day. LOL

I have written before about how holidays can be challenging for child abuse survivors. (See the Related Topics below for links.) Unfortunately, for those who grew up in abusive households, the holidays meant being separated from any positive support people and being thrust into being surrounded by abusive and enabling family members. This is one of the reasons why the Christmas holidays are so triggering for me. I am reminded of how isolated and alone I felt as my friends celebrated the holidays with their families, and I was stuck feeling miserable with my family at home. To this day, I find the holidays to be challenging.

Fortunately for me, I have no memories of child abuse that are linked to the Fourth of July, so this is one of those holidays in which I do not have to feel miserable. That is definitely a relief. It feels good (and novel) not to dread a holiday.

I cannot say that I look forward to the Fourth of July, but its coming does not bother me, either – well, other than having to comfort my child as he is awakened multiple times by the sound of fireworks. Gosh, I sound like a cranky old lady, don’t I?

Related Topics:

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Sleeping cat (c) Lynda BernhardtI do not like the month of May. Well, that is not entirely true. I enjoy the pleasant weather and the blooming flowers. I enjoy the activities in my son’s school (although they sometimes wear me out). What I dread about May is Mother’s Day.

I hate Mother’s Day. I have tried for years to make it a positive day, but I just cannot seem to do it. I have too many associations with negative experiences to make Mother’s Day a good thing. My mother was my first abuser and the one who provided all of my other abusers access to me. That’s hardly something I want to celebrate. On top of that, I was infertile and desperately trying to become a mother for five Mother’s Days, so I also associate that day with being left out in the cold. There was nothing worse than watching the children sing in church and then have all mothers stand and be recognized. It was just awful to be the only thirty-something woman to remain seated in the sanctuary.

It bugs me that I cannot celebrate this day because I really do deserve it. I am a darn good mother to my son. I marvel at the fact that someone who was as messed up as I was has been able to raise a very well-adjusted, loving, and “normal” child. That deserves some kudos.

On top of that, I have been a good “mother” to myself – to my inner child/children. I never had a sane mother to nurture me, so I have had to nurture myself in adulthood. All of those unmet needs did not just “go away.” They are still there, and I have done a darn good job of nurturing myself. That needs to be honored, too.

So, why can’t I let go of my animosity toward Mother’s Day? Perhaps it ties into what I talked about yesterday. Perhaps I need to give myself the freedom to feel neutral about the day first before I will be ready to make it positive.

At least I should get a nap out of the day.

Related link:

Pain Of Mother’s Day For Adopted Child Who Suffered Abuse

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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