When Christmas is not ‘Merry’…

December 26, 2019

I’m Sam.
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For Some, No Contact is the only option for recovery, but it hurts, especially at those times of year that our Patriarchal Society expects families to live the happily ever after…

This year, more than any, my own ‘No Contact’ has felt good. No ‘guilt’ pangs. No ‘what if’s’ or ‘if only’s’ and no more green eyed monster raising her head when she sees all the posts displaying the genuinely happy (and maybe not so…) Mum’s and Daughters sharing their love openly, for all to see, on social media. Yet I found myself vulnerable and triggered. Why?

I have taken some time to reflect and share my thoughts with you here.

Maybe it’s because I am working with more and more daughters, healing their Mother-Daughter Wounds? Maybe because the years are ticking by, blurring the hurt into the distant past? Maybe because I am once again, happy, with my own family unit? Or maybe because these last 10 years I have lived within a multi-cultural society where judgments are not so easily passed? Or maybe as I get older, I have become oblivious to them?

Looking back, I have a clear recollection of my own family and friends who shunned me. The finger was pointed by the people supposedly closest to me. “It must be Samantha’s fault… no parent would reject their child… she must have done something terrible…”

Of course, my own vast research and learning has revealed that the Patriarchal Paradigm, prevalent in my own British culture, is largely responsible for this reaction. Ironically, it also has responsibility for the difficult relationships between mothers and daughters, but that is a story for another day.

In Spain, I lived in a country where Catholicism reigned. Everybody’s family was ‘extended’ but nobody judged my own lack of family. My small family was welcomed with open-arms, me, my husband, my son. Even though many had met my parents prior, when I explained, I was not judged. I think we were something of a novelty in the little Spanish village we chose to live. It was pretty well accepted that we were ‘different’ and having witnessed the lack of genuine affection between mother and daughter, the Matriarchal Society was sympathetic to my situation. The Spanish are ‘vulnerable’ in their expression of affection in comparison to my own culture. Sons will walk arm in arm with their fathers, embrace and kiss them in public. Grandparents are respected and cared for, continuing to hold status within the family. Mothers are revered, husbands adore their wives, expressing their pride and love freely. And children are oh so very, very precious. They are treated as children for as long as their pride will allow, parents readily accepting their role as a parent long into their adult child’s future. Love within family is genuinely unconditional.

Then came Canada, and my security blanket of my small nuclear family was pulled. I was left vulnerable, hurt and alone. Very alone. No mother, no father, no sister, and no husband. It was down to me, whoever ‘I’ was, and my boy.

But this new country I had chosen for our small family did not judge my situation. Rather, a group of string, like-minded women took me in and supported my growth. Maybe because again, I was an immigrant.

Looking back, I actually found myself at an ‘advantage’. You see, other British ex-pat wives had followed their husband’s careers to another country, some 5,000 plus miles away from their mothers, fathers and siblings. ‘Homesickness’ was a part of every day conversation. But this was not an ‘ailment’ with which I was familiar. I found myself envious of their ‘affliction’. For me the distance was a blessing and still is. However, my heart longed to be missing my family as these women did. I longed to be ‘normal’. I wanted to cry and be held by them as they reassured me that it would all be ‘ok’. I wanted to hear them say that it was not my fault that my marriage had ended after 21 years.

But. The reality was this was a pipe-dream. The more likely scenario would have been: ‘You must have done something to make him…’ or ‘I told you years ago he was not right for you… I saw it coming…’

I also figured out, with the help of EMDR therapy and a very patient psychologist, that my no contact was made easier for me by my mother. It was explained to me that she is an ‘ignoring’ type. For me to be out of sight meant out of mind. Unlike the ‘engulfing’ type who needs to control every aspect of her daughters life.

And so, I moved through ‘no contact’ with a comparative ease, and now experience an almost guilt-like feeling as I support my clients through their own no contact journeys.

But Christmas is still a time of year that will ‘trigger’ past events and emotions. Just as Mothering Sunday and Fathers Day do.

I recall Christmas being a special time for my mother. She had her own little traditions and some I still practice today.

As young children, me and my sister were thoroughly spoiled: material gifts were aplenty. She loved to shop! My sister and I were always caught up in the excitement when we found our stuffed pillowcases (Yes! Stockings were too small…) and the bounty of gifts inside! We were not to wake our parents early, so we would each empty our pillowcases and try to guess what lay beneath the wrapping that Santa and his elves gad wrapped with care. The excitement is still tangible! When our parents would rise we would unwrap our gifts and explore them while the Christmas Dinner was prepped. Before lunch we would open the mountain of family gifts under the tree… and the drinks would begin to flow.

All the Christmas’s I recall ended the same… after dinner naps would be had. My sister would disappear into her room, my parents to theirs and I would feel the disappointment and anticlimax as I was left to entertain myself. Then the late, late night would follow. We children would be wanting our cozy beds, eyes stinging from the heavy cloud of cigarette smoke but our parents were caught up in adult company with way too much alcohol… Eventually, my mother would be helped to the car where she would pass out, and my father would drive us home, my sister and I holding each other’s hands tightly on the back seat.

The anticlimax would continue into Boxing Day, with hangovers to be had.

Forward to today, and the final Boxing Day of this decade and I find myself recalling that anti-climax vividly.

Walking through the crisp snow with my 4-legged friend, I found myself triggered by the early afternoon departure of our boys and my love disappearing off for a nap. I chose to brave the sub zero temperatures outside and found my mind swirling with memories. I recalled all the adult Christmas’s that I had planned down to the finest detail, in readiness to entertain my parents staying with my own family. The perfect family Christmas’s that would inevitably ended in friction. I could feel the criticism for my efforts for not being ‘good enough’. The comparisons with my sister, the back-handed compliments delivered like a slap to the face, criticism for spending too much money, living beyond my means, the dog hair, the cat hair, despite my obsessive-compulsive vacuuming. Then there was ‘that’ Christmas when they left because they were made to feel ‘unwelcome’ because my husband asked that they not smoke in the house with our 9 month old baby. They booked into a local hotel and spent the rest of the day with my sister.

Ahhh yes. I recalled all those Christmas’s past that had been sadness, disappointment, anxiety, drama, guilt. And then those that followed no contact, grieving as I wondered what they were doing, was I mentioned, remembered, missed.

As I walked, there came the realization that despite the years of no contact and all the years of therapy, the triggers still happen and the processing has to happen. Again and again.

I am a veteran of ‘no contact’. Yet as I turned to my various on-line support groups, some of which I had been a member for years, I found myself acknowledging the struggles my peers were facing earlier along their respective journeys. Honouring those who pledged to negotiate the ominous ‘no contact’ path, determined not to struggle through another toxic Christmas.

You see, Christmas is not always ‘Merry’, whether you have or have not travelled this path. But society expects it to be.

The media, advertisements, movies… they all place the unattainable ideal of perfection upon us. There is little room left for us less than perfect families amidst the parade of happy family photos, perfect decorations and christmas scenes. It is tough for anyone to live up to societies expectation of it all. But it is especially tough for we less than perfect families. But placing this in perspective, Christmas Day is no different to any other day of the year for the estranged daughter who remains judged, deemed to be ‘less than’ and guilty of causing the family rift. But let us remember, she walked this path to survival. I salute, honour and celebrate you and ask society do the same.

No different to the abused wife who has left her abuser, or the children removed from the abusing parent. The difference though is that society has an expectation that a daughter lives her mother and vice versa, unconditionally. Daughters have no support as their dire straits are not recognized. It remains a taboo subject. Yet there is growing evidence that explains the consequences of remaining in this relationship: Anxiety, Depression, C-PTSD, Chronic Inflammatory and Autoimmune Disease, Bi-Polar, Addictions, Dissociative Identity. And so it continues, wounding generation after generation.

I ask, if you know one of these daughters, look upon her with support and kindness, as you would any other victim of abuse. See her. Hear her. Help her. Especially when she says her Christmas was not ‘merry’.

* Please share this post to raise awareness and provide a supportive hand. Call this Toll Free International Help Line: 855-726-2355 (855-Sam-Bell)

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