The Holiday season is upon us! Has begun, really, in the end of October, when trick-or-treaters flood the streets all the way into February, when Valentine’s Day makes it mark on our calendars.
Happy Holidays, Beach Bums!
I’ve been quite busy starting my own business lately, so I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I would like, but how exciting is it that I’m starting my own business (answer=very)? It’s also scary, intimidating, and totally foreign. I love coming back to writing to get my head back on straight, and during these “cold” winter months I don’t get to surf nearly as much as I would like. Writing, reading, and lots of television are my sanctuaries year-round, but especially during the holiday season.
Not the Biggest Holiday Fan
I titled this post “Season’s Feelings” because I wanted to share a bit about my own relationship with the Holidays. To put it plainly…I am not a fan.
For some reason, they’re generally quite rough. I think that when you have depression and anxiety as I do, feeling this pressure to be happy and gleeful during this time is just dreadful. During the rest of the year, my teenage self was mostly allowed to be obstinate and grumpy, but when the holidays rolled in, I always felt like I had to arbitrarily be happy, to put on a show for family and friends.
Over 4 years ago this past Halloween marks the anniversary of my maternal Grandfather’s passing. It’s strange, but every Halloween morning since I wake up that day feeling moody and irritable. I wasn’t very close to my grandfather due to distance and other factors, but I always wish I had been. Or maybe I only wish I had been now that he’s gone. I wonder whether I should have been around more when he was ill and living with my parents. I feel a variety of sensations well up in my body every Halloween morning since then.
Thanksgiving is an entirely other beast of a day for me. Struggling with anorexia and bulimia made Thanksgiving the literal nightmare of my life for quite a few years. All I could think about was whether I would eat too much, how to eat less, and spent several post-dinner evenings in the bathroom purging instead of with my family. I would drink to deal with being stressed about eating, then eat more because I was drunk. Through it all, I didn’t talk to family, or laugh with them. I didn’t interact around the table because all I could think about was whether to have another piece of turkey or how to casually eat 5 slice of pie and then immediately go throw it up afterward.
Christmas was always alright, mostly. There were some difficult ones, mostly because I was such a drain to be around during my late teenage years. My poor mom and stepdad would try so hard every Christmas morning, but I was stubborn, morose, and generally unpleasant to be around. I think part of me was being obstinate, but part of me was also sad and guilt-ridden.
Why was I so guilt-ridden?
Holding onto Holiday Memories
On Christmas Eve, when I was 16, I had the last dinner with my biological dad that we would have for 5 years. We would re-connect again around when I turned 21, and again several weeks ago. We’ve had lunch a couple of times, trying to figure out what a relationship looks like after 5 years apart. I won’t get into all the details of why that happened and what was going on, but I do know that every Christmas Eve has been a strange disembodied whirlwind ever since. The previous 2 Christmas Eves, I started raging fights with Devin over ridiculous things.
New Year, New…?
New Years, too, holds with it the strange allure and drama of past, present, and future intersecting. Each of these holidays is a time of reflection, sending shockwaves of memories through my body every year. Being the extremely sentimental and emotional person that I am, I can’t help but have flashbacks to each of those scenarios, how they happened and what I said or didn’t say, what it felt like and how I experienced them.
I remember my Grandfather reaching out to me, sick in bed before he passed away, and running from him, afraid of death and dying. I remember the enamel of the toilet and the sick sweetness of all the pie I’d stuffed my face with to cope with every pain, fear, and anger I held inside of me. Remembering that final dinner with my biological Dad, and realizing I didn’t even know it was the beginning of the ending of something while it was happening.
I believe we hold memories in our bodies, long after the event has transpired. There’s even some research being done on how trauma is held in DNA, passed on through generations, so that we are superimposed upon by the events of life and history and memory and death and sadness. Each memory has been held in my chest and throat, in my lungs and my toes. My hair has grown longer, and I imagine it carrying the tears I’ve wept upon it. Yet I also imagine all the history of joy and smiles that my genetics carry, all the life and vibrancy swirling around in my pores.
Our entire bodies regenerate every 7 years, or something like that. New cells grow as the old ones die, life begins and repeats itself and remembers itself and is a history of the body it inhabits. I wonder whether each year I haven’t been slowly shedding those old sensations and memories. After all, 16 + 7 is 23, the exact age I am now, as I’m starting my own business and becoming more myself than I think I’ve ever been in my whole life thus far.
This is not to say that I was not who I was then. This is to say I am allowed to have been that Savannah, but more importantly, I am allowed to be this new Savannah. Clinging to the Holiday memories and pain has helped me get distance from them. The measuring of growth concretizes the growth, makes it steadfast and clear and fulfilled. It’s been over 6 months since I last purged, more than 3 since I got drunk. I am imperfect and scared, often enough. I lay in bed watching television sometimes when there are things to do and places to be. Other times I obsess about how I look, terrified to have lost the piece of myself that my eating disorder will always be and represent. But I am not clinging anymore.
Looking towards 2020
Instead of clinging to the past, I’m looking forward to the future. This post was going to be about how to get through the Holidays when you struggle with depression, in specific and concrete ways. But there are no specific or concrete ways to outgrow your old skin; there are no specific ways to deal with grief and guilt. I mean, there are, but I don’t think they can ever encompass the journey itself, the totality of the transition from the old self into the new one.
Shifting My Focus
This past Halloween, I spent the morning hiking to where my Grandpa’s ashes are scattered on the top of Tantalus. I was cranky and felt strange, but I did it. I showed up. When Thanksgiving rolled around this year, I neither over nor under ate. Really, I couldn’t be bothered worrying about how much I ate, because I spent the rest of the evening playing with my cousins, taking boomerangs of them and playing together with Bradley.
I let myself be there, with everyone. I talked to family members, drank a beer and didn’t like it, went home, and didn’t even think to throw up. I’m excited to see my step family this Christmas Eve, and to spend time with Devin and everyone else giving each other the gifts of love, along with whatever material things we buy each other.
Growing Up and Growing Forward
I’ve never been more excited to start the New Year knowing I’ll be sober and celebratory rather than afraid and drunk.
I’m learning how to become my own person, bit by bit, year by year. When I would reflect on Christmases and Halloweens and years past, it was always with a sad reflectiveness, a nostalgia for the pain and loss. Now, I see that every misstep and every mistake and every sadness was a necessary breaking point. I wish it could have been different, but there’s nothing to be accomplished from looking backward. There’s only today, and tomorrow, and a whole lifetime of Holidays to celebrate the family and friends and life I have.
Be Gentle with Yourself During the Holidays
The Holiday season can be so difficult, so I encourage you to take care of yourself in exactly the ways you need to. Whether that means sweats and hot tea or exercise and sunshine, alone time or more time spent with friends, give yourself the greatest gift of all: permission to continuously be a beautiful, inspired, and ever-evolving work-in-progress.
-XOXO Beach Bum Poet