Everything was ready: the lights, the tree, the gifts; even the weather cooperated with a few inches of snow.
Quite honestly, it was magical.
On this very same night my life went from the landscape of a winter wonderland to the nightmare before Christmas.
I remember that we were unloading groceries from the car. I gathered the items from the front seat, including his phone when his screen lit up. This, for me, always felt like an invitation to take a sneak peak. So I did. My heart broke as I saw 10 missed, and dialed phone calls, to a number outside our state.
I dialed. She answered. We both sat there silently. I hung up.
That evening, instead of wrapping Christmas presents together, we sat on the floor by the Christmas tree as he began to unwrap us.
If you have been here you know the deep, heart-wrenching moment of waking up the next morning only to discover that what took place the night before was not a bad dream but your new reality––one that now sits like an anvil on your chest. And every morning thereafter, you are expected to carry this weight with you, including while having a house full of guests on Christmas morning.
So how do we do it? How do we go from the joyous task of making those perfect fork imprints on grandma’s peanut butter cookies, to the task of remembering to breathe without completely breaking down? Or in our angry moments, not acting on visions of throat punching our spouse as we pass him in the hallway?
Clearly, there are a myriad of emotions that we will need to learn to manage as we continue with life, family, and the holidays; present and future. For many of us, the holidays aren’t just a part of our trauma but the epicenter of it. The same can be said for our healing.
Despite the pictures of forced smiles, reminding us of what we would rather forget, recovering the holidays after such a painful experience is not impossible. In fact, they can become measures of growth, both within ourselves and our marriage.
I will warn you though, it is not for the faint of heart. You are going to have to fight for it. At least I had to.
If the opposite of contempt is gratefulness, then we must practice gratitude.
I had to be intentional to search and find the things to be thankful for:
- My kids: the very heart of who I was, needed me to be a mom who engaged.
- My home: despite the circumstances, I loved my little home and the protection it gave.
- My health: my body was working so hard to help me process stress.
- Space: opportunities to be alone, where I didn’t have to “be-on” for anyone.
- My God: who held and comforted me while I screamed and yelled at Him in anger.
- Simple things: my animals, nature, people laughing, going for walks.
This list seems pretty typical, but in the backdrop of what was taking place, finding a deep sense of gratitude in each of these areas was essential to balancing the internal havoc.
If self-care is essential, then we must practice identifying our needs.
- I needed my crisis to go away, but until then, I needed to pinpoint how to meet myself in this impasse:
- I dropped ALL activities that were not necessary to my survival. I was going to need every bit of energy to fight my battle.
- I told three close friends what I was going through and invited them into my pain. I needed to not be alone.
- I joined a Betrayal & Beyond group. I needed to surround myself with women who understood the depth of my trouble.
- I sought space from my spouse when I needed it: going on a walk, meeting a friend, and sleeping in a different room.
- I listened to my body and met its needs including taking an occasional nap.
If we are going to redeem the holidays, we must write a new narrative.
Yes, those photographs will remind me of the Christmas that changed everything. But if there is one thing I can count on, it’s change. And it starts with me:
- “Pictures will always bring painful memories.” Possibly yes, but if we allow it, they can also reflect God’s faithfulness to protect and provide. Even when I don’t feel God’s protection, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. He is faithful in all things and my narrative needs to align with this truth.
- “Holidays will always produce disconnection.” Not always. In fact, if we allow it, when we live in transparency we can remain deeply connected to God and others; and hopefully, our husbands someday.
- “Celebrating will never be the same.” Perhaps, but I must hold space for the possibility that my celebration can be deeper and more meaningful than it ever could have been without having gone through this.
Changing my narrative isn’t wishful thinking, but an active engagement in exploring the potential of a positive outcome. It becomes my source of measuring growth and redeeming a season that seemed unredeemable.
Listen friends, I don’t know how your story will play out. But I do know that the pain softens when we detach from the outcome and attach to Jesus and His promises.
It’s been eight years since my Christmas crisis. I can wholeheartedly say, Christmas 2020 brings an excitement and joy that I thought was gone forever. Today, I approach the holiday season with a deeper appreciation for how far I have come personally, spiritually, and relationally.
This year I will sit on the floor in front of the Christmas tree with my husband and we will wrap gifts while reflecting on the gift of our healing journey.
It’s Christmas. Redemption is here and it is ours to have.
Blessings on your healing during this holiday season.