Friday, December 5, 2014

A Newly Seperated Girl's Guide to the Holidays

I went to the mailbox yesterday and received my first holiday card. 

I used to adore this time of year - both sending and receiving cards - picking out that perfect picture (always taken as a family at Thanksgiving) and running to the mailbox every afternoon to see it chock full of those non-bill-shaped envelopes bearing updates from friends and family.

When I saw that first green and gold envelope with a little heart sticker on it, my stomach plummeted.

This year there will be no holiday card from our family, because our family is separated.

I suppose I could send a card with just the kids on it. But what would the message say?  Joy?  Merry Merry?  Happy New Year?

I don't feel any of those things this year. 

Over the holidays, even more than usual, there are reminders of what-isn't-anymore all over the place, like little bomb-lets that explode in my face when I least expect it.

Holiday commercials of intact families celebrating over a Thanksgiving meal. Magazine ads of Moms and Dads kissing under mistletoe, or grinning conspiratorially to each other as they stuff holiday stockings or wrap gifts. 

The holiday cards with smiling Mom-Dad-Kids, their arms slung around each other, wearing goofy Santa hats or matching outfits.  All together, just like they were last year, only one year older.

The holiday season makes me glare at the wedding rings of the Moms in front of me in the grocery line, their chubby babies' drooling grins taunting me.  I used to be them, I think.  My stomach twists with regret and jealousy.  Why didn't I pay more attention when all that was mine.  

The changes are coming at me fast.  Our beloved dog, Casper, died last week.  She was thirteen years old, lived a long, full life, and it was time for her to go.  My husband and I got her when our marriage was only two years old.  As I mourn her loss, I find myself thinking: my marriage began and ended with her life.

I don't want to put up the tree.  I don't want to decorate.  I don't want to celebrate.  Every step of the way I'm haunted by traditions past:  he cuts the trunk, I hang the ornaments, a crackling fire blazing in the background. 

I want to curl up in a ball and unfurl on January 2nd.

Friends mock-complain about all they have to do: the in-laws coming to stay, prepping meals, planning trips to see family, grumbling about what to buy their husband or what their husband will get for them.  All of it sets my teeth on edge, but I just stand there and smile, feeling like I have a blaring neon sign on my forehead that says:  separated.

I gazed at the smiling faces peering out at me from that first holiday card.  Then I closed my eyes, and I prayed. 

May they have a happy holiday season. May I find joy in the blessings I have, instead of all I do not have.

It helped.  A little.

Here's the thing, though: none of these emotions have any bearing on our separation specifically, on the circumstances behind it, or the reasons why.  I don't regret the separation itself, I realize, although it's confusing and hard and sometimes I just want to get in my way-back machine and start all over.

What I'm grieving is the loss of The Dream, the one that is shoved in our faces over-and-over-and-over during the holidays.  If you were an alien from another planet and landed on earth on December 14th, or thereabouts, you would think we were the happiest-smilingest people in the Universe.

At least that's how it feels to me, newly separated for my first holiday season.

Our society commercializes happiness, and it's never more glaring than in November and December.  I'd like to see a magazine ad, or a commercial, of a single mom and her kids sitting down to Thanksgiving, or buying a Christmas tree. 

They'd be smiling, I know they would, because my kids and I smile together. A lot.  I am not unhappy when I'm able to live my life as it is, and not how I feel it should be.  Most of the time I am content, and I'm able to grow and learn from the hard lessons life is teaching me right now.

But, dammit. It's almost impossible not to lose myself in comparisons when family-and-togetherness is everywhere.  Logically, I know that we're still a family, just in a different form. I know my kids are over-the-top excited for Christmas, and that they had a great Thanksgiving with their Dad.  I had a great Thanksgiving, too, with some amazing sober friends. 

I would be okay, most of the time, if that damn cookie-cutter family wasn't grinning out at me from my television, Facebook stream and mailbox. 

That's not how the world works, and I know this.  This is hard core life-on-life's terms. When I'm in a good head space, I can find peace in chaos.  When I'm not, I find chaos in peace.  I fall into the 'shoulds' - how my life should be instead of how it is. 

Don't Should On Yourself, my friend would say.

I'm trying. I will get through this. I will say a prayer of compassion over every card I receive this year. I will pray for peace of mind, for acceptance of what is, and gratitude for all I have. 

But sometimes?  Sometimes I just have to get my truth out there, that this is hard. 

It just is.