I’m Re-gifting Christmas

Dec 24th, 2010 | By | Category: All Posts, Family Rejection

by Christina Enevoldsen

When I was thirteen, I wanted four children. The entire reason I wanted a family of that size was Christmas. I imagined that the perfect Christmas mandated a house full of family. My children would be dressed in matching outfits and my oldest child would play the piano as we gathered around to sing carols. We’d sip hot chocolate and tell stories around the fireplace. We would take turns opening gifts and laugh with surprise and delight.

I’ve celebrated in a variety of ways throughout the years, but that idyllic holiday dream was never realized. For years, I strove for that fantasy and compared every holiday to it.

I developed many more ideas about what Christmas was supposed to be. Christmas was supposed to be white with snowmen and glistening trees, though seventy degree Arizona winters made that unlikely. Christmas was supposed to be extended family gathering from the corners of the globe, though through feuds and disinterest, that never happened.

When my children were grown and I divorced their father, my ideas of the holiday relaxed slightly. It didn’t demand all family; cherished friends could make up the Christmas chorus. So my new husband and I played host to friends who didn’t have any other place to go. We temporarily adopted orphans or those too broke to travel home to see their own families. I didn’t always have my own family around me, but we always had a full house that was alive with love and laughter.

When I started to confront my childhood sexual abuse, everything changed. I didn’t want to host any parties or even attend any. I couldn’t tolerate the pressure to feel festive and I didn’t have the energy to wear a fake holiday grin. The rest of the world was celebrating, but I was in mourning.

The holiday only brought up more pain and there was no getting away from it, so I decided to make use of it. Instead of covering it up or running away from it, I faced it. Celebrating was out of the question, so I let the tears roll. It wouldn’t be what I hoped for, so I’d let it be an opportunity. Since my emotions were coming out in full strength, I wrote about my disappointment and my grief. I expressed my anger and sadness. I got it out and it was a relief.

The Christmas that I shifted my expectations, I didn’t see my parents, children or any other relatives. My children started making traditions of their own and I realized that I had been tied to holiday traditions for too long. I was tired of what Christmas was “supposed” to be. The “supposed to be’s” were killing any possibility of enjoying what the day could be.

My husband and I decided to spend Christmas week on the beach in Malibu. It’s far from what I thought Christmas should be, but it was one of the best weeks I ever remember. I had the freedom to watch movies in my pajamas and have a meal of cookies and egg nog. I could sleep in as long as I wanted. I could bury my nose in a novel.

I didn’t have to please anyone or worry about hurt feelings. I didn’t have to take anyone’s tastes or preferences into consideration. I didn’t have to conform to traditions I don’t like. I didn’t have to cook or clean or go anywhere. I didn’t have to pose for pictures or even brush my hair. As I released my expectations of Christmas, I was released from expectations on me.

I decided I was re-gifting Christmas that year. I decided that the obligations of traditions that came from my family, my culture or even from my fantasies no longer fit me. Someone else can have them. The holiday is just a date on the calendar, not the defining moment in my life.

My gift to myself that year, and every year since, has been to put aside any expectations of what the day should be and to embrace what it is. I’m not trapped in Christmases past or hoping for something that isn’t possible.

That year was a turning point. There isn’t much pain associated with the day anymore. But if more pain surfaces in the future, I’ll give myself the room to grieve.

The past few Christmases have been spent with our children and grandchildren and I love hosting them. But with or without loved ones gathered, I’m one of my loved ones and I’m serving me.

Related Posts:
Holiday Triggers of Abuse
Christmas In Recovery From Emotional Abuse 

Christina Enevoldsen

I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. My passion is exploring new ways to express my empowered new life. I’ve recently discovered the joy of waterslides, the delightful scented lotion from Bath & Body Works, “Dark Kiss” and hosting princess tea parties for my granddaughters. My husband and I live in Scottsdale, Arizona and share three children and six grandchildren.

[read Christina’s story here]

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  1. Thank you for expressing what I have felt for a long time but couldn’t admit it to myself or others. I wish you to keep your freedom and enjoy it to the fullest, without having to “perform” and please everyone else. Your post made me realize something very important, thank you for sharing.

  2. Hi Irina,
    I wish I had learned these things years ago because I could have been enjoying all my holidays so much more, no matter how I was spending them. Thanks for sharing!
    Hugs, Christina

  3. I am alone this Christmas. Well, for several Christmases now. And while it is (sort of) by choice, it is not so easy. I feel none of the stress of having to please anyone else, but it has not yet been replaced with Holiday joy.

    I’ve been trying this past week to take Patty’s advice and “remember the good times”. Around Christmas, that is very hard. I’m sure there were good times…waiting for Santa (although mom screamed “THERE IS NO SANTA” for the first time at me when I was about four … I still believed it…I was waiting for him to bring me a happy Christmas), getting something fun as a present, etc. But the good times were always clouded over by the battles that inevitably followed. The religious piece was always a little confusing to me. We were celebrating Jesus’ birthday, right? Joy to the World, etc. And yet, there was always a battle before the first present was opened, and it continued on the way to church, and even during Mass, there was no forgiveness. So by dinner, at least one (if not all) of us were in tears, including my mother, which always made me feel awful, because after all, it was my job to make her happy.

    I had a similar fantasy about making Christmas for a houseful of children. No one ever told me that I wouldn’t ever have a normal sex life, so family was out of the question. No one ever told me that I would wish and long for children, pray for them, and never get them. What they did tell me was that I was at high risk of becoming involved with violent men. The shrink said that in “family therapy” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) but never told me how to overcome it or avoid it. My mother reinforced it by letting me know at every opportunity that all men were dogs and only want one thing, and since sex is evil and dirty and bad, it’s better to avoid it all together. So that’s what I did. I avoided becoming involved with an abuser by never becoming involved with anyone. Well, other than my mother. I continued to make making her happy my life’s work. By the way, she has never in my memory been happy even for one day. So my life’s work is a failure. (And also, by the way, I became involved with the most oppressive abuser of all – my mother.)

    I don’t know what I want for Christmas. I just know what I don’t want. I don’t want chaos. I don’t want hurt. I don’t want rage and then happy faces for the sake of…who, exactly? I don’t want to be anywhere near any member of my biological family. So, for the past few years, I’ve done that. But it means being alone. And that’s getting harder. I cook the feast (because I love the leftovers) and then have no one to serve it to. So I end up hurt and angry anyway because THIS is what my life has come to. And it comes out sideways in all the wrong ways and hurts no one but me. And coming to the end of the year always makes me look at what I might have accomplished if I had just tried hard enough, just pushed through. And it comes to nothing. And that is depressing.

    But here’s the thing about starting to heal. I can’t “un-see” it. I can’t un-see all the things I now know to be true. Well, I can, but it’s sort of like putting my size 11 feet into size 9 shoes. It might look good on the outside, but it’s excruciating and impossible to withstand for long. So the longer I try to postpone the inevitable…the work I need to do to heal…the more pain I am in. And I’m terrified of it. Terrified that when I finally do it, there is nothing on the other side. I have the occasional insight. But they are like the Winter sun…clear and bright and gone too soon. And I can’t get them back. I call myself a writer, but won’t write. And I know that writing (at least for me) is the ONLY way out.

    I wanted to write something humorous and insightful today. But when I got started, it became maudlin. See why I don’t like to write much anymore? It always comes out self-pitying and angry. Not something many people want to read. Including me. 😉

    Anyway, your Christmas this year sounds like heaven to me, Christina. I hope you are enjoying it completely. I do hope that I will someday get some sort of clarity around the holidays. And I am overwhelmingly grateful to you and the other bloggers here at OSA and to Darlene at EFB for the past few months of those occasional insights. I can only hope and pray that they will become more frequent in the coming year and beyond. And that I will learn to remain in the “realm of the answer instead of always returning to the realm of the problem” (Marianne Williamson).

    Thanks for listening. I hope everyone is enjoying their Christmas in whatever way they can.

  4. Lisa,
    You said, ” I feel none of the stress of having to please anyone else, but it has not yet been replaced with Holiday joy.” That’s the frustration I had too. I felt like I was missing out since I didn’t have the ‘holiday joy’. This was supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, yet that never matched how I felt even on the best of holidays. It’s okay if Christmas doesn’t feel magical and full of wonder. There are good and bad things about this time of year, the same as any other season. I feel what I feel.

    I hope you don’t give up on writing. Have you read the letters that I wrote to my dad, to money, to my body and to the world? They all started out very whiney, angry, powerless, and bitter, but that was okay. That was part of my process. They started out that way, but I worked it out and by the end of the letters I had more clarity and had come to some type of closure or found some solution.

    We may be miles apart, but I hope you feel the love I’m sending you. Warm hugs, Christina

  5. Lisa,
    Thank you for writing that. It lets us all know that we are not the only ones who feel that way and not the only ones who are alone.

  6. Yes, Christina, I have read them, and while I was reading them I thought of many letters of my own that I need to write. Then I got scared. And I avoided beginning because of my fear that I would get lost in it and be unable to function in normal life. When I stir up these emotions, it’s hard to separate them from the here and now. Especially when the here and now is contributing to my anger and discomfort with my life as it is. My job, my boss, my personal life, all are things I “chose” because I thought that it was my job to be a supplicant…to be less than others…to be sure not to take up too much space in the world. I have worn that mask so long that it ha become my identity. And I’m very angry about that. I want to face it and move through it. But I’m scared to do it alone. So every time I start, I stop.

    And yes, there’s a piece of me that feels it’s inappropriate to be feeling all of this on Christmas. That I’m somehow “ruining” Christmas by focusing on these emotions even a little. But what is there to ruin?

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, as you can see others can relate. For me Christmas always brings out the emotions. Which is ok today as I have dealt with most of them. I learned in recovery that buried feelings always make their way to the surface regardless of my attempts to keep them down. I still miss my mom as she died young and these memories come out at Christmas. To me Christmas is about Christ today, it’s not about how I feel it should be with certain people in my life surrounding me with love which would be nice but to accept life on lifes terms is priceless. I had to establish an extended family due to the child abuse I lived with and I found strangers that showed me more love than my own biological family. Life to me is about some loneliness mixed with joy but I can make the most of a moment no matter what the situation. I can still shed a tear for what might have been but it doesn’t take center stage any longer. That is one of the gifts of growing older, seems we can finally give up the things that made us sad and find true beauty all around us whether it be the laughter of a small child or helping some poor soul to lighten their load even just a little for one day. In the end , it’s all about service to others. I am at my best when I can get out of my pitiful self and try to stay out and help others. When I do that I see I would not trade my life for anyone elses, for we all have our struggles in this life and many people have much more on their plate than I do. I have had a few holidays alone but by the Grace of God I was not alone or suffering but had a measure of joy. The serenity prayer says a lot to me. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance is a powerful tool to happiness. Grateful today my expectations are much more in line with reality.It’s all good-Merry Christmas where ever you all are.

  8. One year my husband and kids and I went skiing on Christmas. It was the best. I love the idea of a Christmas Vacation.

  9. This year I had a choice of spending Christmas with family or friends, but I chose to be by myself. I wanted to face the thing I was so afraid of – being alone. Deep down I thought that if I was alone for the holidays that something would go horribly wrong. I thought I might go crazy, start calling up ex-boyfriends, or spontaneously combust. But none of those things happened. I was fine. It was such a relief to find that if I had to be alone I could do it.

  10. I hope you don’t mind me writing anonymously, I am not completely ‘out’ so I’ve made up a handle.

    Thank you so much for this post, it and the contributions undrneath have brought me some comfort this evening. Christmas is so tough for survivors, there is so much family fall out in our livs and the season just seems to magnify it.

    I’ve been feelingreally down and vulnerable these last few days, feeling like there are so many people who don’t want me to be treated like a human being, with basic respect – almost entirely people in my family. I just started to come up and to do soem serious healing work in the last few years so I’ve been changing and people really don’t like that, they also don’t like me speaking the truth. So this time of family get togethers and pressures is pretty tough for me, especially because my mum and dad still live in the house in which I was abused ans insist on spending Christmas there (I have no other immediate family) – celebrating at the scene of the crimes. I guess I feel so let down by that, that they are choosing to do that rather than spending the day with me at my place – they refused, at first saying my cooking wasn’t good enough, then saying they just never will spend Christams anywhere else because they wouldn’t enjoy it. It has made me feel so unsupported. Plus my niece who lives with them is physically and verbally abusive towards me with their support – they attack me if I defend myself in any way. And her ex-boyfriend gave me a lecture on how i should do what she and my family want me to do back in March and that keeps replaying in my mind and upsetting me for some reason – I think I was just so shocked that my niece’s ex-boyfriend thought he could speak to me that way, that to him I am so beneath respect, even though we don’t even really know eachother.

    I did have a lovely Christmas day at a friend’s house with her boyfriend and parents whom I have known since childhood, so that’s much better than previous years. This is the first Christmas I have spent not arguing with my family, just being away from them and I think I am finally dealing with my own emotions about what happened to me around this time – my abuse began during the Christmas season, so I feel hurt, abandoned and vulnerable, really vulnerable. Those feelings begin during the run up to Christmas – I get really panicky and feel like poeple could just attack me, like the world is not safe. That’s the way I feel today. Do we ever feel safe again?

    If you’ve read this far, thank you doing so – this has been something of a release for me.

    And Lisa Bogle, I’m so sorry to hear about your upsetting Christmas, I hope things get better for you. XXX

  11. Hi Christina,
    Each Christmas in recovery has been different for me. This one was the best one yet over here too! Our family was talking about this whole topic of christmas past, and my 17 year old daughter declared that she would NEVER be apart from me on Christmas. That she would never choose to be with someone else. I had to smile, and I appreciate her delaration of love, but I also know that as two of my kids approach going off to school next year, I am grateful for each year we are all together, I am even more grateful however for knowing that I can do somehting different year if that is what happens. I can be alone; I can be in a different country. I can give and receive gifts or NOT. I can be whole and complete without things looking the way that I used to believe was “normal” or without the past fantasys. Even the way I used to think would be perfect has changed. My life long quest for “acceptance of what is” has paid off maybe? LOL

    I really love this post. I read it right away but forgot to come back to comment. Today I found myself thinking about it again as the Christmas week continues. And it is still great as is my Christmas this year. =)
    Hugs and Love, Darlene

  12. Earl,
    Yes, so much of what you wrote resonates with me. I especially like, “Grateful today my expectations are much more in line with reality.” That’s what I’ve gained in all of this. I accept the choices of others and I’m grateful that I see what my choices are as a result of that acceptance. Now I’m empowered to move on and that’s freeing. Thanks for your comment.

    That was a brave decision to face your fears. I’m so glad that you found out that you didn’t have anything to be afraid of. You’ve constantly made courageous choices along your healing path and I’m so proud of you! Love, Mom (For anyone who doesn’t know– Bethany is my daughter)

    Fellow Passenger,
    I think it’s great that you’re commenting at all and don’t mind a bit if you prefer to post anonymously. I’m sorry for how abusive and unsupportive your family has been, but I think it’s great that you chose to have Christmas with people who love you instead of those who don’t act as though they do.

    Yes, it is possible to feel safe again. I’m feeling safe now that I feel empowered to protect myself. Just keep going– you’ll get there.

    Yes, the healing work pays off, doesn’t it? I know that it’s the result of facing those issues that allowed me to enjoy this Christmas so much. In fact, I’m enjoying EVERY day more. Thanks for commenting!
    Love and hugs, Christina

  13. Hi Christina, Thank you for your words, and for this site – I find your approach very encouraging and useful for my own healing. I find my main problem is loneliness – sometimes it feels as f I am the only person who can understand this process, and the way you and the other posters share your experiences here have helped me a lot over the festive period. My therapist s great, but on holiday – so thank you again! p.s. I particular;y enjoyed your voice recordings – I appreciate the human element. Also, I am really interested to know how you handle the abuse and dysfunctional family relationships in your marraige – I fear I will never find a man who will trust my word against my family’s and who will support me. You and your daughter are very inspiring,!

  14. Fellow Passenger,
    You are definitely not alone in the effects, your feelings or in your healing. I love this community of survivors for how supportive everyone is of each other. A breakthrough for one is reason for everyone to celebrate and on dark days, there are so many to gather round to encourage and comfort. If you’re on Facebook, the OSA page is extremely active and supportive.

    I’m glad you asked about the past abuse and marriage. We have some blogs coming up where we’ll talk about that. In my case, I was apprehensive about telling my fiance (now husband) that my dad had sexually abused me because Don was friends with my dad and knew my dad long before he knew me. I didn’t know if he could accept that his friend, who was also someone who was well-respected in the community, could be a child molester. I knew I couldn’t keep that secret, so I took the plunge. He didn’t have any trouble believing me or supporting me in the process. He’s been my #1 supporter in all of this. Whatever type of relationship I chose to have with my dad, Don accepted. Something happened last week that really hit me how much I’ve been afraid of being accused of lying or being crazy and it helped me to face that fear. Now that I’m sure of my own reality and truth, it’s much easier to expect people to believe me, but it’s been a process. I’ll be writing about all of that and other aspects of the abuse/marriage relationship. I hope that gives you hope for finding someone who will believe you and support your healing. They do exist!

  15. Fellow Passenger,
    I got your email and tried responding, but the delivery failed. Some spam filters are set to reject anything with ‘sexual’ in the name, so that might be the problem. Anyway, here’s my response that I was trying to send you:
    That would be fabulous if you want to share that on the discussions board. I was hoping that people would share what works for them. All of our journeys are so unique. Are you registered on there? Do you need any help posting it? I’m so glad you’re going to do that!

  16. Christmas has been different in our family since the event that took one of us, my daughter’s dad, out of the world on September 11, 2001.
    My daughter has never celebrated another Christmas after the one we had in 2000. She was able to come to Thanksgiving dinner this year, but was in the hospital again for Christmas. Christmas was her dad’s favorite holiday [mine’s Halloween] and she hasn’t been able to celebrate it.
    I spent Christmas w/ someone who was also personally effected by what happened that day. He was a broker and worked in Tower 1, which he’s always called One World Trade Center, on the day the towers collapsed. He was burned severely over 80% of his upper body by direct flames from a fireball. Thirty of his co-workers never made it out alive.
    He likes celebrating Christmas, b/c he’s still astounded that he’s alive, but he doesn’t make me do it. And he makes the remembrance of his co-workers, even those he didn’t always get along w/, part of his Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition. He lights a candle in their memories and still believes “none of them deserved to die that way, no matter WHAT they may or may not have been like.”
    People have told him he deserved what he got, b/c he’s a money mogul and, they automatically assume that makes him a terrible person.
    I hope I’ll get to spend next year w/ him, b/c he wasn’t always expecting me to be happy and put on airs. He personally CAN’T put on airs anymore. His face and neck are so obviously burned that most people choose not to associate w/ him. But he was never into putting on faces. He said he tells people if he wanted to put on a different face every day, he would have married Eleanor Rigby.
    He’s funny too, I think so anyway, and he has a sense of humor about things I’d never be able to have wit about. Like when he said they turned him into the human torch.
    I guess that’s how he handles it.
    He’s helped me in ways I didn’t know were possible but, for some reason, I haven’t been able to tell him about the sexual abuse. It’s probably b/c the former guy I was w/ couldn’t handle it, even after TRYING to. I guess I’m concerned that this guy won’t be able to either.
    In the former guy’s case, he really did try.

  17. Vicki,
    I’m sorry for all the tragedy that you and people you love have experienced that make the holidays so hard. Your friend sounds like a remarkable person. He sounds like someone who looks at things much differently than most people do. It sounds like you’d like to be able to share your abuse history with him and I hope that you feel safe enough to do that at some point. You’ve both lived through trauma and it sounds like he’d understand.

  18. Hi Christina, I just read your respone, and I just worked ut how to upload a new topic. So, I will write my contribution soon, I’m a bit tired tonight, but am looking forward to sharing.

  19. I don’t feel sorrow or pain or anything for that matter. This past year I dealt with shock from the family for the last time. NC is easier the second time because I didn’t have expectations of my siblings, once Mom died it pretty much ended my relationship with them. They are in their own world and it seems they are more deluded and asleep and not likely to wake up. So I won’t beat myself up because I’m not leaping for joy about the hoildays, I am just going with the flow. This year is about letting go of what will never be and letting it sink in so there is no forgetting again. I can’t afford to allow their destructiveness to rule my life anymore.
    My heart has had too many hits and I need to let it heal. When I look back at the chronic abuse it is any wonder I survived. When I came back to the family fold I was deathly ill and needed support and that is when they unleashed their total wickedness, kicking me in the teeth when I was down. Instead of offering help, they insulted and ridiculed as they always did. That heartlessness will stick with me forever, I will never forget. I can forgive so it doens’t destroy me. It doesn’t excuse them but they must be souless and very ill to treat another person, let alone a sister, in such a depraved manner. I know I couldn’t.
    I am going to embrace my difference, what sets me apart from them and be glad of it. I am going to challenge myself to get out more and meet people that I have things in common with. Things are starting to open up for me and I am open to receive them. I have been reclusive for 10 years due to my illness and from emotional pain but to that I say enough. I have a right to live to the fullest and find contentment. Dropping the baggage, luggage and garbage is feeling lighter all the time.
    Maybe I am feeling the Christmas thing after all, it is about the light that shone bright and led the sheperds. I am in an open field now with the stars above and able to go any direction I want. I am a sheperd willing to lead where life takes me. Every step further away from them is another step closer to finding me.
    The new year is about progressing further and opening new doors of my choosing. Being free to be me and discovering new things about me. I broke their mirror they held up all to me all these years and see a happier image looking back. It can only get better now that I finally let go!

  20. Christina, Thank you for sharing this. After I boycotted Thanksgiving entirely this year I’d personally like to do the same with Christmas. I feel as if I’m in a deep state of mourning but also realization is going on. There are so many emotions and memories to sort out and recatalogue. It’s actually okay to be completely alone on Christmas. It should be anyway. When people try to “encourage” me to spend time with others and be happy it angers me because it’s like my desires don’t matter. Just one year can’t I make my own decisions without all the guilt?? I think my appreciation turned into a rant for my own freedom. Funny how that happens. sigh.

  21. Mary,
    I LOVE your angle on Christmas! That’s wonderful that acceptance has opened the door to new possibilities for you.

  22. Genesis,
    I like your freedom rant! Good for you for standing up for what YOU want.

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