Friday, December 21, 2012

A Look Back

Christmas Past and Present

Building New Memories

For years now I gotten in the habit of reading old journal entries. It can be entertaining to look back and see what I was doing and think a month ago, a year ago, or even 10 years ago. (I have been an avid journaler for a long time.) However, recently, as I look back and read entries from this time last year, it has become less entertaining. Instead these entries are almost haunting and leave me confused and sad. I don't know why I continue to read them. It's almost addictive. Perhaps a part of me thinks that I am benefiting in someone way from reading them- learning about myself, realizing how different things are now, recognizing how much I have accomplished in the past year. Or maybe I think that the feelings these entries leave me with will magically change somehow as I continue to read. As I read I get lost in the pages. I get transported back to a place and time that is far away. I am ecstatic to be home for Christmas but reading these entries has been giving me a sense of disappointment. 
"Ghost of Christmas Past" in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Although I am in a very different setting and I have accomplished so much over the past years I feel as if I have remained the same. I have managed to stay out of treatment and I suppose that is an accomplishment. I have completed 6 more credits toward my undergraduate degree and have done well in all of my classes; that is certainly an accomplishment. But I feel that in terms of emotional and mental growth I have fallen short. Reading my journal entries from last year is forcing me to ask the question: Have I really come that far? My weight is stilled deemed an anorexic weight. My eating disordered thoughts are strong and constant. My restricting seems to be a bit more under control but I have certainly not achieved a level or normalcy around food. When I do indulge my anxiety is out of control just as it was when I was in treatment last year. Everyone is proud of me, congratulating me for the accomplishments and strides I have made over the past year, but I feel like a fraud. Yes, on paper it appears that I have accomplished a great deal. However, in my heart, I don't feel as if I deserve this praise and that I have not really succeeded much at all. I had high hopes for this Christmas. I have been waiting for it to arrive for two years now. I have built it up so much in my head. I was expecting it to be magical and amazing. But now that I home and the holiday draws close I can't help but feel let down. I don't have the same excitement and enthusiasm for the holiday that I had once upon a time. I was hoping that I could embrace this holiday with a carefree attitude, leaving negativity- my eating disordered thoughts, painful experiences, sadness, guilt, misery, and feelings of loss- in the past where it belongs. But I can't seem to let go of these haunting memories, they are hindering my ability to enjoy holiday festivities, and I fear that Christmas has been ruined for me forever. I suppose if I am already struggling emotionally than revisiting my past via journal entries probably isn't the best idea.
My journals aren't quite this old...
But somehow reading these entries is able to bring me a sense of comfort despite the negative feelings they evoke. For just a moment I am able to feel the comfort, support, safety, and love that treatment provided me with. It's so complicated and I just can't seem to wrap my head around it. I don't want to be in treatment for the holiday but I don't want to be home either. I kind of just want to disappear until the holiday is over. I can't believe I just said that. This was once my favorite time of year. I have been counting down the days til it's arrival for a long time now. I hate to think that memories of Christmas past have the ability to taint or ruin my Christmas present. 
Feeling lonely and not sure why-

"Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for- I don't know what exactly, but it's something you don't mind so much not having at other times."

- Kate L. Bosher

Perhaps this quote accurately describes how I am feeling. Bosher, like me, seems unable to explain exactly what she's feeling or what seems to be missing. Christmas is a festive celebration but at the same time it manages to evoke feelings of sadness heartache for a lot of people. I have been trying to talk to my Mom about what I am experiencing. But like Bosher I am unable to adequately express it or put my feelings into words. She attempts to empathize with me. During Christmas time almost 40 years ago her older brother died unexpectedly. She says that Christmas has never been the same for her ever since. It reminds of her of the loss of her brother. She longs for the happy feelings and memories from her childhood Christmases- a snowmen her mother gave her when she was 6, a tin of candy ribbon, time with her older brother. Perhaps this unexplainable sadness or emptiness is something that comes with age. 
Candy Ribbon, a favorite from my mom's childhood-
As we grow older and experience more of life's pains it becomes increasingly difficult to put the sadness aside and make merry. While my mother and I share a sense of wanting and feelings sadness around the holiday we deal with them in very different ways. My mother is able to recognize her feelings and then continue on, trying to make new memories, and enjoying the Christmas present. I, on the other hand, find it impossible to embrace the present. Instead I long for the carefree merriment of my childhood Christmases. I feel intensive depression, mourning the loss of the angelic and naive child that I once was. I am in denial that she will never come back. I don't believe that I am in fact growing up and with growth comes change. I don't like these changes. This past year, including last Christmas, has been traumatic for me. It has changed my perspective, left me jaded and unable to welcome new memories and Christmas present. It almost feels easier to reside in the misery and loneliness that characterizes my most recent past Christmas. At least last Christmas I had obvious reasons to be unhappy and lonely; my emotions were negative but for understandable reasons. Last Christmas was simple and uncomplicated. Similarly my childhood Christmases were simple and uncomplicated. I was happy, excited, and energetic and understandably so. This present Christmas is complex and confusing. It lacks the simplicity and sensibility of my past Christmases.

"Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time."

- Laura Ingalls Wilder

I hope that I am able to embody Wilder's words as Christmas Eve approaches. My heart has definitely grown tender with childhood memories. But, rather than being filled with youthful spirit, my heart has become vulnerable. I am taunted by my childhood memories and they make my heart ache. They mock me by reminding me that I will never have my childhood again. They fill me with a sense of loss, sadness, and disappointment. I am frustrated with myself for having such high expectations for this holiday. How could I have expected Christmas present to be the same as Christmas past? 

So much has changed over the course of the past year. I transferred to Penn. I experienced the death of two friends. I went to a treatment center that I was unfamiliar with. The relationships I have with close friends have been strained and tested. My treatment team completely dissolved. I adopted a kitten. I have built new friendships and founds alternative ways to enjoy myself. My family has become closer in the face of challenges. In reality almost nothing is the same as it was in the past. How could I think that Christmas could remain unchanged? Although a lot of changes have occurred I cannot categorize them all as bad. Some of the shifts really sucked- deaths, loss of friendships, treatment. But some of the changes were just different and even good- adopting Milly, the new found closeness of my family. Perhaps, although Christmas present won't be the same as those in the past, it too can just be different or potentially good. It is an opportunity to experience in traditions as an adult and from a different perspective. It is a chance to build new memories with my family and good friends. As a young adult with a great deal of experience I have started to look at the world in a different way. I have grown to appreciate my family more and given our connections higher value. I appreciate every moment because I know how fragile life truly is. Maybe this new knowledge and perspective will be able to enrich my holiday experience. The hardships I have faced over the course of this past year don't need to ruin Christmas for me. In fact they have the potential to make it more special than it ever has been previously. Maybe it's ok that I can't experience Christmas with child-like wonder anymore. Instead I can appreciate it through the eyes of strong young adult who has discovered the importance of life. I can cherish every moment I get to spend with my family- especially family members who I don't get to see very often. I have the ability to recognize the magic of familial bonds and love. I have the emotional capacity to recognize how much I am loved by my family and friends; and I have the ability to love them fiercely in return. I have acquired so much wisdom through my struggles and challenging experiences. I can use my wisdom this Christmas to realize and genuinely appreciate the beauty of the holidays- family gatherings, generosity, kind spirits, giving and sharing, expressions of love.
The magic of Christmas that comes with age-
I was right in saying that Christmas is no longer simple for me. It is exceptionally complicated but its complexity reflects the state of my mind and emotional self. I am a complex being with a complicated life. So, of course, this holiday season is going to be equally as complicated as I am. As much as I wish my troubles, worries, and fears would disappear because it is Christmas, I have to face reality, by understand that that is not how the magic of Christmas works. It doesn't make the holiday any less magical or special; it just makes it different that I had hoped for or expected. Christmas becomes closer with every passing minute. My sadness and disappointment has not dissipated but I am a little more optimistic than I was at the start of this post. Although I am not completely better (eating disordered thoughts still run rampant in my mind), although I am no longer a child, and although Christmas present is not the same as Christmas past, I still have the ability to enjoy the holiday and the season. Just because it is different does not mean it is ruined. Just because I am not "recovered" doesn't mean that I can't still celebrate the holiday joyfully with my family and friends.  I no longer believe in Santa, nor do I wish for Barbie dolls, nor can I eat pounds of candy without intense guilt. 
But, despite all this differences I can recognize one thing that is the same: Christmas is magical. The magic we see as adults is different than the magic we believe in as children. As adults we see the magic of friends and family sharing and giving- both material gifts as well as love. We witness the magic that comes from generosity- donating food or toys to those in need. We are able to live vicariously through children and experience the magic of Santa Clause and Christmas morning through their eyes.
"I no longer believe in Santa..."
We understand how magical it is when our entire family is able to come together and share a meal and some good wine. We grow older, we face hardships, we lose our innocence, and consequently things are permanently changed. We can mourn and dwell in the loss of what had been, in this case Christmas past. Or we can choose to make the most of the present by building new memories and recognizing the wonderful things that change can bring.

"One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean up too quickly."

- Andy Rooney
'Don't clean up too quickly.'
This quotes speaks to the magic of Christmas both for children as well as adults. I am choosing to interpret it both literally and metaphorically. As child the glory of ripping presents open and recklessly tossing the paper reflects the excitement that comes with discovering what Santa has brought. (I personally am imagining my kitten, Milly, having a blast with all the disregarding wrapping paper on Christmas morning, haha.) As adults this quote may better serve us if we interpret it as metaphor. The glorious mess is the festivities of Christmas morning and the happiness and excitement that they provoke. By not cleaning up too quickly we are able to revel in these joyous feelings for longer. We can choose to make that moment of excitement last and span upon many moments. This Christmas I will be doing my best to see these changes that have transpired as capable of enriching my holiday experience rather than detracting from it. I will both literally and metaphorically let the Christmas morning mess stick around for a while. I'll let the discarded wrapping paper stick around for a while. Milly will be sure to enjoy jumping around in all the paper. And I'll giggle at her expressions of confusion as the mess quickly grows. And I will metaphorically do my best to maintain the mess- the energy, enthusiasm, excitement, and joy that I have always associated with Christmas morning. Let us embrace Christmas and its magic with all of our might no matter how old we are. Things may change as we grow older but we are still able to have fun, be happy, and enjoy life. Let us never forget that no matter what changes we can always continue our quest for happiness.

Enjoy every moment of your Christmas present,

3 Days Til Christmas