Christmas dinner

Depression has welled up for me once again. I’ve actually not been having a bad time. I know loneliness is an issue for me in the holidays, so I’ve been taking care to see friends and go out. Just being with people is good sometimes, even if I don’t feel that close to them.

I’ve realized I’ve stopped writing about what is really happening, and haven’t emailed Ron either though he said it was fine to do that. So here I am.

Christmas Eve I went to my parents’ for their Christmas dinner. I was feeling guilty, so I went early to try and help my mother. It was too much. I was there around 3 pm, and didn’t leave until 10 – too much family time for me.

My mother makes such a complex meal….two kinds of homemade pie, organic turkey (which had to be picked up that day from the market), complicated stuffing, many many vegetables. There were just constant tasks that needed doing. It becomes all about the perfection of the meal, and there is no energy left to be with other people.

A bright spot was a short walk. I went with my brother to walk around a few blocks. I’d say I can count on one hand the number of times I have had a conversation alone with my brother. We chatted – no deep confidences. I felt kind of excited that he would talk to me. Which I know is pathetic. My brother is six years younger than I am, so he was either not born or a baby when the sexual abuse happened to me. I think in my mind he is therefore not involved. Yes, he is in the family dynamics. But not involved in covering this situation up. Is how I seem to think of it.

Then unfortunately, because he was walking fast and we walked for over half an hour, back at the house I got into my post-exercise difficulties. I felt massively tired, and shut down. So I went off to an upstairs room and laid down for an hour. It was OK. I was fighting off dissociation though the rest of the evening.

Around dessert time I started making sarcastic type comments. Not on purpose to hurt, but I think my mother is hurt by this. It’s all about the tea. My mother’s habit is to ask each individual about their precise wishes for tea or coffee. Would they like coffee? Decaf or regular? Or half and half? Tea? Black, decaf black, green or herbal? Which kind of herbal? There’s camomile, orange, peppermint, roibus….Multiply this questioning by the number of people (ten this time). Then you’re in the kitchen with ten seperate wishes to fulfill. Needless to say, getting tea and dessert on the table takes about an hour.

By dessert time, I always really want to leave. But I stay.

So I say, ‘If it was up to me, there’d be two pots of tea, that’s it. One herbal, one black. Make do people!’

And when the pie questions come up – ‘Apple, blueberry, or both? With ice cream or without?’ Then cutting two ‘tiny’ crumbly pieces of pie, as of course everyone wants both, balancing on the plate, then the ice cream…or not…

I pipe up ‘If it was me, there’d be no two kinds of pie on the plate. One kind. Decide. Apple or blueberry, that’s it.’

My mother ignores me, which is her response to almost everything. And of course she’s been labouring all day to bring this meal about. I should be praising her. I did say the food was good. But by the end of the day, I am so lonely, as no one wants to talk to me it seems, and so tired, and I’m fighting off the dissociation…..Well, I’m not at my best.

I am sitting next to my mother on the couch at the end of the evening, looking at the fire and drinking tea (um, green). My mother has said nothing to me all evening, and continues in silence. Usually I feel a kind of energy coming off of people. With my mother, there is nothing at all. It’s as if all her energy is turned inwards. Or there’s none left, I don’t know.

We have always been in this struggle I think. Me first trying to be ‘good’, to conform, to be ‘nice’. Failing. Then frantically lashing out, trying to get some response. Which makes my mother retreat even more, looking out at me with uncomprehending eyes.

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16 comments
  1. gniz said:

    Hi Ellen. So sorry to hear and read this, knowing as I do how painful the family dynamics stuff can be. it never goes away, really. We just do our best to muddle through and get through…Your mother sounds similar to mine in some ways. Uptight, cut off from herself and others, a perfectionist, everything is about keeping control of the day, controlling the event down to the tiniest detail. Never surrendering and letting go, never really having fun or laughing.Fun seems to be conspicuously absent from the descriptions of your family. Much like mine, they converse, intellectually, without sensitivity or caring. it's about scoring points and being intelligent. Someone-probably your dad from the sound of it–decided that this was how to prove your worth and everyone has followed suit.Probably nobody enjoys it much deep down. On the surface they appear to but surface appearance is pretty meaningless.Its hard to have fun when you are depressed, naturally. But another tip from my guru has always been to appreciate the moment with a smile, even to laugh at the silliness of it all. Practice laughing at yourself and the insanity of this life. Practice when you are alone and nobody can think you're strange for it.Yes, its tragic and sad and painful. But also there is humor there, under the surface. Your mother and her twenty teas is comical when you think about it in a certain way–try to laugh inside. Let the fun come out for yourself, and you will find its not always so gloomy.Your family stifled all true expression, both negative and positive. You are healthier than that. You're becoming more and more healthy and feeling more. My suggestion is to practice joy and humor, try to make a joke no matter how stupid, and to smile when in conversation. You'll surprise yourself!

  2. Ellen said:

    Hi Aaron – I do see the humour in my mother's 'twenty teas'. That's the joy of writing things down sometimes I find – I see things as more of a story, and less as an overwhelming bad thing. I feel better since I wrote this. Your guru does sound wise. Thanks for sharing the insights with me.

  3. gniz said:

    Ellen, it makes me glad to hear that. Actually, a lot comes through your writing. You are a talented writer and I sense a lot from what you've been putting down on this blog.I think you're healing in some very profound ways and doing some deep work which some people never get to in an entire lifetime. Despite the horrible things that you underwent as a child, it seems to me that you've come through with something very vital and honest and healthy intact. Not everyone does. I will think of you today and smile. Take care of yourself.Aaron

  4. Candycan said:

    Hi Ellen, your family (and Gniz's by the sound of it) sounds very like my in laws when it comes to what I like to call 'the faffing'. The focus of any occasion seems to be the faffing and the fussing and the dithering over tiny stupid details. I find this really, really hard going too and always have to try to bite my tongue to stop myself from banging my hands on the table and telling my mother in law to just put the food on the plate and sit down! That's ONE positive thing about my own family. It is the polar opposite. My mum cooks up the food and sets it all out in its dishes and people get what they want and if there's something else you need you either ask or get it yourself. It's so much more simple. I agree with Gniz about there being a need to control the day. My mother in law takes it to the extreme. She controls every single detail, from where you sit to what you talk about. I am getting angry just thinking about it so I will stop ranting on your blog!Just wanted to say that I know how hard going that can be, added to all the stress of your history with your family too. It would be a lot for anyone to handle. Chances are, your siblings probably feel stressed by it too. Maybe you are just being more true to your feelings by expressing them in little comments. Maybe that's not exactly a bad thing?

  5. Harriet said:

    I used to be like your mom. A total perfectionist when it came to entertaining (and everything else). I could see myself offering different pies, and different teas, and if I made a pie and I didn't think it was good enough I would throw it away and start again. It was difficult to live that way, for me and for my family and friends. I can understand how you feel because I could see the people around me feeling that way about me – walking on eggshells to avoid ruining my perfect event.I was pretty awful then. I wonder if your mother knows that things could be better if she can change.

  6. inamaze said:

    That is a lot of family time. It would be too much for me as well. My preference would be to keep Christmas simple as well. It can become such a burden with all the details that can be involved in it. Add to that all the family dynamics…I hope you are feeling better.

  7. Paula said:

    Oh,oh, was a lot of family time and it can be so very difficult. I can relate to not feeling any energy coming off certain persons. I can relate to lashing out when nothing else seems to "help". Not that lashing out would help…You have done so much healing in this year. You have broken quite some barriers on your way to healing, you struggle yet become more and more aware and accepting. You have accomplished a lot this year and I wish you to focus on those achievements more. Much love and hugs, Paula

  8. Christmas can be so difficult with all the hype. It is often a letdown for me. Getting together with family and losing the opportunity for real connection has happened to me MANY times. I am always relieved to get through it no matter how it goes. Sounds like you did ok, getting a walk in with your brother and trying to lighten things up a bit with your mom. You described it well in your writing and I can just picture it.

  9. Ellen said:

    @ gniz – thanks. :-)@ Candycan – I never heard the term 'the faffing' before – it's great. My mother does sound a rather like you MIL, though I hadn't thought of it in terms of control before. It is a kind of control isn't it. I don't know about the comments – they were kind of annoying I'm sure, they did express my feelings, kind of indirectly though…I really don't know. Anyway, that's how I coped. @ Harriet – I didn't know that about you Harriet. Very brave of you to change that behaviour. My mother will not change – she is older, and she has no motivation to do so. Thanks for telling me your story. @ inamaze – yeah, it was too long. Sorry your family gives you similar problems. @ Paula – Thanks Paula. Hugs to you@ MarenMoore – Thanks Maren. Sorry Christmas is difficult for you also.

  10. Ruth said:

    I agree with Aaron about learning to laugh at some of the extremes some people go to in their desire to 'control' the event or day. I also learned to cut down on family time and I do better that way. Sounds like you survived with only minor skirmishes. Just think you don't need to do this for another year…Look'n for the silver lining.

  11. Ellen said:

    Hi Ruth, Actually, I'm thinking, why go at all. Honestly, if I remember more and it is more clear that my father abused me, other than psychologically, I will not go again. It's too painful and confusing for me. thanks for commenting

  12. HubCats said:

    I also wondered if others were similarly exasperated by the multiple choices offered. It seems as if you might have connected with them (perhaps later), by expressing your exasperation.I got the impression that your mom was wanting to please and not getting the response she was hoping for? You don't mention if the others were urging her onwards with expressions of delight….and that you were also trying to please, and not getting the response you wanted.

  13. Ellen said:

    Hi Laura, If I connected with anyone they didn't give any indication. I'm always the bad person who doesn't appreciate the efforts it seems….Yes, others where providing 'expressions of delight', as always. Not sure how my mother felt, she keeps it to herself. thanks for commenting!

  14. Ruth said:

    That makes sense Ellen to not go. My counselor encouraged me to go no contact. Unfortunately, circumstances require for me to stay in contact but I am learning to disengage as much as possible. I know some of the other blogs I have read reported happier Christmas by not spending it with family. Hoping for a better New Year.

  15. Harriet said:

    Ellen – It wasn't exactly bravery that led me to change my behavior. My whole life I suffered from an anxiety order, and one of my defenses was to be a control freak. My reasoning was that if I had everything under control nothing bad would happen. Doesn't quite work that way, and turns people off, but I didn't know much about anything.When I was 40 I started taking zoloft for my anxiety, and the change was amazing. I was also in a support group, but it was the medication that made all the difference. When my anxiety was decreased my desire to control everything was decreased as well. I became almost a normal person.So, no bravery needed, just medication.

  16. Ellen said:

    Hi Ruth, It's a big decision not to go. My T has not said anything one way or the other. I also wish a good new year for us both!Hi Harriet – Interesting that Zoloft helped you so much. I don't quite believe you though. I don't believe medication on its own can make us change — there is also personal effort involved. So good for you for changing.

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