Sunday, December 16, 2007

Season of Darkness and Light

This is a photo my husband took tonight. It started snowing a couple days ago, and it's absolutely beautiful outside. Can you see the white sugar sparkle of the snow? And our tree through the window?

For me, this is a difficult time of year. My father was an abusive alcoholic. I now think that perhaps he was bi-polar and used alcohol to "medicate" himself. During the holidays, he would “misbehave.” So, I have a lot of sad memories.

Our society promotes this myth that if you “believe,” that if you are good, that everything will turn out all right. But that’s a childish world-view. You can be terrific, you can be as perfect as is humanly possible, and sh*t happens.

But growing up, I’d watch all the holiday specials and wish, and think, and dream that maybe I could make my dad change. That’s exactly what an alcoholic wants: Someone else to take responsibility for his/her drinking. So, in concert with the television specials and wistful ads and happy cards and overblown sentiments, I had my father suggesting that if my mother was a better wife, if his job was less stressful, and if I were a better daughter, he would be different.

Which was...baloney.

My dad died at age 48 of alcoholism. His death was a relief.

Today, most people think I live a charmed life. And I do. But on these dark days, I fight to be positive. I work hard to live in the moment, to appreciate my blessings, and to enjoy how wonderful my life is. After all, it’s good because I’ve done everything in my power to make it this way. Back in college, I made a conscious choice: I didn’t want to live my life the way my father did. When I learned counseling was free at Ball State University, I made an appointment. Over the years, I worked HARD and I realized I was not to blame for my father's behavior. I spent so many hours in therapy, that I've calculated it cost BSU more money to treat me than I paid for my education.

The lights of this season have special meaning to me. They are the lights that interrupt the darkness, the cheer that struggles through the weight and cold of the snow, and the reminder of the spark within.

I try to surround myself with holiday items that speak to the child in me, like the cheerful ice skating Snoopy who lights up my office window. I do this because some days, the little girl in me forgets she’s a grown woman, and she worries. She worries that her daddy is coming home drunk. That he's going to ruin yet another Christmas.

I’m curious. Do any of you have sad holiday memories? How do you cope with them?


CCE said...

Mine was my Mother having from the age of five wrap my relatives gifts until late Xmas Eve and then Xmas morning having my gifts sitting unwrapped because she said she was too tired to.
And then at My Grandmother's Xmas party my Mother leaving angry that the gifts she got werent good enough and that people didnt respect her.
And then keeping me up until early the next ranting about years of baggage.
Total sleep deprivation and if I nodded off she would claw my arm or scream I was satan's spawn.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Wow, CCE, my heart goes out to you. How horrible. I hope you have found a way to get through the holidays. What a painful time this must be for you. How hurtful your mother was.

I try to console myself by remembering that my father was hurting. But it's still hard.

The holidays are loaded with family drama. Ask any counselor! Sounds like it brought up a lot of pain for your mother--pain she decided to dump on you.

Camille Minichino said...

I'm so in awe of both of you being willing to share that pain. I'm not feeling so brave right now, probably because it's still a struggle to remind myself that it's now MY choice to enjoy the holidays and every day with people I love and who love me.

Suffice it to say that if there had been a Child Protective Services or even a school counselor in my childhood, I'd have been taken away. Now, whether that would have been better or worse is something I've often wondered about.

Camille Minichino said...

... and by the looks of your heavenly home, Joanna, you have turned things around beautifully!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You know, Camille, I do think that this pain is why I write. I want to make things right, and have control, and my books let me do that.

You're always welcome here, my friend. So, if you're passing this way, please know that the best thing about a big house is room for all the lovely friends and the memories they bring.

Deb Baker said...

I'm overwhelmed by the amount of abuse and suffering in the world. May we all find strength, peace, and love this holiday season.

Felicia Donovan said...

Joanna, thank you for that honest and heartfelt post. Your house is lovely, by the way.

I'm very fortunate in that my parents both worked very hard to give us great Christmases, even when struggling through difficult times. I am blessed to have their strength each and every day, still.

As writers, we have the rare ability and opportunity to recreate life however we so choose. Given that, we have an obligation to reach into those darker moments and tell stories to let others know they are not alone even in the darkest moments of their lives.

Peace & Joy,


Felicia Donovan

Kathryn Lilley said...

Your house looks like a Christmas card, Joanna! I'm jealous, sitting out here under the nonChristmasy palm trees! And I share a lot of your thoughts about the pain of some early Christmases. I think that's one reason I don't get too caught up in the holidays, to this day. They were never so jolly for me. But I think that's part of what made us writers, no?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Yes, Kathryn, you know, my husband says, "Let it go," but if I let EVERYTHING go, I'd be out of good material!