Chilled and humid, the air sticks to my skin. The sky is thickly overcast, a shock after three warm days of sunshine. Is this the perfect background for my somber mood or the conditions that provoke it? October starts a long anniversary I don’t want to recall, much less commemorate. Of course, my C-PTSD trained brain is wonderfully cooperative. I don’t recall. Not in detail. The sieve of my mind retains random fragments. Yet, huge gaps are missing where the memories of year-end holidays are supposed to be. What I do recall is feeling various shades of disgust, distress, dread – provoking phantoms of nausea not so easily suppressed – with virtually no visual memory associated. Will I ever know all that happened to me? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, that’s a quest for another day.
Every year, as steady as the procession of the sun, October 1st through December 31st are my depressing months. These are the months of most active denial. These are the months I want to ignore, avoid, rush through. Whatever I’m trying to hide from, whatever I’m trying to sidestep or outrun to reach the faint hope promised by the new year, it contrasts sharply with the presumably happy times I was supposed to have.
For most of my adult life, I’ve avoided celebrating these or any other holidays. Oh, I might meet with friends. I might just as often isolate to binge watch some captivating TV series. I do make a point of eating turkey and favored trimmings on Thanksgiving. That provokes the one pleasant set of memories associated with “that time of the year.”
On that first day when the temperature drops from pleasantly comfortable to unexpectedly chilled, there’s that subtle something tainting the air. Autumn approaches. It’s a juggernaut now rushing headlong toward me. Attempts to escape are futile. During waking hours, I do my best to navigate ever more varied and unruly emotions. At night, I curl up cozy under heavy blankets and cuddle with my teddy bear or the pillow surrogate and imagine being in my safe space until I fall asleep. Sometimes even that doesn’t work.
Fortunately, matters have improved in recent years. When I take the time and energy to look, definite progress becomes evident. These days I feel more nostalgic than morbidly miserable. Despite the shortening days and increasing frequency of cold, overcast skies, the depression others have erroneously blamed on Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t nearly as pronounced. I appreciate this. In fact, as I look, I can see that much has improved. Apparently, at some point during the past year, I resolved some things, most likely through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Journaling, therapy, and corresponding with peers have also helped relieve more of this dark and buried burden I’ve carried throughout my life. I’ve been able to allow myself new opportunities, explore new options, to make new connections with a larger world.
I still don’t care to celebrate any holiday. I probably won’t ever practice status quo traditions. I don’t want to. I don’t have to either. I’ve given myself permission to decline such invitations, tactfully of course, but sometimes rudely, if circumstances warrant. At least I can enter stores inundated with Christmas music without lapsing into suicidal ideation.
That’s a big deal; a profoundly rewarding achievement. Now, instead of being lost and trapped for months in an oppressive gray fog, I can notice and contemplate evidence of progress. That inspires a spontaneous smile of gratitude more enlivening than the warmest holiday cheer.
I can choose to spend quality time with one or a few people that I actually want to visit, sharing moments that are actually meaningful – to us all. I can share time with people who, like me, consider sincere smiles and gentle hugs more than enough of a gift, and far preferable to any material trinket. These are my true friends – people who know what it’s like to survive hell.
People who strive to progress despite even seemingly insurmountable obstacles, sometimes one day, one moment, one step at a time. People who discover and express their strengths despite their traumas and often because of them. People who care about others with a rare depth of empathy and compassion. People who can see me, and who I can see, with easy understanding and acceptance. People who I know deep down inside are safe to be with, to share with, to just sit quietly with. With a glance and a grin, we know: we survived the fury; we have nothing to prove to each other.
None are my family of origin. Yet, these people are my true family. They are the heavenly contrast to the hell of my childhood. What I couldn’t choose then I can choose now. That choice is not only another reason to smile, it’s a gift I give myself every time I choose anything that truly honors me and those I care about.
And this choice, this ability to choose, makes “that time of the year” a little lighter, a little brighter, each and every time it rolls around.
J Bradley O 2020
J. Bradley O is a writer, peer mentor, and author of the forthcoming memoir, Shimmering Shattered Self – Reclaiming Treasure from the Trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse. He has devoted over 30 years to investigating the devastating personal impact of childhood abuse trauma. Using the uncanny perception of an empathic introvert, he identifies and reveals obscure factors critical to personal recovery. As a salvaged wood crafter, he revels in demonstrating the inherent value, purpose, and splendor of materials invalidated by status quo standards. For more insights and updates on his forthcoming book, subscribe to his blog at dancinginthemaze.wordpress.com.