I remember a couple of Christmases ago, I got a frantic 4am call, the kind that comes in the middle of the night when you can’t sift through the pieces to see how you will ever get to the other side. When dawn hasn’t broken yet, and when all the fears you keep so tightly glassed inside, bubble to the surface.
She asked so quietly, “How did you ever get through the first Christmas?”
I thought of her when I wrote this. I thought of the scared hurting girl that just wanted everything to be preciously the same for just one more day. That precious naive longing of never realizing just how devastatingly horrifying knowing that your world can collapse, would be.
We are a band of sisters, tied together by the unimaginable and pieced together with broken dreams and hopes that scream with faith to hold on for just a little longer because He has got you.
This is for you if this is a first or a fifteenth, if you’ve ever had to glue pieces of your heart together through a holiday, or if you’re wondering just how you will reclaim when you’re not sure if you will even make it through.
This is for you.
We’ve all been here, in different ways and different stories.
You are not alone.
The firsts are always brutal. The scary anticipation of when it all hits you like a ton of bricks throws you off-kilter, because you’re just trying to pile on as much armor as you can to cushion the blow.
You’re trying to figure out ways to come out unscathed, to keep these wounds from opening and reopening again and you’re trying to see how you can deny or make it all go away.
But it always comes, especially when you least expect it.
That jolt of reality punching you square in the face. The violent memories that assault all your nows by attacking it with your befores…in this minefield of your “new normal”.
You tell yourself, at first determinedly then almost in a frantic panic, you just have to get through this 24 hour period, this one day.
And after this, you promise yourself that there will never be another first again.
You promise yourself that if you get through these 1,440 minutes and breathe through these 86,400 seconds that it will never ever hurt this bad ever again.
But deep in the thick of these soul-breaking should have beens, you can’t even begin to comprehend a lifetime of getting through another holiday, another birthday, another Easter or Fourth of July, another New Year’s Eve at midnight because you are just barely going to make it out sane this time.
You are scared, you are so so terrified of the future because you are scared of the darkness, the struggle, the can’t breathe, can’t see, can’t drown of staying afloat.
But most of all, you are scared of the what if.
What if it will always feel this way?
The first Christmas, I wanted to hide in my bedroom and never come out until it was all over. I wanted the precious mundane, the comforting ordinary. I wanted baby steps, not a giant overwhelming leap of healing.
And so I went to work. I worked ten to twelve to fourteen hour shifts. Hiding in the mind-numbing, bone-aching, crazy that is working retail during the holiday season.
I could pretend in those sacred four walls of the studio, I could put on masks and make-up and an apron to shield my raw insides. I could coo and make funny faces while helping little babies get their footprints on their first ornament.
That was not a first I was afraid of.
I could sit till midnight, every night for two months, painting special orders to help people start their Christmas traditions.
I wasn’t even afraid of the shadows anymore.
I would welcome all my favorite customer-friends and watch their faces light up as they told me their stories. I would watch how encouragement makes a person blossom and take notes for later.
I would tell them that I loved it, whatever it is they were painting and had spent precious hours making. That whoever they were making this special gift for was going to love it too. Each and every stroke, even if the outline came out crooked, even if the colors had mixed together into a lovely shade of poop brown, but most of all, because it was imperfectly perfect with love.
I knew who I was and what I was doing in there.
This kind of chaos I could do.
This kind of chaos of when people went bat shit crazy, when they lost their mind and manners over a platter or mug, when they screamed at me about the injustices of the world. It was not nearly even half terrifying as the voices that yelled at me in the loud silence of my broken alone.
When I came home to a cold, empty apartment, where it was all still so devastatingly new and unfamiliar six months after. Where my muscle memory hadn’t yet learned that the light switch was now on the right side of my bedroom wall. This was not the kind of chaos I could control.
That was what scared me now.
I sat and cried in the parking lot of Target on my day off when I went to pick up toilet paper because I had accidentally walked pass an aisle that had candy gingerbread houses on sale.
I barely made it out into my car before the giant heaves and suffocating back-to-back-to-back sobs overwhelmed me and I just wanted it to dear god please let it be over.
And in the heaving, I let the weight of the betrayal and the unfair and the shock sink in. This used to be my favorite holiday. Did I lose this too when I signed my name on a piece of paper that neatly listed down and separated assets and tax returns and health insurance?
Was it sitting in a pile somewhere next to my identity, next to my last name that came after a hyphen, next to all the dreams built and shattered?
I came home exhausted. Exhausted from my day, exhausted from being, exhausted from grieving and grieving and grieving again.
And in the way that God carries me in my darkest ugliest moments, it was a day that my roommate was home. The two days of every fortnight that she wasn’t flying or dealing with her chaos and her crazy.
And she knew.
She knew because she had been here before and without words we sat in silence. We sat with tear streaked faces and puffy red eyes, on her legally hers couch in front of my legally mine tv remembering to take one breath in and one breath out.
And then she said, screw this. Screw it all. We can be sad and pathetic and miserable but we are not going to not celebrate Christmas just because we think we can’t.
“Sparkleberry, we don’t even have a Christmas tree.”
I had fourteen million and I left mine and she left hers for the same exact reason that putting it up would be a suicide mission of memories on our already fragile barely glued together smashed up hearts.
“So let’s go buy one. Let’s go buy that tree we always wanted when we still remembered the joy of Christmas, and let’s go get every damn sparkly ornament we see and let’s make Christmas throw the fuck up in here because we are not not celebrating Christmas.”
So I laughed and laughed and laughed at her crazy eyes and we got dressed up to go reclaim Christmas. This is what I wrote in my journal that night:
“We made new memories. Pored through store after store for just the right tree, just the right ornaments, just the right decorations and candles…just to somehow make this space more than just a space.
To make this slice of our world, this new transition, this life change a step in moving forward, in letting go, in reclaiming.
We hit all our favorite stores: Target, TJ Maxx, The Market, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Macy’s, Pier One…we went to them all and pored and pored. Sometimes walking the aisles together, sometimes pushing a shopping cart of our own.
Stopping to ooh and ahh, stopping to touch and feel and comb through. Stopping to remember, and forget, and create anew.
Sometimes, it is the words that are spoken in silence that echo the loudest. The feelings that collide and tug and pull and ask to be heard. The varying intense 180 degree rollercoaster struggle of wanting and needing and having to be.
And we implore ourselves to remember that we are stronger than this. We are stronger than these struggles and these hurts and all this new.
We found solidarity and encouraged, we empathized and understood, before gently pushing each other to continue. One step forward, two steps back. We will get there eventually.
And in different aisles, we took turns. We let the reminders hit us and we took turns in the finding. The discovering of what it felt like to really take it all in. Remembering to breathe in our quiet, and letting the tears spill out for just a second when there too much to contain but still smiling.
Still so damn determined in moving forward. In looking for the perfect that will light our world back up again.
Tonight, these walls are a little warmer, a little more like home, a little cosier.
Tonight, the repetitive hanging of ornaments and the broken beauty of rediscovering the spirit of Christmas is a little stronger.
Tonight, I hang up hope, reminding me to do just that. To dream. To have faith.
Tonight, this space is more than just a space of transition, and slowly, very slowly, I look down and find myself standing on solid ground again.
I am Safe. I am Okay. I am Loved.
Hurting, but not completely broken. Hurting, but comforted. Hurting, but so so incredibly blessed.
Tonight, I believe again.
Tonight I let it all sink in and celebrate the joy of Christmas, the spirit. And in a moment that even shocks myself, I take it all in and realize,
“I forgive you.”
Tonight, we reclaim back Christmas.
Tonight we are women, hear us roar.”
And every Christmas since then, I’ve made it throw up glitter and ornaments and celebrated like my life depended on it. Just like before but only so much infinitely better.
That first Christmas was sacred and it was all because my Sparkleberry refused to not let us celebrate a good.
It was a little thing but it was a big thing. A butterfly effect.
She sent me this picture of “our” tree in her beautiful new house she’s made her home. It’s what made me think to write this post because I thought about how far we’ve come and thanked her for leading me that first Christmas.
We’re okay the both of us. We made it, and our hearts though forever changed, have also learned to make room for the scary, and the impossible, and the so so very good.
So this is for you, if you can’t see the light through the reminders that keep assaulting you in grocery aisles and carols and when you think you can’t anymore.
You are not alone.
You are not always going to hurt this way.
It is not always going to suck this much.
Your life has changed but put up that damn Christmas tree and make new memories because you cannot not celebrate.
You deserve to be happy even in your broken.
You deserve to reclaim Christmas.
You deserve to roar.
“As I walked toward my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” ~ Nelson Mandela
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