The Things We Carry

It is Christmas Eve and for many this is a time of celebration, family and friends, food and joy.

For others, today and the entire holiday theme can be deflating. Christmas often serves as a painful reminder of our failures and losses, our forgotten glory and dashed dreams.

Christmas has become a time I dread—much as I do Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and Father’s day. Yes, I have tried to make the best of it, so for those who say I need to have a positive attitude, either hear me out or go your merry way. Personally, I’m tired of the fake people in my life who would rather I “sucked it up” instead of healed from the inside out by telling my story. Haha. LOL. Smiley face. Just sayin’.

While I was growing up in the Chattanooga area, living mostly in north Georgia, my family (at least on my dad’s side) stayed close. My dad, his mother and his grandmother, his brothers who lived in the area, his step-dad and step-grandfather were a cohesive bunch. They were good people. Other than alcoholism, family feuds, and the occasional family war they stuck by one another against many odds and against all outsiders. The two who seemed remotely sane were my uncle and great grandfather. Fortunately, that uncle is still living and I have a connection with a good part of my past.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were important holidays back then. We celebrated together. My dad, mom, sister and I went to my great-grandparent’s home as well as my grandmother’s home. Again, these were my dad’s family—my dad’s mother and grandmother. As for my mom’s family, all I remember is she often wanted to see her mother and sister but my dad and his family—especially his mother, weren’t too keen on the idea. My grandmother often voiced her opinion that Momma’s family were “backwoods” and “can’t be trusted.” With her great influence on my dad, obviously the times we did get to go were few. They only lived in Red Bank, but for me it seemed they were a world away.

As for my dad’s father and his family in Florida, my grandmother also had some choice words to say about them and she did so freely in our presence. There was this sense of Them vs. Us that was an ingrained dynamic in my family of origin. Anyone who was considered different posed some kind of perceived threat, or at the very least, made them uncomfortable.

When mom and dad divorced in November 1979 just before Thanksgiving, our family traditions were smashed against every rock as my sister and I were thrown over a cliff and plunged into a gorge of indifference, bitterness and resentment. Since my dad was the golden child to my grandmother and great-grandmother, any allegiance other than to him was considered betrayal. When dad first left for Florida, before the divorce papers were even signed, I hated my mother for what she did and for making dad leave. Immediately I demanded that she send me to live with him. After attempting to live with my dad during 8th grade I realized I wanted, and needed, my mother and my sister. He gladly obliged by booking me a flight. His send off the night before he put me on the plane from Tampa, FL to Chattanooga, TN clenched the deal. (That story is slated for another blog post in the future).

Photo credit

So, tradition crumbled and died in my young teens. Anything after that became a tradition I made by myself or with others. Mom made some new traditions, too. She remarried and my step-dad at that time was an alcoholic, so even though it seemed like an old tradition for her to be with a drunk over Christmas, it was actually new because, well…he was a different person. At least, that’s how she tried to rationalize it.

When I became a mother the holidays became a joyous occasion for me once more. This time, though, it was about making my children happy. Although a couple of them would tell you I failed in an epic way at the latter, one thing that cannot be denied is that I attempted to make their lives much better than mine was when I was growing up.

In my heart I believe a lot of people work to improve upon their former circumstances for their children, and their efforts are seen as selfish, especially when they begin to set boundaries for themselves. My mom used to think I was mean when I said the word, No.

“No, mom, you may not call me all hours of the night and tell me what to do.”

“No, mom, it is not okay for you to tell me your secrets and expect me to lie for you.”

“No, mom, I was not put on this earth to only care for you. I love you and will do what I can to help you, but I’m not your mother.”

“No, mom, I don’t have to call you every day. Once a week is enough to show you I love you.”

“No, mom, it’s not only my responsibility to keep this relationship going. It’s a two-way street.”

“No, mom, you are not welcome to ridicule me or my children for being different.”

“No, mom, you are not welcome or allowed to put down my dad in front of me or my kids.”

“No, mom, you are not welcome to put down my kid’s dad in front of them.”

“No, mom, this is not about YOU, it is about me, or it is about my kids.”

 My mom’s response:

“Well, piss on you!”

My kids sometimes found me a bit hard, too. When I said, No, it was as if their world had come to an end. Being divorced, and of course feeling perpetually guilty about it, I was easy prey for manipulation and being compared to their dad’s benevolence, financial prowess and wisdom.

“No, you may not stay up until 3 am just because you feel like it.”

“No, you may not have that item. I do not have the money for it.”

“No, it’s not okay for you to be disrespectful to me or anyone else, including your dad. You can say how you feel, just don’t be disrespectful.”

“No, it’s not okay to neglect your chores and homework then go to soccer/dance/swimming practice.”

 “No, it’s not cool to ignore your mom or dad. It’s important to spend time with us and keep in touch. One night a week and some holidays, the occasional call, a text…is not asking too much. I know you’re teenagers/college students but, seriously…”

The typical response:

“Well, dad says I can!”

“I’m not your dad and you live in my house.”

So, what do they do? They move in with dad.

Okay, but you’re still not going to walk all over me and disrespect me to get your way.”

“You’re a horrible excuse for a mother!”

“Yep. That’s me.”

Two years ago my husband and I celebrated our first Christmas together by going to Seymour, TN, about a half hour east of Knoxville, to his daughter’s home. We asked that her brother bring his family, too. It was either do this or not see them as my husband’s typical efforts at “keeping the peace” involved him going to their mother’s, even though they had been divorced for over twenty years.

Not understanding the scope of the situation, I even tried to convince my husband it would be okay with me if we went to his ex’s for Christmas. He was adamantly against that idea. Having learned some things since that first Christmas, I understand why. There was not going to be an amicable family get-together there, it was simply not in the cards.

We also celebrated our first Thanksgiving and Christmas going over to my brother-in-law’s house. Apparently, this was the other tradition my husband followed, so being a good sport and desiring to be a part of the family, I was happy to go along.

Unfortunately, not all good intentions lead to good ends.

Photo courtesy

I have learned in the last two years, painfully, that people I cared for and who I thought cared for me are all too happy to take advantage of my kindness. They see me as the outsider and though it’s their prerogative to do so, their disrespectful treatment of me is not okay or acceptable. This has caused problems because having survived some hellish situations I refuse to put myself in a position to associate myself with anyone who purposely sets out to hurt me, or who continues to hurt me “unwittingly” over and over again. I have stricter boundaries than some others in my life. It works for me, not so much for them.

When I moved back here three years ago this month, I was in a place of transformation. Since my life had not gone as planned (much like ninety-nine percent of the rest of the world) I decided to make some changes that were good for me. I had begun smoking cessation, walking and jogging, yoga and stretching and losing weight. I was writing all the time—songs, poems, short stories. I was beginning to share my words with others. I was enjoying my own company and the peace and creativity that solitude and silence can bring.

None of these goals had anything to do with anyone else or their agenda, traditions, values or dreams. My efforts were for my own agenda, to set new traditions for myself, to align my life with my values, and to achieve my dreams.

The person I was becoming was the woman my husband met that April night in a run-down little bar where my girlfriend and I were so completely out of place. We went there as part of our last stop of a Girl’s Night Out and boy did we feel like aliens. However, this quiet and unassuming man approached me and began to talk. He wasn’t pushy or obscene. He was kind and courteous. I saw his heart and I was won over.

Unfortunately, fairy tales are not real. Life sticks its ugly head in and makes us look at reality. Some of the things I have learned:

  • Some people dislike change so much they will sabotage a good thing to avoid it.
  • Some people do not appreciate the differences in others. If someone’s thoughts and actions do not align with their own, they can be cold and judgmental.
  • Some people will do anything to avoid working on their own problems, even if it means hurting someone they love.
  • Some people prefer to place the blame on someone else. They don’t know how, or refuse to be accountable for themselves.
  • Some people don’t care about you or your traditions or values.
  • Some people don’t care how much good you do for them or someone they love. You are an outsider. If you don’t conform to their way of thinking and doing, you are not welcome. Even when you do, it’s conditional.
  • Some people think they can say and do hurtful things over and over and there be no consequences.
  • Some people can make you feel like there is something terribly wrong with you.
  • Some people have no idea who you are or what you’re about, and they don’t care.

It took a while for  me to realize I was in familiar territory, but after thinking about how certain situations have transpired in these last two years I now see that I’ve deposited myself right smack dab in the middle of a dysfunctional vortex, much like the one I grew up within. I began to have feelings that I knew all too well when I was a child and teenager, and an adult trying to figure things out:

  • Unworthiness
  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A broken heart
    Photo credit

    The things we carry, though, are often not even our own.  After some introspection, I’ve come to realize I began to carry some heavy loads that do not belong to me.

So, here today, I am letting them go. In the tradition of the holidays, and in the spirit of the New Year, some changes are being made.

I’m going to reclaim a lot of my former values, many I had relinquished believing that I was doing it for the good of the many. Sorry, I’m not Spock. The good of the ONE will outweigh the good of the MANY from here on out.

My goals this year:

  • Lose the weight I have regained in the last two years
  • Grow my hair back out and not cut it again—for any reason
  • Treat my body, mind and heart with care
  • Eat well and exercise
  • Continue to play guitar. (I haven’t picked it up in far too long)
  • Trust myself
  • Love myself
  • Write, write, write, write—as if my life depends upon it, and it DOES. This is not a hobby, it is who I am, and it is my air, food and water. It is my life.
  • Become a published and paid writer by the end of 2016, submitting two novels this year for publication (I’m already on my way to being published with two pieces being accepted for Issue #3 of Firefly Magazine,
  • Submit to every magazine and contest out there…Like a Machine
  • Heal
  • Be ME

Sound selfish? It is. Here’s the thing, though. I’ve been unselfish and lost myself in the process. I’ve given of my time, attention and care to unworthy people who only think of themselves and what’s in it for them, or how they think I should behave.

Photo Credit

I’ve negated who I am, to be someone I am not.

I can be loving, compassionate, helpful and supportive without becoming some amalgam of another person and myself. I can be a good human being, woman, wife, mom, friend, daughter and employee without disappearing into who they are and what their life is all about. I’m tired of carrying this load, especially when no one else seems interested in my own burdens.

What are you carrying that does not belong to you? Isn’t it time you put it down?



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