“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . not a creature was stirring. Nothin.’ No action. Dullsville.” – – Margie McDougall in “The Apartment”
I have a sneaking suspicion I’ve not been alone in isolating for the Holidays (or holidays, I guess depending on how you feel) over the years. I recall the old joke about someone going to an Isolators Anonymous meeting and being disappointed because nobody was there. I have been a non-attendee in good standing many times over. I have adhered to the rudimentary mechanics of interacting with family until the pain hurt so much I couldn’t stand it, then going into the pain of isolation and staying there until it hurt so much I couldn’t stand it. The isolationists ping-pong game. Over and over again. I did this since youth, so the stage was set long before holidays began to have any significance.
To put it plainly, my dad cheated on my mom for years and years. Since I was about six, I recall that his mistress would toss him aside annually for the holidays. I guess she got the Christmas spirit and went back to her kids once a year. What that left my family with was a sullen, raging dad at home going through the paces of getting drunk, phoning his mistress repeatedly to call her a few names, and generally putting a pretty miserable atmosphere in place. Once in recovery, I read a book (I don’t remember the author) that described in one chapter “dad falling over the Christmas tree.” I got an electric shock of identification. And thought this writer had perhaps been peering into our windows at home when I was a kid. The Christmas tree maneuver was one I remember dad pulling more than once. Holidays became a curse to endure.
I do however, have a fond memory. We weren’t poor. Dad just had a remarkable propensity for “losing” his paycheck about half the year. Being the capitalist youngster that I was, this often put the kibosh on the presents I was salivating for. So one year my mom went to a Walgreen’s and found a used record player/radio for me, I think for $1.50. It didn’t look like much, and I remember receiving it with a kind of blah attitude, and at the same time being appreciative that mom would take the time to make sure her kids got at least something in the spirit of the commercial season. As the family fought one night that year, I turned on the radio and found it to be so soothing – a comfort of a backdrop that seemed to lessen the impact of what was going on in front of me. So a night later I did the same as the scrapes began. I was 13 and surely not averse to crying myself to sleep. But this night was different. What I heard shortly after I turned on the radio was what I still consider the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. It was the newly released “Your Song” by Elton John. A rather unusual (at the time) blend of lush orchestration, gorgeous piano, and that marvelously silky voice of a young Elton. Not only did this episode inspire me to be a piano player, it was a panacea for chaos I never dreamed could possibly exist. Music really doth have charms? You betcha. While the memory of hearing that song for the first time doesn’t necessarily erase the rest of what was happening around me, it does in fact transport me to an entirely different, safe, and even magical place. And it all exists within the mind. And the heart. It took chaos as a catalyst to point the way for me. I recall a scene where a shiatsu practitioner tells Michael Keaton in so many words in the movie “My Life,” “I did not tell you to back to your old home. Where you need to be is your heart. Go there often.” Hallelujah.
Over the years I’ve had at least two break-ups around holiday time. I’ve spent most holidays alone, with an unconscious memory looming large as an advisor that people contact = pain. Here and there I went to friend’s houses on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but in no case was it a replacement for the practiced loneliness I felt at those times of year. I needed a Self-connection I had no idea how to find, even in my first years of recovery. In recent years especially I have come to be quite comfortable in my own skin. I certainly haven’t entirely abolished isolation from my being, but I know how to tell the difference between enjoying alone time and not wanting to wallow in perceived separation. Loneliness can be a necessary evil, an unwitting catalyst for better things to come. As Eckhart Tolle says, “pain can be a great catalyst for awakening.”
As trite as it may sound, home is indeed where the heart is. I somehow grew a family this year. It’s when I stopped pining away for things to be different, (I don’t know when that was exactly) and being “here and now” if you will, and underneath my illusory “self,” that things began to change. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving at my sister’s house two days ago. I suspect I will be spending Christmas with she and the clan (again) this year. Somehow the blatant dysfunction and harsh boundary violations that used to bother me so much and cause me to stay away don’t seem to be there any more. How did they change so much? I’m being tongue-in-cheek: I know they may have done nothing at all. It’s not perfect between my family and I these days, but the real difference maker is that I no longer need it to be. Like any human I fluctuate between my ego and Spirit on a daily basis. But mostly, everything’s okay.
If you’re reading this I wish you Happy Holidays (or . . . holidays). While healing has it’s own timetable for everyone, it is my wish that you do not deprive yourself of the joy your family and friends can bring you. More importantly, I hope you come to know the joy that you can bring into other lives. The joy that has always been there. In your heart. As Bernie Taupin wrote so many years ago in a song that symbolized a liberation I didn’t yet know existed, “My gift is my song, and this one’s for you.”