Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Liberation

When I was growing up, like most other families, we had traditions surrounding holidays. Christmas was especially full of traditions and rituals that made it a meaningful time. When I got married, I attempted to create that kind of magic, turning into a version of Martha Stewart every year, wanting everything to be “perfect”. I equated “perfection” with happiness and enjoyment but now, in retrospect, I see that nothing was perfect when I was a kid… it was just fun.

Look to the future, because that is where you will spend the rest of your life.

– George Burns

Christmas With Captain Crazy

Each year before we had children, I would either try to throw a fabulous Christmas party, send out the best cards ever (over a hundred, hand-written), make the most astounding meal imaginable, or all of the above. I suppose I thought that the more effort I put in, the more enjoyable the holidays would be and the happier my husband would be, if only for a short time. It seems that I was always looking for ways to make him “happy” which almost always left me feeling empty and inadequate. I always tried to make a big splash with a fabulous gift of some sort, even when we couldn’t afford it, knowing that tangible things seemed to mean a lot to him. Perhaps this watch or that TV will make him “happy”, especially given that he grew up with so little.

Once we had our first daughter, I focused on the new family aspect of Christmas, thinking the joy would primarily be about having Christmas with her. It was definitely a wonderful thing, but I expected far too much. I expected him to suddenly find happiness in life and realize just how unimportant all the things he constantly bitched and got angry about actually were. Interestingly, his desire for all things shiny and expensive never decreased. I now have learned that it is typical of a malignant narcissist, especially an abuser. Once my attentions were no longer focused solely on him, he had to get his narcissistic supply from other people and grown up toys.

The Real Reason for Celebration

Standing in the airport gate with the other “custodial parents” on Thursday, staring out at the plane taking my kids away, tears streaming down my face, I hated his living guts. I have moments where I wish a bolt of lightning would strike him dead, followed by a thunderous laugh from God.

 
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I get over them. I think it’s perfectly normal to be mad on special occasions and holidays when you are reminded – glaringly – that this is not what you planned or envisioned for your life. I have learned to look back on previous Christmases and other events through the lens of reality. I don’t specifically look for what was bad, but I have allowed myself to accept that holidays were more about acting than feeling. For years I would cry at Christmastime and couldn’t understand why. Now I know, it was most likely the stress of having to put on a happy family face on top of all the other stressors that surround holidays, as well as the grief of dealing with the reality that the whole thing was just staged.

Although I am infinitely sad to spend Christmas Eve and Day away from my children, I am joyful that our other times this year have been amazing. I have to remember that this is for them and not about me, and that each of these separations contains a lesson that I am supposed to learn. I would prefer to take a little break from all this learning, but it’s necessary! Each day that I am away from them is another opportunity to take a look at what’s important and meaningful. We had our ‘official’ Christmas on Thursday morning and will have two more celebrations after they return from New York, concentrating on the occasion and not the actual date.

For me, every day with my daughters is a celebration.

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.
Aubrey Cole

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