The Emotional Downside of the Holidays

The holiday season presents hidden emotional hurdles and barriers that most don’t comprehend during this season of good cheer. Depression, fear and regret are insidious beasts that need no invitation to intrude upon our lives. For those who come from broken or distressed families, suffered abuse, abandonment, homophobia or any number of things tend to experience a resurgence of negative emotions when it comes to what typically is considered a family-centric season. It’s more than just not having a family to share the holidays with but coming to grips with another year of regret, sorrow, guilt and pain. When you’re locked into this mindset, the prospect of facing another year is a daunting task.  Some of us see a trail of failure behind us and struggle to see anything other than failure ahead. A profound sense of loneliness begins to pervade your mind and even the presence of friends can do little to alleviate these unrelenting feelings.

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my memoir “The Demons of Plainville” to help illustrate how some of these feelings begin building in a child’s life from an early age.

 

          The weekend before Christmas, he picked me up, and I returned with him to his small second-floor apartment. Dingy piles of ice-encrusted snow clogged the sidewalks of the city as a bitterly cold wind swept down the street. I normally enjoyed the holidays because it always means I get to spend the week alone in Plymouth with my maternal grandparents. Even my mother tended to be happier during the days immediately preceding the holiday. However, the new element of my father entering my life filled me with a growing level of uncertainty that I find increasingly troublesome, though I’m unsure why.

He had set up a cot in Sam’s room for my sleeping arrangements that weekend. My stay was similar to the first few visits: just small talk but nothing out of the ordinary – until Sunday afternoon. I had just finished eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen with Sam. I excused myself from the table and walked into Sam’s room to pack my suitcase for the return home, and it was gone.

“Dad, where is my suitcase?” I asked.

“You’re not going to need it anymore, Daniel.”

This confused me; my father was not making any sense. “How am I going to get my stuff home?”

“You’re not going home, Daniel.  You’re staying with us now.  You’re my son.”

I offered no reply; I remain in stunned silence for a moment. This was an unexpected development and suddenly I felt fear. My father seemed cold to me.  He never warmed up or got close. There was no affirming hug or inviting smile. Now suddenly I couldn’t return to my home; I was stuck in a strange place. I did not really know these people. I grew cold, and my heart began to pound. I got a sick feeling. I finally thought of the perfect excuse: “But I have to go to school!”

My father did not break his blank expression. “School is already taken care of; you’re going to school here.”

           Reality set in.  This was not a joke or a bluff. My own father had just kidnapped me. He told me that my mother was already aware of the situation, but how could this be? I turned to Sam in desperation, but all he could do was look down at the floor helplessly.

Despite the gifts of toys that seemed like random attempts to win my favor, my father did not express much affection towards me. The gifts were essentially meaningless to me because there simply was no connection with him. I was unsure of how to react outside of saying thanks. I would look at him curiously trying to understand him while he would look straight through me like I really was not there.

I enjoyed accompanying my father and Sam to play with the family’s two dogs in the park. We played board games together and visited my father’s parents occasionally. Looking from the outside, these all seemed to be normal family activities. Yet looking from within, I got the feeling he did not like me that much because there was never any genuine display of affection or verbal affirmation of being his son.

Maybe it was just me. But Sam seemed to be noticeably cautious in my father’s presence. There was a sense of fear there; I could see it in his eyes and the way he phrased his words with care. I recognized these symptoms quite well. My stepmother just seemed to be trying to cope with having another child to deal with and seemed generally indifferent to my presence. My mother was fond of saying that I “just like to make everyone miserable” and I started to believe it was true.

He assured me he would provide a better life for me, and I would have a brother as a bonus. There was no choice in the matter.

            Some days I feel like a caged animal, I am powerless to do anything.

 

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