One year, when I was a child, my father got drunk and violent at Christmas. I had just unwrapped a present, a bottle of hand lotion, when he exploded in an alcoholic rage. Our Christmas was disrupted. It was terrible. It was frightening for the whole family. Now, thirty-five years later, whenever I smell hand lotion, I immediately feel all the feelings I did that Christmas: the fear, the disappointment, the heartache, the helplessness, and an instinctive desire to control.
There are many positive triggers that remind us of Christmas: snow, decorations, “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” wrapped packages, a nativity scene, stockings hung on a fireplace. These “triggers” can evoke in us the warm, nostalgic feelings of the Christmas celebration.
There are other kinds of triggers, though, that may be less apparent and evoke different feelings and memories.
Our mind is like a powerful computer. It links sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste with feelings, thoughts, and memories. It links our senses—and we remember.
Sometimes the smallest, most innocuous incident can trigger memories. Not all our memories are pleasant, especially if we grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional setting.
We may not understand why we suddenly feel afraid, depressed, anxious. We may not understand what has triggered our codependent coping behaviors—the low self-worth, the need to control, the need to neglect ourselves. When that happens, we need to understand that some innocuous event may be triggering memories recorded deep within us.
If something, even something we don’t understand, triggers painful memories, we can pull ourselves back into the present by self-care: acknowledging our feelings, detaching, working the Steps, and affirming ourselves. We can take action to feel good. We can help ourselves feel better each Christmas. No matter what the past held, we can put it in perspective, and create a more pleasant holiday today.
Today, I will gently work through my memories of this holiday season. I will accept my feelings, even if I consider them different than what others are feeling this holiday. God, help me let go, heal from, and release the painful memories surrounding the holidays. Help me finish my business from the past, so I can create the holiday of my choice.
From the desk of Melody Beattie
Originally posted December 23, 2014
Note: As much as Melody would love to respond to all comments, this sometimes isn't feasible with her busy schedule. Please feel free to leave a comment but do so knowing she will only be able to respond when she has some time away from writing. She does receive your comments and deeply cares about what you have to say so please do leave a comment if you are compelled to do so.
CAUTION: This is a public website and any comments made are visible to the public. To preserve your privacy, I highly recommend you post as an anonymous name. You can update your DISQUS settings by following these instructions.