Why? Because I’ve ruined a few. And not just Christmas–pick any holiday, really.
It happens the same way every time: I drive up with the best of intentions, sipping coffee on the Merritt Parkway, indulging in caffeinated visions of familial joy. I think, “I’m going to be really nice this time. And fun. And if I can’t say something nice, I won’t say anything at all.”
And then I get there and the caffeine is worn off to a dull buzz in my head, and I can ride on fumes only for so long.
My anxiety isn’t what you think of when you think of anxiety: nerves or panic or worries. Mine is a sharp, retractable blade, and with every passing hour, I feel myself becoming a human box cutter, with the unforgiving edge of it sliding up further and further until I know someone’s going to get hurt.
I can’t blame my family, really. I can’t blame anyone but me. They can’t win. They’ve tried. This is my struggle, always. I get restless, impatient. Defensive if they ask me personal questions, offended if they don’t. I take the opposite side of any argument and push against it mindlessly until I break the skin, and someone says, “What the hell’s the matter with you?!” And that’s when the blade starts to roll back down, but it’s too late. I’ve done the damage. Again.
I approach the family house warily, like a werewolf praying the moon doesn’t come out, afraid that sometime during dinner, I’ll grow fangs, snarl and bay, and have to throw myself out of doors where I belong. Or maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Perhaps I’m more like a vampire, struggling to resist my own appetite for blood. And the whole thing will end, as it does, with a wave of overwhelming self-loathing and guilt.
This past Thanksgiving, it started when we didn’t sit down to eat fast enough (for me, anyway). When the conversation never strayed past the suburb where they live. When I got bored or restless or both. And then it escalated: I asked my sister why her 5-year-old daughter was stuttering like that and if she was worried. I dropped a few f-bombs in what I thought was out of earshot of the kids, but wasn’t really. I think I said “ass” a few times. But the real problem was when I cursed and then QUESTIONED her anti-cursing rule. That’s my hateful go-to: Violate a law, and then question the law altogether.
“Terri,” my sister says, glaring at me, pausing for effect. “Stop it! Watch. Your. Mouth.”
“Right. Because if they hear a curse word, they’ll probably grow up to be serial killers.”
“That has nothing to–just shut UP. It’s offensive, and every parent I know feels the same way.” Just then her 6 year-old boy, the sweetest boy under the sun, strides in stark naked.
“Offensive? The word ‘ass’? You know what I find offensive? Your son walking around with his junk out.”
“Terri just SHUT UP,” my brother-in-law said. His eyes were livid. That was the end of the conversation. When it starts, it’s nearly impossible to reverse. It wreaks havoc in one direction. I hated myself again.
On the eve of Christmas Eve, I’m making a promise to myself this time that it’ll be different. And I’m doing EVERYTHING I can to make this happen: Run in the morning, meditate at night, upped my dose of Lexapro (just for now), become aware of, not possessed by, my feelings. Assume the best. Don’t react. Don’t say that. Don’t, don’t, don’t.
I’m praying for a silent night, indeed.