When You Can’t Find Christmas

By Kim

This time of year can be difficult. I hear the same phrases over and over. “It’s a stressful time of year.” “This is the hardest time of year for me.” “I can’t wait to be through the holidays.”

I’ve said them. All of them.

Dreading the holidays

For some the difficulty is in trying to cram too many things into a few short weeks. Shopping, decorating, partying, and more. You become physically exhausted. For others, the difficulty is in the obligation to be around toxic family members. The negative energy stealing any potential joy. Then there are those who have lost a loved one and find the holidays bring forth a wave of sadness and loss. Grief at its finest. For others, this time of year can bring an almost unbearable sense of loneliness. A reminder that you have nobody to shop for, to decorate for, party with, or even any family that you wish you didn’t have to see. But the most challenging scenario is a combination of all of the above. Putting forth tremendous amounts of work to be with toxic family members and still feeling completely alone.

I’ve danced gracefully through every one of these scenarios.

As a child, the holidays were one of the most contrasting times of year. We had beautiful decorations, tons of food, no shortage of gifts – combined with an unearthly amount of abuse. More than any other time of year. I remember being so conflicted about the holidays. I knew from movies, television, and popular songs that I was supposed to love Christmas. I wanted to love it. The house would be decorated with yards of lighted garland, big glistening glass balls, and velvet ribbons. Trees decorated with beautiful German ornaments, piles of beautiful presents beneath. It always smelled like the finest French patisserie. Cinnamon, clove, and allspice wafting through the air and tantalizing the senses. But just beyond the kitchen was a series of bedrooms. No Christmas joy found there. And outside the back door was a wooded area. Where the afternoons were spent being hunted, scared and cold. Child prey. Adult predators. How do you reconcile the beauty of the kitchen and the living room with the terror of the bedrooms and the forest?

Christmas was something I wished would just go away.

The manufacturing of Christmas

As a young adult with small children, I threw myself into the game of making sure things were perfect at Christmas. Decorating the house to resemble a winter wonderland and buying perfect Christmas attire for the whole family. I would spend hours creating the most complex delicacies that would have Chef Ramsay begging for my assistance in one of his Michelin Star restaurants. As Christmas day approached, my fatigue at maximum level, I would realize that the joy I was trying so hard to manufacture had been lost. Buried somewhere beneath a mound of glittery paper and red satin bows.

Then came the point when I left. I left “the group.” I left my birth family. I left the abuse. I left my marriage and discovered that I would have to share my kids. Every other year I found myself completely alone. This was a new kind of sadness. Being alone at this time of year had a way of cracking my heart open and leaving me with the feeling that I had no value. No more abuse, but also no purpose.

Where are you Christmas?

In the 2000 version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” little Cindy Lou Who sings a song called “Where are You Christmas?”

“Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away?”

My song went more like this: “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you never come for me?”

How many of us can resonate with these words? Longing for an emotion that we believe should be attached to the holidays. A sense of love and belonging. I know I did. Don’t get me wrong, I could find moments of joy watching my kids open presents or snuggling on the couch watching “A Christmas Story” for the 100th time. But I was never able to really let go of the hurts and unmet desires of the past. Even the joyous moments were iced with reminders of what was. Resembling a gingerbread house crumbling beneath the weight of the royal icing. Trying to be beautiful, but toppling under the decorations.

This is a scenario that most people struggle with throughout the year. We place expectations on people, events, and holidays. And when those expectations are not met, we are left feeling sad, lonely, angry, used, and unworthy. We tie our happiness to outcomes. And if things do not unfold the way we planned, our emotions jump on the roller coaster. And it’s usually a big fall.

So how do we stay off the Candy Cane Express roller coaster during the holiday season? How do we not become overwhelmed with all there is to do? How do we manage the frustrating mother-in-law or the Scrooges that are a part of our life? How do we handle being alone? What do we do with the hurts of Christmas past that show up in our minds like an intricate scrapbook of pictures and stories to remind us of our pain?

Finding Christmas (and myself)

It took a lot of work. A lot of time. And a lot of self-exploration. But I found Christmas. And it is a completely different experience now. I look forward to Christmas. I enjoy the whole season. I figured out how to get off of the Candy Cane Express.

First, I learned that my biggest problem was expectation. I dare say that expectations are the leading cause of disappointments in this world. We create the belief that things need to be a certain way. And then when it doesn’t happen, or happens differently, we are disappointed (cue the start of the Candy Cane Express).

Let go of expectations. Hopefully by this point in the blogging journey, Shanon and I have helped you begin to see that your life is unfolding exactly the way it needs to. The good, the bad, and everything in between, are creating the experiences that are necessary for your evolution and growth. Don’t judge them.

When we paint in our minds what we think the perfect Christmas should look like, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Cookies get burnt, adult children can’t make it home, someone gets sick. Stuff happens. It doesn’t have to ruin anything. It simply changes the experience. And you can always find love in the current experience.

Second, stay in the present. Be in the moment. Put the scrapbook away. Don’t forfeit today’s experiences for the painful, or even joyous, reminders of yesteryears. This was a hard one for me. I was constantly trying to make the present better than the past. But in order to do this, I needed to compare. Looking at the past constantly to assure that I was doing it differently. The problem with looking backwards is that you miss what is in front of you. Your life is giving you experiences all the time. Don’t miss them.

Third, look upon everything (this includes yourself) with love. Recognize that those around you may be short-tempered because they haven’t figured out how to do number one and two. And that they may be sifting through that old scrapbook of past pain.

And finally, recognize that even if you don’t have any of the traditional Christmas fanfare or any family – even if you feel all alone – you aren’t. You can choose to stay home alone and suffer or you can take love out into the world. Once I learned this lesson, Christmas changed for me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started sharing love. I have spent Christmas passing out care packages to homeless people, visiting nursing homes to bring love to the elderly who have no visitors, taking care packages to animal shelters. Nothing helps you feel love more than loving.

I no longer stress about decorations, gifts, or even people at Christmas. I enjoy every minute of it.

I won’t say that I don’t bring out the mental scrapbook on occasion. Because I do. But I try not to stay there long. I mostly just glance at it now and allow the gratitude of the present to well up inside of me. I never ride the Candy Cane Express anymore!

I spent the majority of my life searching for Christmas. “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you?” Like so many, I was searching for a feeling and I was looking in all the wrong places. I was looking in tall brightly lit trees, fumbling in carefully wrapped packages, searching inside of decadent treats. It wasn’t hiding inside any of those things.

I finally found it. I spot it everywhere now.

I see Christmas in the joy of my rapidly growing teenagers. I see Christmas in the curiosity and delight of my little nephew. I see Christmas in the stability of my best friend. I see Christmas in the compassion of my yoga family. I see Christmas in all of these beautiful faces that I love so dearly because they are my mirrors. I found Christmas. It is Love. And it is inside of me.

Merry Christmas Dear Ones. Onward and Upward.

Have you ever wished you could break the chains of fear and step fully into love? Shanon and Kim share their journey of healing from trauma, abuse, and programming through acceptance and love. Do you want to step out of fear? Subscribe and follow their journey. 

Becoming Grateful for Pain

By Shanon

It’s that time of year when we are encouraged to “count our blessings.” To remember all the things in our life for which we are grateful. It can be a powerful practice. Part of the positive effect has to do with the way our brains have evolved. Rick Hanson describes it beautifully in his book Buddha’s Brain. He terms it the “negativity bias.”

Negative trumps positive

In light of evolution, there are two mistakes we could make:

1) Thinking there is a tiger in the bushes when there isn’t one.
2) Thinking there is no tiger in the bushes when there is one.

We evolved to make the first mistake a hundred times in order to avoid making the second mistake even once.

Although positive experiences are more common, it’s the negative experiences that have more impact. Because it was the negative experiences that generally had the most impact on survival. Threats usually determined mortality, while rewards did not. If you failed to get a reward, you would likely have a chance at a reward tomorrow. If you failed to avoid a threat, there may be no tomorrow.

Because of this, the brain preferentially scans for, registers, recalls, and reacts to negative experiences much more powerfully than positive ones. The brain is like Velcro® for the negative and Teflon™ for the positive.

Knowing that negative experiences are perceived more quickly, stored more easily, and have more impact, we can make a conscious effort to increase the impact of our positive experiences, rather than letting them slip by.

And that is what the active practice of gratitude can do for us. It gives us the opportunity, right down to the micro-circuitry of our brain, to gradually shift the emotional tone of our interior landscape towards the positive.1

Initially we practice being grateful for the blessings in our lives – all the good stuff. But as we move further along on our evolutionary path, just being grateful for the “positive” things in our lives is not enough.

Expanding gratitude

As we evolve, we learn to become grateful not just for the good things in our lives, but also for our challenges, our struggles, our suffering. We actually become thankful for the pain.

The great yoga teacher Krishnamacharya was known for saying, “Thank God for dukha (pain). It is the unavoidable motive for practice.”

At this point, if you haven’t completely dismissed this post, you’re probably wondering why in the world a person would be grateful for pain. Stay with me.

The soul’s guidance

Everything in our lives is happening for a reason. For us. The soul will often create a positive experience to encourage us to continue moving in the right direction. And the soul will often create a negative experience to course correct when we are moving in the wrong direction. It’s like the parent who raises her voice and shouts “no!” when her child is walking toward the street. It startles the child just enough to cause them to stop and turn around.

If, by chance, that doesn’t work and the child continues walking toward the street, the mother will run, grab the child by the arm, and yank them back. Perhaps even physically hurting the child in the process, to prevent them from being hit by a car.

The soul speaks to us in a similar way. At first, subtle messages to help us get back on track. If we don’t listen, the messages will continue to get louder and eventually, painful.

In this way, we can see that painful experiences serve a great purpose. There is nothing like the sting of pain to push us in the right direction. Pain is a great motivator. And it is often the most painful times in our lives that we finally do the work necessary for our growth. So, why not be thankful for them?

The bigger experience

But let’s go further. Because there were a lot of events in my life (and probably yours too) that were quite painful, but not necessarily about course correction. How could abuse at age 6 be about course correction? What could I have been doing wrong? And at that age I didn’t have the cognitive ability to take negative, painful experiences and use them for growth. Only as an adult, who has done the necessary work of healing, can I see the purpose of those experiences.

Why did my soul choose to be abused? What purpose did those experiences serve?

First, they shaped me into the person I am today. They showed me what I am capable of. This is the reality of all survivors of abuse. We survived.

That doesn’t mean that abuse does not affect us. The impact of abuse can linger for a lifetime if we don’t take advantage of the opportunity to heal. And it is in the process of healing that we reveal what we are truly capable of.

My experiences resulted in a great deal of anger. Anger became my go-to emotion. With each occurrence, the anger would grow. I saw the world through angry eyes – an unfair place full of people with bad intentions. A place where I had to defend and protect myself. I built a fortress around my heart that was impenetrable. It served me at the time, but later became one of the biggest obstacles I would have to overcome. As I began to heal I had to allow that fortress to crumble. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable. I had to face the immense fear of what might happen if I let someone in. Stepping into that proved to me what I am truly capable of. As the walls of protection began to collapse, I opened myself to a new world view. One that embraced beauty, grace, and divinity. The anger began to melt away and I opened myself to love.

Second, these experiences gave me the ability to relate to and empathize with other survivors of abuse. Even when I didn’t have the explicit memories. Throughout my life I have encountered people who were also abused. And unexplainably I was able to offer them understanding, empathy, and guidance. I am sure it is also part of what guided me as I worked with Kim through her process of healing. A part of me understood. A part of me knew, at least to some degree, what she had been through.

This blog, the book that will follow, and all the work I am doing to help others heal from trauma is part of my purpose. I could not do it had I not been through it myself. I always tell my students, “You cannot lead someone somewhere you have never been.” I had to go through it and heal myself in order to be able to help others do the same.

And finally, these experiences are part of the bigger purpose. Which is to experience our selves as who and what we really are. And we cannot experience anything in absence of its opposite. I can only experience what I am in the presence of what I am not. What is the experience of hot if cold does not exist? What is the experience of up if there is no down?

This is the purpose of a world based in duality. A system where we can exist as a thing only in relation to something else.

Experiencing self as love

These “negative” events in my past allowed me to experience fear, disappointment, sadness, desperation, anger, hatred, and ultimately, hopelessness. None of these states are who and what I really am. Because I know I am love. But in order to experience myself as love, I have to experience “not love.” Abuse (and the events surrounding the abuse) gave me that opportunity.

Through the process of healing I have been able to experience myself as forgiveness, understanding, and compassion. And now, as I consciously choose to be thankful, to love and honor those that came in to play the roles of the villains, to be grateful for each and every experience, I am able to experience myself as love.

And that experience is beyond what words can describe.

When I can see it this way, the gratitude for what happened to me is immense. What a perfect plan my soul laid out for me. Understanding is the key. Look at your pain. Look at the negative experiences in your life. What is the purpose? And when you find that, you will find gratitude.

And not only will the energy of gratitude change the presentation of the events themselves, it will transform your entire life.

Have you ever wished you could break the chains of fear and step fully into love? Shanon and Kim share their journey of healing from trauma, abuse, and programming through acceptance and love. Do you want to step out of fear? Subscribe and follow their journey. 

1Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Changing Prepositions

By Kim

Over the years I have reached a place of owning my history. I no longer deny that I was abused or sold for sex. This hasn’t been easy. I’ve never really liked sharing my story with people. I had worked through a lot of the shame. And it wasn’t that I felt guilty anymore. I knew that nothing that had happened was my fault. I just didn’t want pity. I didn’t want people to hear my story and feel sorry for me. There was always a fear that people would judge me – determine what I was like without even knowing me – simply because of what was done to me. As a result, I never really talked about my life.

Less than a handful of people (outside of the abusers) knew what had happened to me. I just didn’t tell.

While I didn’t want pity from outsiders, I also continuously struggled with seeing my life as some tragic Lifetime® movie. Poor me. I had been through so much. A victim of so much harm. A family that was abusive. A plethora of emotions and behaviors that were a result of that abuse. And loss. More loss than I knew what to do with.Read More »

Reconnecting My Body and Mind

by Kim

How often have you driven to work and not remembered the drive? You planned dinner for the night. You ran through your “To Do” list. You were just on autopilot. You go every day, so you just know how to get there. You don’t really have to think about it. You just do it.

Or how about brushing your teeth each night? Do you consciously think about each tooth, scrubbing away the remnants of dinner? Or does your mind wander to what someone said at work that day and after a few minutes when your mouth is full of foam, you realize you need to spit and move on with the bedtime routine?

These are forms of dissociation. Our bodies are able to complete tasks while our minds are doing something else. While these are very mild (and common) examples of day-to-day dissociation, those who experience severe abuse often have much more extreme levels of dissociation. I am one of those people.Read More »

Taking Back My Power….. From My Therapist(s)

By Kim

How often have you given your power away? How many times have you believed that a therapist, a doctor, a priest, a guru, a teacher, a healer, or even a lover could save you? That they could somehow do for you what you couldn’t do for yourself? That they somehow had the power to fix what was broken? But you didn’t.

I’ve done it. Many times. According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So when is enough enough?Read More »