I haven’t been around my family at Christmas in many years.
And yet I haven’t spent Christmas away: I have been physically present, there in body.
My spirit though, is another story.
This will be my first Christmas in sobriety.
Holidays were always a triggering time, and I became a master at creating Christmas chaos—arguments, disappearing for days, generally being hostile and belligerent and full (completely chock-full), of hatred.
My attitude was: fuck Christmas, fuck presents and happy people and meals and togetherness—and fuck you, too.
There was a rattlesnake lying quietly in the dust, and step too closely, not heeding the warning—zing, you got bitten.
I bit you.
This year is different. My life has radically changed—new, full, challenging and glorious, and I am aware.
There is a catch with aware, though: with awareness you start remembering.
I remember the look on family member’s faces when I entered the house drunk on Christmas eve—their laughter, food and hilarious games silenced by the sight of me—off-balance, sick, emaciated, dirty.
I remember missing whole days of holiday fun with my son because I was passed out asleep. I remember rude comments (dealt by me), yelling, slammed doors, drama. It hurts my heart to dwell on these things, but it also poses a question: how do I apologize?
How do we say sorry when sorry will never be enough?
No amount of apologies, of words, however sincere, can right those wrongs. Those actions, tumbled out into the world like so many balls of holiday ribbon, can never be gathered and put away.
This is what I can do: I can live my sorry.
I can live out the amends I need to make with every action I choose, with every conversation I start, with how I respond to others and how I interact. Words become useless when they’ve been repeated hundreds of times and left to fall into dead, unbelieving air, and so we must show our loved ones through our deeds that we truly are different now. Not just at Christmas, either, but all the time. With my son, every day, I try to choose the next right action, the next positive choice.
My family is stuck with me this holiday season. All of me—body, mind and spirit.
I will laugh with them, remember with them, enjoy with them. I will hug my grandmother close and ask her to tell me stories of family holidays when her children were young, instead of begging for forgiveness that I wasn’t more present when her husband, my grandfather, was ill and passed away this time last year.
I will sit down with my sister and pepper her with questions about the new life in Vancouver at law school that she is leading, instead of giving her the 10,000 “I’m sorrys” I feel I owe her. I will cook with my mom, and go for runs with her, and tell her how much she means to me. I will call my beloved family and friends in other provinces and be involved in every word of our conversations, sending my intention of love over the line.
I will be there, in every possible way, for my son. To tuck him in at night. To eat breakfast with him in the morning. To listen raptly to his stories about his friends, his description of his dream truck, his silly jokes and funny ideas.
I will be living, deeply and wholeheartedly, any apologies I’d like to make this Christmas.
I choose to be fully alive this day and every day that comes, and making a living amend is one of the gifts that comes with that messy, exuberant, full-throttle-ahead life.
Thích Nhất Hạnh said: “Your true home is in the here and now.”
This year, I’m home.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Provided by author