This Christmas, my most stressful situation was by far the lights on my Christmas tree. High class problem. I know. Starving children in Africa and all that. But those lights were but a symptom of my dis-ease. See, I’d been saving these 2 boxes of lights to put on my tree this year because the box said that they “twinkle”. I imagined soft, occasional dots of light that would enhance the bulkier glow of the C7 lights I’ve loved since childhood. But they didn’t “twinkle”. They flashed…like tiny strobes…like the tree was beckoning from a stranded beach in the middle of the Pacific ocean. And there were 500 of them! The problem was that I didn’t really notice how strong it was until I had 250 ornaments crowded onto it. Well, probably not 250, but you get the idea.
So I mentally fussed over it for the next 2 days. At one point I sat in front of the tree at 3 AM weighing the options of living in peace or taking all of the ornaments off and removing the lights. There was some meek semblance of sanity that suggested I might want to wait until the next day. I did, and thankfully I was able to talk it through with some friends the next day. I endeavored to get through the holidays by focusing on the beauty of the tree instead of what I considered to be its defects. Therapists have said this very same thing about my focus on myself, but I digress.
It’s not unusual for me to have these bouts of true insanity during the holidays. In the quiet, hibernating days between Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve thought a lot about this. I struggle with perfection in my everyday life. It immobilizes me. If I can’t do it well, I won’t do it at all. But Christmas seems to bring out the worst perfectionism in me. I know from many Christmases past that this has more to do with drawing my attention away from feelings that the holidays bring up. There’s a fine balance between happiness and melancholy. Indulging in perfectionist behavior helps me to avoid those feelings. It’s less painful to sit in the middle of the night contemplating a Christmas tree overhaul, than to admit that I miss my father and my brother…a lot. Putting 600 lights on a 5 foot tree (another Christmas past) strives to create the illusion that all is well. It’s a by-product of my childhood, really. Appearances are everything.
It’s only when I stop and get still, or sit in front of the mirrors that are my trusted friends, that I feel the pull of sadness or grief…that I allow the tears to come. The trees, the lights, the perfect present for my daughter, are all desperate escapes from the one thing that will truly bring me relief…feeling my feelings, regardless of how much I think they will hurt. The truth is, and truth that I always tend to forget, is that feeling the hurt, and moving past it, is less uncomfortable than trying to pretend it isn’t there, wrapped in the wires of dysfunctional lights.
I’m not going to say that the lights didn’t bother me after that. They did. But if I blurred my eyes (something I’ve done since I was a kid) I could see the colors run together and the twinkle that had once eluded me.