Proceed with care and self directed compassion.This post deals with trauma triggers surrounding the loss of a child.
The clock has struck! Tis Thanksgiving and America has officially plunged into a six week, long commercially fueled onslaught of seasonal Christmas themed celebration, commonly known as the Holiday Season. An army of Christmas enthusiasts enabled by naked commercial interest go to work and transform virtually all public, commercial and private spaces (save those of the non Christian religions) to conform to their concept of winter festiveness. This seasonal mania touches every sense and acts on nearly every object. Christmas versions of pretty much anything can be purchased with the click of a mouse. There are indoor and outdoor decorations, plants, greetings, colors, fragrances,foods, drinks, packaging, and the all pervasive christmas music.
For the most part and for the majority of Americans this seasonal transformation is a welcome tradition that ties them to fond memories and helps them bond with their families and communities. As they shop for presents and talk of playing Santa they share commonalities with coworkers and friends. Tradition and ritual are powerful things, they enhance memory recall and emotional connection by reinforcing the sensory patterns that link us our memories to the present. Rituals that incorporate all of the senses and include community elements are especially powerful. Anyone who has experienced a Catholic mass with incense, candles, the liturgy and the eucharist can speak to this. But the same things that can connect people to feelings of community, memories of joy and a sense of awe can act as direct sensory triggers for trauma.
It is easy to get carried away at Christmas and the feeling of sharing convivial seasonal joy can be intoxicating. This also creates tremendous pressure to conform to the expectations of shared rituals even if you have legitimate reasons to abstain from celebrations.
Have you ever called a person a Scrooge, a Grinch or a humbug? Chances are you have. Usually it is intended as a gentle form of peer pressuring, because one of the joys of the Christmas is supposed to be bringing cheer - even to the reluctant or grouchy. In my younger days I joined in on the chiding some of the, so called, Scrooges in my life, for ruining the fun. More recently I have had these very epitaphs lobbed at me. Like a new tradition, since I acquired PTSD within the tableau of the Christmas celebration, my reticence toward Christmas celebrations has made me into the office Scrooge. PTSD triggers can be a tricky thing. Sufferers can learn to manage their responses to distressing stimuli but doing so takes energy. For people like me, who have experienced tragedy at Christmas, the reminders of the worst day of our lives are everywhere we look, hear and smell and they are nonstop for a solid six weeks.
I have never heard of anyone telling a war veteran to “get over it” if he finds fireworks unnerving but I do know mother who lost her child at Christmas and saw his lifeless two and a half year old body laid out in the same room as a splendidly decorated douglas fir, be told to, “Get over it,” when she didn’t want a Christmas tree set up in her living room. Even people who know about this mother’s loss show an easy and course callousness toward the ways the seasonal celebration affects her.
The Character of Ebenezer Scrooge, like so many literary figures that have been commercialized has been over-simplified by popular depictions. He has become a symbol of greed and social apathy. A Christmas Carol is a story of spiritual journey and personal redemption. But is is most frequently referenced in order to insult, people who are likely depressed, isolated or traumatized. In truth, Scrooge was an emotionally neglected child and a scarred individual. His Journey through the past, present and the future helps him see the story of his life through the experiences and feelings of others. The message of Dickens’s tale was not that we should shame people who are different into conformity, for the sake of our own joy and entertainment, it was that if given space and shown patience and compassion, anyone can live a life of charity.
This Christmas I am asking for one thing. This Christmas I wish for an end to Scrooge Shaming. Please try extending understanding to the so called Scrooges among us. Their negative reaction to Christmas overload is more likely a response to pain than an attempt to spoil your fun. There is nothing joyful or festive about shaming people for experiencing negative feelings. The tradition of holiday name calling and peer pressuring is one we can all do without.