This past Christmas day I couldn’t stand having the tree inside my house anymore, and by midday I had that bitch stripped and laying in the front yard. My daughter reminded me that the Christmas holiday was over by 12:30. I guess it seems cruel, in retrospect, to put an end to the holiday so early, but there was much negotiation between my daughter and I about this tree. The debate was she wanted one and I didn’t. Guess who won? For the first four years of being in our new home, we have never had a tree. I just couldn’t. I figured that my girl had a tree at her father’s house and two trees, well…was just over kill.

She has a love for the Christmas holiday and I don’t have much of a stomach for it. She asks frequently why I dislike such a “wonderful time of the year”. I shrug the question off. I tell her it’s just the way it is, and would much rather celebrate every “National” made up day with as much excitement as she exerts towards Christmas. “National Coffee Day”, I am there and fully committed! Bottoms up!

A few weeks ago, I burned my Christmas tree in my fire pit in the back yard and I vote that this is our 11th Federal Holiday (I choose not to count Inauguration Day as a holiday, even if it is counted every four years). I have not felt this much joy, maybe ever. The tree was burned while having a nice glass of wine, while smoking a cigar with a friend. It might have been the perfect moment in time. I have a picture and my close friends might be getting this captured moment in their Christmas Cards next year. I will warn them in advance. They might never ever see me that happy in real life.

Why do I hate Christmas? That really is a good question, because nothing extraordinarily bad happened that contaminated this holiday, but maybe it was just pinpricks that built up like the sting of an electric shock collar that quiets a dog that I imagine once enjoyed barking. But I do blame my holiday hatred on always wanting that pony and hating me for allowing myself to want such a thing.

When I think of this holiday, two things always remind me of Christmas; cigarette smoke and disinfectant spray, but mainly just heavy cigarette smoke. Gosh, just the thought makes me all warm and fuzzy. Most of my childhood, I spent inside bowling alleys, but for some reason Christmas inside the bowling alley seemed special. The decorations, the tree piled with tinsel, the blue/grey haze of cigarette smoke, and the smashing of pins being knocked down. Well, this is what Christmas songs should sing about. If I wasn’t running into Santa at the bowling alley and accepting a candy cane. I was waiting to sit on Santa’s lap at the Elks Lodge. The only difference between the two was the absence of pins, bowling balls and the smell of disinfectant spray in the air and the addition of an amazing gift bag that Santa used to give all kids that whispered their Christmas wishes into his ear.

I was always grateful for the generous gift bag that I remember including a Hershey’s chocolate bar, a popcorn ball, maybe an apple, and a candy cane. I always secretly wanted to trade with one of my siblings their chocolate bar for my popcorn ball, but nobody in their right mind would do this. I felt guilty for just the thought of asking. I don’t remember what I asked Santa for from year to year, but I did at least ask for that pony a few times. I always felt the gift bag Santa handed out after I left his lap was a parting “I’m sorry kid” for what wasn’t going to be under the tree on Christmas day.

I do remember asking for a animal radio or maybe I distinctly asked for a “cat radio”. For some reason, I think I asked for this for more than one Christmas. I might have gotten a dog radio, too. Do you know what these are? These are actual stuffed animals, but with a radio shoved inside. God, I loved these. I would open up my gift radio, disappear into my bedroom, lay on my bed and just snuggle with my hard stuffed animal while listening to it. And I would then cry into it’s sweet fur about the pony that Santa didn’t bring. I do understand that the meaning of Christmas is bigger than what is/was under the tree, but my selfish childhood brain wasn’t able to see past the Christmas tree skirt.

So, when my daughter asks me why I don’t like Christmas, I will continue to shrug and change the subject. My daughter has never asked for a pony for Christmas. She wants a horse. Not any horse, she wants a Friesian or Gypsy Cob. I would have settled for any pony, lost or lame with dental disease. However, her odds of getting a horse is similar to my past circumstances. It depends on me winning the Powerball, which she insists I play. What she WILL get each year is a Christmas tree, because my new holiday can only exist if I have a tree to sacrifice. The holidays just got just a little bit brighter for me, I am looking forward to the after, after Christmas. I just might buy a bigger tree next year.

Returning to Grateful

I attempt to wake each day with a practice of reminding myself of why I should feel grateful. I open my eyes and breathe every day. At times I have been proud of my daily practice, and it is this practice that allows me to let the many, many little things that I like to call “the pin pricks from hell” just roll off my back. However, sometimes I lose focus and my practice falls to shit. I am presently in one of my “grate less” holes. I have a shovel, but the dirt I am shoveling smells a bit more like manure than earth.

In order to ground myself and in an attempt to re-start my practice of gratitude, I tell myself the following things and this comes out almost like a mantra. I have a home, job, great kid, good health and I am able to provide for my household. I repeat this often. In some aspects I am living the dream, right? Right! I keep telling myself this as I pinch myself, maybe a little too hard.

Many years ago I decided that I was going to work in public service. I have been working as a social work for over 21 years. I have always worked in the not for profit world cause for me it just felt right. In order to pay for my college and graduate education, I had no choice but to take out student loans. I came from a blue collar family, and I was always extremely thankful that these loans were available to people in my situation. I have been paying on these loans for longer than I like to admit.

A few years ago it came to my attention, after making 120 payments (starting on a certain date) that those who have worked in public service can have the remaining amount forgiven. I was over the moon. So, I made my 120 payments, but only to find out my loans were not consolidated into the “right” federal loan program. I regrouped, did what I was told and consolidated into the “right” program, but was then told that I needed to start all over making the 120 payments, that is another 7 years.

In spite of this program mimicking the plight of a teenage boy trying to figure out the erogenous zones on a female, I sucked it up and submitted the paperwork again thinking that I was in the right program, but again was rejected. I then called the loan program for assistance and was told that I was still not in the right program, but they could help me only if I pay them $500.00 from my credit card to consolidate my loan into the “right” account, so I can begin to make the 120 payments all over again. I have to say I was not overly excited to give $500.00 to this random guy so he could push some paperwork through, so I didn’t. I am not saying I won’t, but I need time to go through the seven stages of grief before I fork over more money or I just might chalk this up to one big scam (after an acceptable amount of grieving).

A few days ago, I was in the pain and guilt phase (Stage 2). I skipped Stage 1, which is called Shock and Denial. However, I renamed it as, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Why didn’t I pay more attention and micromanaged this situation several weeks…okay, years ago! However, I am one of the most actively apathetic people I know, so this makes perfect sense.

Presently, I am in the anger & bargaining (Stage 3) If these were my stages of grief, I might add RAGE to this stage. I do understand that I have “chosen” this career. But I do have to say I cannot do math, and when one cannot do math, your career options are extremely limited. But regardless of my limitation with manipulating numbers, I did decide to STAY in this career. I have worked in unsafe situations and continue to be in harm’s way at times, been assaulted, and have been ridiculously underpaid. The value that is placed on the work that social workers do is definitely not reflected in pay or any perks that I ever received. However, I did get a nice “Seroquel” coffee mug from a former boss in an attempt to convince me not to leave when I gave my notice. I guess my point is that the government doesn’t hold the people we serve any type of esteem, so we, the people who serve them, aren’t regarded either. But I digress…

I know that I will move on to depression, reflection, and loneliness phase (Stage 4) very soon. Apparently, this stage is a bitch. This is a long period of sad reflection that sounds a lot like my normal life. Apparently in this stage, “One finally realizes the true magnitude of your loss and it depresses you”. Well shit, this is where I live. I mean, I swim in these waters every day. I have learned to tread here for years, and I have gotten extremely good at this. I hope awards are given for Stage 4. I might be a master and I think I FINALLY might win something!!!

The Upward Turn is Stage 5. I might skip this one all together; this just doesn’t seem to be congruent with my life now or ever. As a social worker, there really is no such thing, one of the reasons why I consider myself to be dead on the inside. I often wonder if this could be a new category in the DSM-5 called Inside Deadness. There really aren’t symptoms that I can list, but rather side effects. I can be tangential, but I think it’s important to mention that inside deadness includes under reacting to most everything in life, mainly because getting hopes up about anything is just a waste of energy, because the other shoe will most definitely drop. The super great thing about this, and I truly mean SUPER GREAT is that once internal deadness is achieved, life never disappoints. It’s like your hopes and dreams are on Valium. For those readers who are interested, start by lowering your standards and then keep lowering.

Reconstruction & Working is Stage 6. I think my few years in therapy might benefit me here with this stage; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is helpful with this one. This is similar to the SNL skit,” I am good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me”, but with writing it down in guided constructed homework. Sorry to bring up the Al Franken’s skit, let’s just pretend I didn’t. I thought of writing to the Department of Education regarding my struggle or maybe even to Ellen DeGeneres in hopes to shed some light on the plight of social workers. I think that maybe Shutterfly could pick a well deserving social worker and reward that person, like Ellen often does with school teachers on her show. Of course, I would not consider myself.

I would never deserve such a reward. I couldn’t even redeem a free coffee at Starbucks, you know the “free coffee coupon” they used to give out when they felt they messed up your order. The last one they gave me I held on to for 2 years cause I didn’t think I was worthy of the free coffee. I ended up giving my free coffee to a friend. I am still not sure what would have made me worthy of that free coffee. Maybe, if the barista would have elbowed me in the eye or dumped the coffee on my lap. But I would have had to determine his or her intent prior to redeeming that free coffee.

Acceptance and hope is the final stage. Maybe I will get here someday. I am thinking that possibly I will call the loan company back, pay them the $500, so they can put me into the right category to forgive my loan in 7 years or maybe I will report them. I haven’t decided yet. I would like to say that I am hopeful, but that might go against the internal deadness that I have worked so hard at achieving over the last 21 years. Instead, I will strive for being grateful.