I was asked today by a counsellor about Christmas. Christmas plural. Christmas Days I shared, over ten years, with my ex. What were they like? Were they worse than regular days? Better? Was the drinking better or worse? Was the violence better or worse?
And my answer: I have no idea. I honestly have no clue how to answer those questions. I remember the Christmas before I escaped. Well, I remember two small and specific details about it, surely that counts as remembering, right? But I don’t remember any other Christmas Days in a marriage that lasted the better part of ten years.
Recollections are beginning to come back: piecemeal, for the most part; begrudged; drawn painfully like small barbed thorns from flesh. Triggered, often, by a tiny nothing event: a ring slipping from my finger because I’ve put hand cream on; someone’s innocent phrase that suddenly has a deeper meaning in my memory; the suggestion from a work colleague that we go for after-work drinks at a certain pub; the scent of a bar of soap in a friend’s bathroom. And when they come they’re painful, and intrusive, and more often than not distract me from the actual important thing I’m doing, like singing. Or working. Or just being a person, living a life.
And every time something comes up, I think to myself: How did I forget this shit? How can I not have remembered that event, that pain, that mean-spiritedness, that hurtfulness? How now can I make room for it in my psyche? How can I possibly keep myself from being swept away by the mass of emotion that those small hurts and shames and fears and meannesses cause, from so long ago, emotions that I’m only just beginning to feel as though for the first time? How is it that this even really happened?
It would be nice if it were easy, if I could rationalise it: I forgot those things because this part of my brain did this, because this chemical has this effect on my neurology, because of this psychiatric reality. But there are no nice little answers that I can analyse and then stick neatly into alphabetically-ordered dot points, preferably colour-coded. That would be too convenient.
My counsellor’s response when I told her that I couldn’t remember incidents around Christmas: “Well, that’s a bad sign”. Not particularly good therapeutic practice, perhaps, but honest. I value that. I also know what it means though. Here are another shitload of memories that I need to go through. Here are another bunch of emotions doing their utmost to keep me from singing. Here is ten years’ worth of shit preventing Advent from being a time of simple, busy, demanding, music-focused joy.
So tonight I’m choosing not to drink, and tomorrow I’ll choose to go to work and then look at my music in the evening, and then on Wednesday I’ll choose to go to my rehearsal and put in all the effort and energy I need to in order to contribute to the choir’s sound, and come Christmas I’ll choose to put my soul into the choir’s contribution to beautiful liturgy and worship at a profound time of year…
And then I’ll start to wade through ten years of shit.