My family had a strange Christmas tradition when I was growing up. Christmas Day was hectic, my mom’s side in the morning and my dad’s in the afternoon. So, every Christmas Eve we would roast hot dogs over the fire and eat them with baked beans and Caesar salad while the same 1993 Reba Mcentire Christmas album played on repeat in the background. It might be odd, but it was magical to us.
This is the first year that won’t be happening. At least, not in the same way.
You see, it’s been three months since I told my dad I can’t talk to him anymore. And I’ve noticed the difference. I feel healthier emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and even physically without him in my life. But that also means no family gathered around my parents’ fireplace.
Don’t get me wrong; Christmas wasn’t all roses. I remember Dad getting angry if he didn’t get what he considered a “fair portion” of the food, which was especially difficult when times were tight. I remember trying with every fiber of my ten-year-old being to anticipate his every desire, jumping up to fetch ketchup or milk from the kitchen in hopes I would earn his love. Most of all, I remember him sitting off by himself watching something “spiritual” or political on his phone, refusing to participate in Christmas with us.
But still, the fireplace, the music, the elaborate ways my future-engineer brother found to deliver his gifts, the excitement of seeing my sisters finally open the horse or cat stickers I got for them, Mom and siblings huddled around the Christmas puzzle… It was the only time home seemed homey.
This year, I already skipped Thanksgiving. My husband and I spent the day moving into our new house—no turkey or board games or cousins. And now Christmas looms empty on the calendar. There will be no Reba Mcentire Christmas Eve, not when my 15-year-old sister is in Florida to get away from the chaos of home, my mom is leaving my dad, and I can’t have him in my life. There will be no house full of seventeen cousins, aunts, uncles, and lefse on Christmas Day. I won’t even be done unpacking my house, which means no decorations.
Even though the blank space on the calendar makes me sad, I know it’s the right choice.
Sometimes choosing to be healthy hurts. Choosing to not lower your standards, to say, “no, you are not allowed to manipulate and shame me,” will mean giving up how life was, and it might be harder than you think. Because the unhealthy can feel familiar and sometimes it doesn’t feel unhealthy at all. To fight against the lies of shame, fear, and sadness, you can’t just get rid of them. You have to fill the blank spaces with new things, with truth.
And sometimes, you have to make new traditions. I don’t know what mine will be yet, or when I will have the strength to begin them, but I know that—finally—I value myself enough to choose health.
And that is the right choice.