Last week, I received a card in the mail. Sent out on the Monday after Thanksgiving, it arrived with my mother's handwriting have addressed it. I assumed it was a Thanksgiving card showing her support and giving me something pretty to pin on my wall. And it was that. But inside, I found the signatures and mini-notes of encouragement from all the guests that had gathered that Saturday at my parents' home for the annual Thanksgiving picnic where we eat leftovers, glazed ham, and play tag football.
It wasn't unusual for me to not be in attendance. For years, the winter holidays have plagued me as times of great struggle and - almost always - I relapse and recoil from family and friends. This year, though, I am in a long-term program, safe and far away. The holidays haven't really registered with me; I don't miss them.
They card, with all these 'wish you were here' and 'thinking of you' notes at first sent a shudder of pain and panic through me. I felt ashamed, pitiable, less than. I felt a prick of mental-illness stigma. Everyone hunkered around, cheerleading some feeble child.
That feeling hasn't really left me. I know these people care so deeply about me. And I know that reaching out and connecting is part of what my recovery needs to be. But I feel somehow betrayed. It's partly my fault. I had earlier told my mother that, yes, maybe it would be nice to hear from family and friends. I didn't expect to receive cards from three other families and emails from as far away as Poland. I was flooded and felt like my exterior had been washed away.
I am still not sure if I regret telling me mother I'd like to receive encouragement. My struggles are no secret. And surely my mother did not disclose any too-close details. But it's hard nonetheless. How do we allow ourselves to fall into the embrace of others? The first step is choosing whose arms to fall into. I mistakenly opened the doors and it has left me too vulnerable. Too much of a good thing, I suppose. I'm not sure if that's something I should 'work on' - if I should challenge my need to put on a gameface - or if maintaining and acknowledging my own boundaries is the key here. My gut tells me it's the latter.
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