There is no time of year more precious or holding more treasured memories for me, than that of Christmas. As a child I found everything about it to be nothing short of exhilarating. From the moment that the first breeze of fall air brushed across my face and I could almost smell the approaching winter, to the Grand Night it’s self – I loved it all! “What grand night?” you might ask – No other than the night that SANTA CLAUSE would come!!! I mean it was the single night of the year that a kid could pretty much count on “free toys” to be awaiting them upon awakening ~ that is, as long as certain obligations were met.
It was all that my young mind could think about. I mean there were always so many things to consider, so many things to ponder, so much self evaluation that had to take place in order to insure the very BEST probability of achieving a successful haul of gifts from Santa! First there was the need to begin scanning all advertisements, both on television and in the Sunday paper, for toys and other items I wanted. There were the reconnoissance missions while going to the store or mall with my mom, always scanning and making mental notes of what to put on the list. (I mean lets face it – Santa can’t just know everything, he needed my help, and I was more than happy to give it.)
Next on the list of important matters was the letter to the North Pole. Not only did it need to be thoroughly written and well thought out, (because after all, you only got one shot a year to get it right), but there was the need to get it in the mail in a timely manner so that Santa had it early enough to actually get ALL the stuff! Once this was achieved, what remained was far more methodical, because you see – I could do the missions, gather the information, put together the letter AND mail it…but if my behavior wasn’t in line ~ it could all be for NOTHING. Worse yet…I could potentially receive the dreaded piece of coal and switches that my mother warned me about – it would have been a fate worse than death!
So from about Thanksgiving until the GRAND NIGHT, I would scrutinize the things I had either done or more so, the things I was thinking about doing – measuring and weighing everything against its potential interference with Santa’s delivery. Yes, I would say of any time during the year that my parents could count on relatively little problems out of me…this was definitely it!
Each Christmas was wonderful and overall I felt successful in that I had somewhat mastered my technique for achieving the highest payload of Santa gifts…until that is, one terrible horrible day arrived ~ a day that would change everything. It was shortly after Thanksgiving Day 1976 and I was over at a friend’s house in my neighborhood. I had begun sharing with him my ingenious plans for what I hoped to get from Santa and he said something that shook me to my core. He said, “Santa? There is NO SANTA!” To say that anger began to rise in my young body threatening to explode every corpuscle in my brain ~ would have been to put it mildly. Feeling sweat beginning to push its way to the surface of my forehead, the sound of my own heart beat pounding in my ears, my fingers instinctually turning inward to the palms of my hands creating fists, I heard a shrill scream out of my own mouth ~ “YOU are a LIAR!!!!!”
My mind racing, all I could think of was to go to the one person who I KNEW would confirm my absolute knowledge that in fact “I” was correct … there was SO a SANTA! I didn’t say another word to my friend – I just took off running for home as fast as I could. As I was running a memory came to my mind…it had happened only a couple weeks earlier and I had simply blocked it out – I had been standing with my dad at the trunk of his car, where he was going to retrieve an item he needed. In the blink of an eye he opened it and then said, “OH!” and slammed it shut. In that brief millisecond I had seen the miniature pool table that I had asked Santa for. I found it odd, but whatever questions it provoked I had shoved out of my mind – PTSD (Post Traumatic Santa Denial). Slowly, as I approached my house, a door in my mind began to open and the horror of it all began to sink in….there was no Santa.
You know I can remember the early days of recovery, having fanciful ideas regarding what recovery was about and what my sponsor and people who had been in recovery many years were like. I imagined that recovery was a process of righting wrongs, learning from my past mistakes and about getting it right and being successful. I would watch my sponsor and those around me with all of those many years of recovery and think to myself, “They are probably as close to perfect as one can get”. In my eyes they really had their lives together – They had jobs, cars, homes, families and money in the bank. Yes, in my mind they had arrived at a plateau I dreamed of reaching. I imagined that the things I struggled with – anger, fear, insecurity, failure and the like – were things that probably lay along the trail of their past. I will never forget watching a mentor of mine just TOTALLY blow his top one day – it was AMAZING and HORRIFYING all at the same time as my unrealistic ideals all came crashing down. I remember thinking, “How can this be happening? He has been sober FOREVER – how can he act this way?” It was just like that moment when my dad had opened the trunk and I saw what I had not known before – I began to realize that all this time, I was wrong.
So back to the story: Hurling myself through the front door I cried out to my mother, (tears flowing from my eyes, snot pouring from my nose), incapable of even breathing normally due to the spasms in my diaphragm caused by my hysteria. She came running to me with strict concern on her face,(I’m sure trying to imagine what horrible thing had befallen me), and said, “Rebecca, what is wrong honey? Just slow down and tell me what is wrong.” Guttural wailing sobs pouring from me, my mouth incapable of forming the words to describe what had now all but consumed my mind…I finally managed to say, “Mom, is there no Santa??!!!” I knew the answer from the look on her face, as her eyes ever so briefly, left contact with mine. But what my mom said to me, (as mothers seem to have the ability to do), made everything better – at least bearable. She looked me in the eye and she said, “Honey, there is not a Santa that magically comes into our home and brings you gifts – that part was make believe. But Rebecca there really was a man, (a Saint), by the name of St. Nicholas and he was the patron Saint of children and carried with him the spirit of giving and honey that spirit hasn’t gone anywhere. Your daddy and I love you very much and as long as you believe, there will always be Santa.” It wasn’t the fantasy that I had believed, but the reality and the truth from which the fantasy had been born – which was actually better.
I love the way that God allows our lives to be so intertwined ~ past and present ~ all throughout our journeys. In mine it has been one of finding that just as it was as a child, when the fantasy of Santa was gone and it felt like all was lost ~ I couldn’t imagine the Christmases to come, until my mother spoke those sweet loving words of peace and truth into my heart. So too was the experience of realizing that the people I had imagined as being so “together”, had not achieved perfection, (in fact there was no perfection to be attained), rather there was only “human” and a Road to Happy Destiny to be trudged ~ Speaking words of peace into my heart when they said, “But we do it together”.
© 2010 – 2013 Rebecca Balko