Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Fourth Worst Christmas Ever

Be forewarned folks, a long post ahead!

28 years.

28 years without missing a Rehfeldt Christmas Eve Party.

Rehfeldt Christmas Eve parties traveling through rain, snow, and sleet. Christmas Eve parties in college when it was tough to get home. Christmas Eve parties even when it ripped my heart out watching Mom deal with the aftermath of Dad’s death in the jovial midst of a familial party.

I’ve been there. To every one.

Except this one.

I love the Rehfeldt Christmas Eve party. It’s been one of the main consistencies in my life. My wonderfully odd and eccentric family, the world’s best food, the annual talent show, and Santa giving out gifts every single year.

Beforehand, caroling in the snow. Caroling to shut-ins and nursing homes. Camaraderie. Friendship. Warmth and stability. The feeling that no matter what the world can throw at us – we’re still family, strong and bonded.

I’m an only child. The Rehfeldt family may be my extended family, but to me, they are so much more. They are my sisters and brothers and second-moms and second-dads. They may be crazy, but they’ve staked a claim in my heart that will be there until the day I die.

They’re all I’ve got. And that makes me very much blessed by God.

Most of my “worst” Christmases are tied to death. In order, they are the Christmases after Dad died, Aunt Kathy died, and Brett’s mom died.

This Christmas, the fourth worst, was different.

It began way before December. It began when Brett and I got married and started a life together. At that time, Brett was traveling over four hours a day to his job near Chicago. He hated his job, and he hated the drive.

And I got to hear about it. Every single day for almost six years.

Do you know what it is like to live with someone who has a bad day every day for six years? I do. It’s not pleasant.

I’m not saying I didn’t have bad days at work, too. I had a psycho boss for four years. And I’m sure I “vented” occasionally, too.

But with Brett, it became an obsession. It nearly ruined us financially and threw our marriage into turmoil.

Don’t get me wrong. Brett and I love each other. We always have. Love has never been our problem. Our problem is outlook and communication.

After the six years Brett spent hating his job, and I spent watching him spiral into negativity and depression, I was relieved beyond measure when he got his present job.

And things started looking up. And then they stopped.

Because, Brett doesn’t like this job either. He has his reasons, I suppose. But I, and everyone else who spent the last six years praying for and commiserating with Brett, thinks he should just keep at it. Keep trying.

This job has relieved a GREAT financial burden and provided great health benefits for Brett without me having to pay through the nose for it at my non-profit job.

But, as I said, Brett doesn’t like it. And the spiral – the negative comments, the depression – all began again.

I was/am close to tearing my hair out again.

See the key to understanding the whole situation is to look at Brett’s personality. He has SO many wonderful qualities. That’s what attracted me to him in the first place. Plus he happens to love me – which is the best attraction on earth.

He is a hard worker, but easily discouraged, and definitely not an optimist by nature.

So, you can see where the problems begin. Add to that – I don’t know where Brett is spiritually. I used to think I did, but I don’t anymore. And (as we all know) without God – nothing is possible.

We’ve already decided to start marriage counseling with our pastor. We need to learn how to talk and relate to each other. We need to learn how to deal with stress in our jobs without letting it swamp our marriage.

At first, I was worried about the stigma of going to “marriage counseling.” Then I saw it as a quick fix - as in fix my husband, please! But now, I’m just so ready, because I love my husband and I know he loves me, but right now, living together is very difficult.

As I described it to Pastor – It’s like being out in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight, with an anchor tied to my leg. And my job is to keep the anchor afloat.

I’m normally a happy person. A positive person. But being around a negative person (even if it is my husband) has taken its toll. I have found myself drawn into the web of negative thinking.

I’ve also found myself trying to be “cheery” enough for both of us. This is extremely stressful, since you can’t be someone else’s Mood Meter and all it ends up doing is making you overcompensate, lose focus, and end up resenting the crankypants you were trying to help.

Also, this type of attitude can be enabling to the “depressor.” They think – “Hey, she’s going to keep pretending to be happy, so I don’t have to worry about it, I’ll just keep being depressed.” And if you’re me – you don’t want to live a pretend life.

I want a real life. I want a real married life. And I’m willing to sacrifice – but I need to know that he is, too. And since we both think counseling is a good idea, I guess that is the first step.

So, you may wonder, what does all this have to do with the Rehfeldt Christmas Eve Party? Well, I’ll tell you.

It was shaping up to be an okay Christmas. Not a GREAT Christmas. When you are having marriage troubles, spiritual troubles, it extends to all areas of your life. Our recent bout with marriage troubles erased our motivation to decorate for the holidays, try hard at our jobs, and made us be not-so-jolly in general.

Still, my sister-cousins, Charity and Colleen were home for Christmas – an unexpected present. Charity and I were able to sit down and create a Christmas Eve skit – You might be a Rehfeldt if… - as a take-off on Jeff Foxworthy’s You might be a Redneck if…

Brett and I skipped caroling, so I could make my mother-in-law’s famous Mashed Potato Casserole and my not-so-famous Cream Cheese Biscuits. Then, we headed to the party site.

We enjoyed some delicious food. People were making small talk, asking the normal questions. Unfortunately, one of the “normal” questions people ask is “How is your job?” After the third person asked Brett how his job was, and he launched into the same depressing story (a story which I have heard over and over and over and over again), I decided to go talk to Mom.

Admittedly, we did talk about Brett’s job, but just for a minute of two. Then, I became involved in talking to other people and (frankly) just having a good time.

After a while, I went outside to get a soda. There were Mom and Brett talking in a lively manner about him sticking with his job. They both seemed upset, but then Mom turned and went inside. Brett was so angry; I could almost see steam escaping from his head.

“Okay,” I thought. “I’ll just go further out in the parking lot and talk to him until he calms down.”

But that’s not how it worked out. We ended up arguing.

He wanted me to sympathize with him, to be part of his pity party. I knew that would enable him to be negative, so I refused. I just didn’t say anything.

I want him to suck it up and just do his job – there’s a reason why it’s called “work” - it is not necessarily supposed to be fun, you know.

We argued all the way through the party, sitting outside in the car. I cried, and he sighed.

Eventually, Mom came out to let me know the skits were starting. I told her that I wouldn’t be able to participate. She could see something was wrong, so she ended up bringing out our gifts from Santa and our dishes from the party, so we could leave without going back inside.

My face was all splotchy from crying, so I was very grateful.

I felt bad brushing family off, especially my cousin Aaron and his wife, Linda, who we don’t see often enough. Also, for letting Charity down in the skit reading. Plus, I felt more than a little sorry for myself – missing my first Rehfeldt Christmas Party.

The rest of Christmas was pretty dismal. Brett and I worked things out – he’ll stay at his present job until he can find a new one. But I stayed home with Mom and Gary while he went down to his family’s Christmas in Geneva. I just could not handle hostility from Dave and Dawn, considering what an emotional wreck I was.

It was a good decision. Mom and I watched movies, and I cried some more while Gary made us all hot chocolate.

Like I said, and not to be depressing, the fourth worst Christmas ever.

But at least nobody died.


Jennittia said...

I am sorry to hear about the troubles, but take heart!! You are sooooo not alone!! This year was not a banner year for my marriage either. The toughest we have ever faced. But through God's grace, we have come through the struggles stronger for it. I have reminded myself many times of "that which does not kill you makes you stronger." My husband splurged this Christmas and bought me a "journey" diamond necklace. (If you are not up on the bling- it is a necklace that has about 7 diamonds that start out small and get bigger with each one.) What a beautiful symbol of how a marriage grows. With God's help, all is possible, even forgiveness. I always thought of I Cor. 13 as very cliche, but it became very real to me this year, especially v. 5 "love keeps no record of wrongs." (NIV) Not easy to put into practice when we feel so strongly that we have been wronged! Glad to see you back online and thanks for being so real with all of us!

Ann-Marie said...

Hey, J! Thanks for the support. It's nice to know I'm not alone, and that things can get better!