Christmas is always a bad time for me, but it does get a bit easier every year. As an adolescent, I dreaded it — my father always had explosions of rage, and they upset me so much that I wished he would just die. He spoiled Christmas so badly every year that I couldn't enjoy it at all. I just wanted it to be over. When I was 21 years old, and had been living on my own for awhile, I went "home" for Christmas. It was so awful that I decided to divorce myself from my father — he's a hateful, bullying, abusive, mentally ill 3-year-old in a grown up body. I'm now 55 years old; that Christmas was the last time I spoke to him. I've never regretted my decision; in some ways, my life began the day I took that step.

With my first common-law partner, I tried to get into the spirit. From what I can recall, I was able to fake it OK. When that relationship ended, I had one Christmas on my own. Oh, how terrible that day was — I think I cried most of the day. I felt so alone, and so depressed. I thought I was the only person in the world who was totally alone on Christmas day.

By the time the next Christmas came, I was with my second common-law partner. We had 15 Christmases together, many of which were spent with his sister's family and his mother. I tried, I really did, to see happy side of Christmas and forget all the old memories. I had mixed success — some years were awful; others not so bad.

He left me in January 11 years ago. He said that he couldn't take my depression any more, and that "this Christmas was the worst it's ever been." Those statements were like knives in my heart. I had spent 15 years trying to shield him from the worst fallout of my depression episodes. It wasn't enough, obviously. I was dragging him along on my roller coaster from hell, and it couldn't stand it any more. My friends were angry that he had blamed everything on me. Sometimes I can see the unfairness of that now too, but at the time I just kept thinking "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Living for 15 years with someone who has bouts of major depression must be a particular kind of hell. Until the day he left, he always said that he could handle it, and for me not to worry about him. "I have broad shoulders," he said. But then wham — gone with less than 15 minutes' notice. It was devastating.

I've now had 10 or 11 Christmases on my own. They've been much better than that first one in the late 80s. I don't spend the day crying anymore — or, at least, not nearly as much. But it's lonely, and full of disappointment, and feelings of being somehow left behind. I don't care about presents, or turkey dinner, or a tree, or any of those outward trappings. The whole Christmas thing just magnifies my failure to create a life surrounded by loving friends. I do have friends, of course, but they live far away and have families to spend Christmas with. They know I'm alone, but Christmas is a time for them to be with their families.

I get that, I really do. But my own experience of family was years of pain, fear, humiliation, anger, and despair. I coped as best I could, but it left me misshapen and isolated from other people.

I'm grateful for what I have, and proud of myself for the life I've been able to build.I have improved greatly over the past 35 years, but the hauntingmemories and profound sense ofsadness and loss will be with my forever. And my fear that when I'm old and dying, I'll wonder why I wasn't able to break free completely and experience true joy, even for a little while.

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