Every single Christmas, I feel I can’t.
Every single Christmas, I feel I unlearn all I have learned. All the effort down the sewer, all the progress just erased.
‘When and where you find community, then and there you find home’, has been my mantra for the last seven years. Faster said than lived, seven years finding new meanings on what family means to me, on who are the ones who respond, embrace, accept, and both silently and loudly, push me up and forward – no hesitation. Seven years of hard work looking inwards, becoming my own family, and then looking outwards, equipped with the knowledge of my needs; of what respectful love means.
Yet every single Christmas, something on its own, something so profound, still awakes, and takes me back. Regresses me to lonely days, dark afternoons, feelings of emptiness that cannot be cured with anything except a safe and loving childhood I have not had.
To me, thinking about family came from a self-imposed (yet inevitable) physical distance; almost an exile. I fell in love with someone whose roots were far from mine. I followed that love, seven years ago, and moved up north, from Spain to Finland. I created a home, with its own toxicity, yet a home of my own. In this distance from my birth home, trauma and unhealthy attachment surfaced: I repeated patterns in my brand new house, patterns that meant “affection” to me, patterns that were all I had learned.
The closer you are, the less you are able to see. The further I got, the more I started seeing myself through a prism of learned trauma, irrevocable pain, and infinite sadness. Never to be taken away, but always available to occupy a place inside; a sadness that would live in me forever, soothed with self-learned love, and growth.
The more time I spent up north, the more I clearly saw my life down south: I have parents who were always unavailable. I have carers, who, through their own trauma, related to me in possessive ways: showed me that love meant breaking boundaries, sacrificing, unnecessarily suffering. Love in my house was mockery, disrespect, all of this to be soothed next second with praise and kisses. Love in my house was dependency: you are faulty, I would hear, but here we are, your parents, the only ones who know you, love you, and care for you. Love meant to hear, to internalize, as an adult, that no new family up north would ever love me, at least not as much as they had. Love meant bullying my body, mocking my independence, claiming abandonment when I stood up for my time; love meant manipulating our distance – all in the name of love. All the battering followed by the sempiternal magical “I say this because I love you”.
I had assumed these forms of love as the most natural ones. I turned on my sense of emergency since a very early age: I developed a sense of impending doom that still follows me, an urgency of being loved in a respectful way, even though I did not know respect, even though I pushed it away on those first times I encountered it later in life, later up north. Such is the trauma inflicted in some of us: it sits so deep that it plays us, it makes us feel undeserving of the good.
There is a quote that has followed me always: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. It had always felt so truthful, always until I moved north: as a thread that slowly unravels, or rather, as a door that when opened, only offers you another door, and another door, and on and on, I poked my heavy sense of doom, I looked it in the eye, I guessed I had to talk to it. Have a really long conversation, a difficult one.
And in that process, I disagreed with Tolstoy: unhappy stories are all different, indeed, but the sadness, the loneliness, the extreme sense of emptiness, the hard work, the redefining of our principles, that is all alike. Our strategies to peacefulness, our strategies to love, in turn, are not the same. Our meanings of self-created happiness, and the aftermath of it, the eternal journey, are all different, and in there lies the beauty.
My sadness is similar to many others. My process might be similar as well, yet unique. How did I separate, painfully and patiently, love from disrespect, love from violence, love from non-love? How do I still do it, every single day, in every single encounter, in every single thought and moment with my loved ones, and with myself? Especially in Christmas when the memories hit hard, when trauma surfaces, when all the Tolstoy happy families abound, and mine is mine now, not the one imposed on me, yet the one that still needs work, strives for it?
I live at the epicentre of many intersections: I’m queer, I’m immigrant, I’m woman, I’m brown, in a country with a white majority. I often struggle, daydream, or role-play, in my head, with the question: which identity represents me more? What do I wanna portray primarily today? Who am I, who have I been made? Whatever the answer, I know this much: they are all me, intertwined, playful, sorrowful, and beautiful; they have all surfaced and received oppression from my biological carers; they all rose in due time, stood up for themselves.
In the first door I opened, in the search for that home, I found independence, creativity, kindness, and strength, to grow my dear chosen family. I appreciate and cultivate this family, but I try to, slowly and painfully, go the extra mile: I try to recognise that they don’t -and won’t ever- cover the lost childhood. They cover the present, the future, a more than enough nurturing. Friends, dear coworkers, people from my community who I share hobbies, lectures, book clubs with. People with their own past, own traumas, own pains, who have accepted me in their life and have been welcomed into mine, through a respectful negotiation of boundaries, rules, and above all, kindness, embracement, and care.
But Christmas started poking on that love, on that chosen love. Christmas started bullying me; during sleepless nights it showed a carousel of pictures of my childhood: the primary love I thought I had but deeply marked me, carers who gave me unhealthy bonding, yet carers who I deeply miss. And that meant a second, brilliantly powerful, stingingly burning, door: the realisation and acceptance of the fact that, in my case, in my own story, I will always love my parents, even though I have learned to recognize the toxicity and unhealthy parenting. From that I take distance, from that I separate and create my own bonding. Yet the love remains, while I manage the trauma, and these two do not exclude each other.
I’ve stayed in these rooms, between doors, crossing them back and forth, and I will stay in here, for a while now. While I create my own love, while I set my own contradictions as the writers of my story, I realized and realize the vacuum: the third door that must be again opened. The growth of my own self.
The nurturing that comes from within.
I am my own family, I am enough. In the exquisitely healthy world I am creating around me, my love for myself is at the centre; a love that I learn and re-learn, a love that is compassionate and merciful, but most importantly, a love that is enough. I am the best friend of my self, I am the dad who makes hot soup in sick days, I am the mom who gives me working life advice. I am the family that not only redefines her Christmas, but the one who creates her own festivities, rituals; celebrations of love, life, and care.
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Blue waves are painted at the bottom; the sun in yellow and gold, at the top. A plate of arroz con habicheulas (rice and beans) is in the center, depicted with so much texture it looks like they could be scooped up and eaten. Next to them are fried plátanos (plaintain) with a serving of protein.
Agua Diente is a proud Cuir (Queer) Latine in Philadelphia, raised in a powerful Borinqueño household. Their art, a garden of decolonized flowers, sprouts from roots of plátanos y cafe to create edens for other children of the diaspora.
Bonita P. is a Latin American writer living in Helsinki, Finland. She reconstructs the past through oral history, works with immigration issues, and reads and writes about home, belonging, migrant nostalgia, and the understanding of friendships as family. Currently she is finishing her first compilation of short stories. Her short daily writings can be found, along with absurd accounts of her life in Finland, on her Instagram.