A Birthday Present

Yesterday was my birthday. Well, it was and it wasn’t. My actual birthday is Christmas Eve, but about seven years ago I decided to celebrate it on July 14 instead. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Some people assume it’s just because it is close to Christmas, and that is partially true. When I was a kid, I never had a birthday party outside of just family members partly because of that, and once I was in my early 20s, people started giving me combined birthday and Christmas presents. That never felt good.

But for me, the reasons go much deeper. My Christmas Eve birthday is inextricably linked to my childhood, and very painful memories of innumerable hospitalizations and surgeries. I had no friends before junior high, primarily because the disfiguring scars on my face caused kids to shun me. Abusive Catholic school experiences made going to church difficult, and since we always went to church on Christmas Eve, those memories are equally woven into my Christmastime birthday. It got to be that I could hardly go to Mass without sobbing.

So, I created a new birthday celebration day, one that recognizes who I am today, rather than the sad and lonely disfigured child I was. I have not been that little girl in years, but I carried her around with me until my fifth decade. With lots of counseling – and writing – I was able to let that little girl go, and begin to see myself for the woman I am today – vibrant, happy, inspired, loving, loved.

Friends sometimes tease me about having a “half” birthday or claiming two birthdays a year. And one or two still insist on remembering my Christmas Eve birthday. I love them and appreciate the intent, but I sometimes wish they wouldn’t; it is emotionally painful.

Many of us carry within us what Jung called the “wounded child,” that part of us that was somehow injured in childhood and never recovered from it. It can be emotional or physical, or in my case, both. Often we don’t even know that child is influencing our lives, in ways that oftentimes are destructive.

When my life started to fall apart I was fifty years old, and I couldn’t understand why things weren’t working the way I wanted them to. My marriage was crumbling, my relationship with my mother was puzzling and distant, and I couldn’t seem to make the one professional thing I loved – the Santa Barbara Writers Conference – successful financially. That led to one bad decision after another, until finally, I was forced into bankruptcy. I was despondent, desperate, nearly suicidal.

And yet, through the grace of good therapy and lots of prayer, I began to understand. I started to see how the lessons I learned just to survive had caused me to make choices that ultimately harmed me. I have written about this in my memoir, Face, which was as much a part of the healing as the excellent counseling I received over nearly eight years.

Changing the celebration of my birth allowed me to become the person I am today, without all the woundedness of my childhood. So, thank you, all who have embraced my new life with me. Friends have invited me to lunch and dinner almost every day this week and into next. I cannot express how much you mean to me. You have all literally saved my life, and I am grateful.

Let’s celebrate!