Yes, I really did it!
I recently had a birthday and I cancelled the whole darn thing. There was no party, no cake, no celebration, no traditional balloons tied to my chair, no gifts, no fanfare, and no special meal. It came and went just like any other normal day…and it was fantastic!
Just in case you might be wondering why I would do such a thing (and then come back and write a blog post about it), allow me to explain.
Birthdays aren’t always fun
For many, many years, birthdays have been hard at our house. My trauma kids simply couldn’t handle them. Their own birthdays brought out big feelings of loss and pointed reminders that the person who gave birth to them isn’t their mom and isn’t the one celebrating their existence on that special day. Other people’s birthdays brought out the jealousy and abandonment monsters that secretly whispered “How dare they pay any attention to anyone else but me. If they’re the star of the show, even for a day, that means they’re not paying attention to me, they don’t love me, they don’t want me, they will leave me, and I will die.”
My own birthday, or more aptly, “Mom’s” birthday, has historically been the hardest of all of them. All the trauma, all the craziness, and all the trauma-related behaviors would come out in full force for the entire family (and even for people who don’t live with me) just because it was my birthday. It was bonkers!
Once trauma took over our lives, it wasn’t long before I came to dread birthdays. They weren’t fun. They were an obligatory nightmare that often turned to chaos with everyone spewing out all their trauma, leaving me to clean up the mess and hold space for all of it. In the end, I was always the one who ended up getting hurt rather than celebrated.
On more than one occasion, dinner was an afterthought, there were no thoughtful gifts, celebrations were ruined, safety lines were crossed, digs were made, jabs were taken, and chaos and contention reigned supreme. Sometimes we’ve had to call the police, and more than once, we had a kid land themselves in the psych unit because of a birthday.
To top it off, I’ve also had other adults in my life who are supposed to care about me tell me to my face that my birthday is such a burden for them. It’s so hard, it’s too close to Veterans Day, it’s too close to Thanksgiving, and of course, especially for the kids, it comes hot on the heels of Halloween (which often took weeks to recover from when they were younger.)
I’ve also had others just completely stonewall me and choose not to celebrate or even acknowledge my existence because they don’t agree with me, or they don’t like my life, or I’ve wounded them in some way (and in some cases, also figured them out). Yet, they’re not willing to communicate nor are they interested in fixing the problem.
The Real Reason I Cancelled My Birthday
A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend of mine came up to me and joyously said “You have a birthday soon! We need to go to lunch!” It startled me. I didn’t know what to say. It was the first time the reality that my birthday was coming up had even crossed my mind. I didn’t even know what day of the week it fell on this year! Thankfully, I chose to accept their invitation. We had a lovely time, and we also purposely went on a day that was well in advance of my actual birthday.
However, as my real birthday drew closer, we were in the grocery store with one of my now adult kids. He and my husband started talking about my birthday and casually making plans for it. I instinctively shut down, noticed I was starting to tense up, and wanted to run away.
My son then started talking about how he doesn’t do certain things anymore and blah blah blah. Ever so blessedly, he’s right. He’s had a mighty change of heart. But the trauma is still there. Without even thinking about it, I said to my son “I’m not sure I believe yet that it’s safe for me to have a birthday.”
I’d never said or even thought those words before, but there they were, out in the open. I wasn’t sure I believed it was SAFE for me to have a birthday…and it was 100% spot-on true. That was the reason for the avoidance. That was the reason for the anxiety. That was the reason for the dread.
Unfortunately, as in all the many years past, Mom’s birthday did indeed bring out all the demons. The night before my actual birthday, things went nuts right on cue. But this year, now fully aware of the reasons behind all of it and also my own feelings about it, I stopped those demons dead in their tracks.
After taking some time and space to cool off and think things through, I came back and pointed out that what had just happened had indeed proven that it was not safe for me to have a birthday. I then firmly announced that my birthday was cancelled and I would not be changing my mind about it. There would be no cake, no party, no balloon, no meal, and no celebration. It was just going to be another ordinary day, so everyone could just chill out.
I didn’t do it out of spite. I wasn’t angry about it. I simply stood up for myself and chose peace. I removed the option to be hurt when my birthday got ruined or sabotaged. I didn’t excuse any of the behaviors or tell them it was okay. I allowed them to apologize, but I also let them sit with the fact that yes, their behavior and their inability to appropriately deal with their own trauma and their own big feelings had indeed contributed to making it unsafe for me to have a birthday.
Canceling my birthday also meant that all the narcissists in my life (unfortunately, there are many of them) couldn’t control, manipulate, or dictate it. Nor could they use it as an opportunity to make themselves look good or to passive-aggressively hurt me. If they chose to snub me or not reach out to contact me, cool. They haven’t made any effort during the other 364 days of the year, so why should my birthday be any different? I chose not to be hurt by it, and in fact, I rather liked that I didn’t hear from any of them because there was no drama around any of it. I also purposely chose not to check Facebook and won’t be doing so for quite some time to come. If they left glorious platitudes there for all to see, I didn’t see them. Oh, well. There were plenty of people in my life who got the notifications and sent sweet personal texts, messages, and phone calls that I truly did appreciate.
In the end, my birthday was a lovely ordinary day. Maybe someday it will be safe to have a birthday again. Until then, reclaiming my own personal power, taking a gentle stand against the demons, and choosing peace felt pretty darn good!