Cold. Hard. Christmas.by Sandy Arena on 12/23/15
When I was 18 years old, my boyfriend at the time bought my mother and me a barren little Christmas tree that he had gone to the woods to chop down himself. Despite his attempt to be kind and fill our home with the merriment of the season, I despised that ugly, little Christmas tree.
A senior in high school and the youngest of five children, I was the only sibling still living at home. This boyfriend and I had been dating for about six months, and he was my first love. My mother was recently divorced from my father and those days – like the Christmas tree - could best be remembered as sparse. Sparse food. Sparse clothing allowance. Sparse heat in the house. Sparse money. And now a sparse and barren tree to match my sparse and barren heart, and outlook on life. That year was not the best, and little did I know it was soon to get much worse.
Soon after the tree arrived, so did the news that I was pregnant. The boyfriend with the pathetic tree, upon hearing the news, suddenly went missing – in the company of another girl - and it was swiftly decided by the adults in my life that I would be having an abortion. And that was it. No explanation. No discussion. No options. No boyfriend. And soon to be - no baby. And as quickly as it was decided, quickly did it happen, and off to the clinic I was sent to terminate my “little problem” just days before Christmas – December 18, 1983 to be exact.
Tragically, this past October, my nephew Christian died. He was very special to me for many reasons, but very much also so because of this fact. That same Christmas in 1983, a few days after my abortion, I spent Christmas Eve with my older siblings and their families. Two of my sister-in-laws during this Christmas event were pregnant, and one with my dear, nephew Christian. I remember sitting in the living room trying my best to be festive to the season, rejoicing in their pregnancies and this celebration, but at the same time secretly and shamefully feeling like the lowest human being on earth – barren, empty, sparse and unloved - like the Christmas tree. Here they were pregnant, and there I was shell shocked and feeling rotten to the core having gotten pregnant in the first place, and now having had an abortion. Worse of anything, I felt all of this in my own private world of despair, carrying my new, secret identity like a cloak of black over my entire being. No one knew, or at least no one was talking about it, and to round out my emerging, stained identity were forbidden memories of a dark and stank abortion clinic located in the heart of the ghetto of Atlantic City where my child and all my self-esteem were violently ripped from me only to be tightly zipped back up in a silent box of grief never to be discussed again.
This time of year, I can’t help but remember and revisit my grief and experiences which can be triggered in a myriad of unexpected ways including seeing something as simple as a stark, barren branch on a Christmas tree. In spite of the forbidden nature of grief after abortion -- something I am so vehemently toiling to change -- the triggers must be dealt with in a safe and secure way. Tears that were never shed and sorrow that was never expressed can be like a cancer to the heart and emotions. We must allow ourselves to fully experience our grief and the disappointments of life, and to express them in any way that feels comfortable and safe whether public like me or not, and in doing so we open the door to memories, words, tears, processing, forgiveness, healing and wholeness, as compared to silent shame, guilt and lonely pain. We say in my recently released, feature-length film Arise Sweet Sarah which shares my abortion story through the power and gentleness of narration, song, dance and symbolism, "The silence of shame is torment." And, indeed it is. I used to think I was the only one who suffered as such, until I went public with my story, and suddenly I became a safe person for others to tell their stories. Community and safe fellowship is a beautiful entity when contending with an issue like abortion, and I was truly surprised by the volume of women in my circle of experience who had also been impacted by abortion. My life mission now is to help unlock the box of secrecy surrounding the unfortunately, common experience of abortion through the power of the arts so women and men can find freedom and acceptance to share and heal. Our vision with our work and the film is to serve as examples of courage so others follow suit, and so we can continue to build our prolife armies linking arms as those who have "been there and done that" and deeply regret it. We bare our vulnerable souls so that others choose differently until the day Roe V. Wade is reversed in this country.
Watching Arise Sweet Sarah is often a first step for many to open the box of silent grief and regret after abortion. It helps to know our film was made by those who know, care and who have been there. We invite
women and men and siblings of aborted children and grandparents, aunts, uncle
and friends, to learn more of our work at our website www.arisesweetsarah.com, and make this the year the journey to healing begins. Read Writer/Director/Producer Sandy Arena's Full Story Here: http://www.sandyarena.com/My-Abortion-Story.html