Desperation is a curious thing. It makes you act out of character, leap the bounds of reason, and throw yourself, sometimes, into downright painful situations—like Disney World at Christmas, for example.
I make no secret of my abhorrence of all things Disney, from its theme parks to its silly princess movies (though I give some exception to its more recent princesses of Frozen and Brave fame because the heroines had the chutzpah–thank God, finally–to rescue themselves instead of waiting for aid from men and mice).
In fact, I loathe Disney so much that when I watched Saving Mr. Banks, I was probably the only viewer of the film who wished P.L. Travers had NOT succumbed to the Disney spell and given the world Mary Poppins on the big screen.
But I digress…sort of….
Four years ago, I took my then five-year-old daughter to Orlando over the holiday for the sole purpose of escaping Christmas. Or rather, escaping the sadly “un-Rockwellian” and dysfunctional sort of Christmas that has become the norm in my familial experience.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no Mr. Scrooge.
Okay, maybe I am….
There was a time when I, like the young Scrooge, loved Christmas. I could not get enough of it. I wanted to go to every light show, ride around in the backseat of my parents’ car and watch gaudy, neon yard displays, and wrap gifts with the kind of gusto that inspired me to create custom bows for every package and plow through double-stick tape as if it was the elixir of the Gods.
That was when I was too young to fully appreciate the steely silences at grown-up dinner tables where half the adults didn’t speak to one another. That was before I understood that marriage and children did not constitute happily ever after, and also before I realized you don’t have to give misery your company.
But enlightenment comes to most of us eventually. And when it came to me, I started to find I didn’t like Christmas anymore. I didn’t like the guilt trips that accompanied it, the expectations, the busyness of it all, the obligations, the proximity to unhappy and disappointed relatives, the spending time with people I really didn’t want to spend time with….
And so I went to Disney World, and, over the years and over many other family-oriented holidays, to many other places ranging from Venice to Budapest. And if I can’t find a way to get out of the state or the country for whatever pesky family holiday is trying to turn me bipolar, I will lock myself in my house with a bowl of homemade Swedish meatballs, binge-watch Netflix, and refuse to answer the phone.
In fact, I’ve made quite a habit of running away from Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and Easter, and Independence Day, and New Year’s…. You name the holiday, and I’ll tell you where I’ve gone to get away from it.
Because it’s pretty hard to feel “Christmassy” when it’s 80 degrees and you’re sitting poolside sipping a cocktail.
This most recent Christmas, I had dinner with people I’d met only days earlier, drank far too much wine, laughed till my sides ached, and happily forgot it was the 25th of December at all. And when polled, everyone at this table in Vienna, Austria, had similar stories–they were running away from home, too–from 20 years of cooking holiday dinners for ungrateful relatives, from houses empty of children or grandchildren, from piles of wrapping paper discarded from toys and gadgets forgotten within days….
Spending Christmas with these strangers was bliss, and it made me realize something–I have a problem, and, even worse, it’s not really one I want to eliminate.
I’m addicted to escapism. And not the kind of escapism that comes in a glass bottle and is topped off with a maraschino cherry.
I’m a literal escape addict.
And I don’t limit it to holidays. It’s even infiltrated my professional life. If there’s an assignment with an opportunity to get me out of Dodge, I’m always game, even if it means sitting on the ocean floor in a wetsuit with an electric eel circling me or sticking my camera lens up against the nose of a brown bear.
I realize there are those among my friends and acquaintances who just presume I love to travel, that I’m a classic Type T with a scary bit of A mixed in, and that I’m brave, lucky, a go-getter, and all that shit.
But I’m increasingly suspicious that all my running around the planet, hopping into kayaks and climbing Medieval towers is more about getting out of my life than into it.
It’s a coping strategy, not so terribly far removed from alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, gambling…you name it.
Once I started to realize this, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t just take up smoking or some similarly less expensive survival mechanism.
But then comes the self-justifying—all of you addicts out there know how this works, right?
Life is hard. (And believe me when I read those words on the first page of Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, I almost didn’t want to read any more of it because I didn’t want to know that I already knew the answer—that life was hard and that I was just going to have to learn how to “keep on keeping on,” as my dad always says.)
I decided that if life was going to be hard and was going to keep throwing me curve balls, the least I could do was come up with a coping strategy (i.e. addiction) that might have some useful side effects.
Rather than suffer the hangovers and increasing tendency to do nothing that comes of addictions like sipping whiskey every night in front of the TV or endlessly trawling Facebook for some distraction from my personal reality, I thought perhaps an addiction to adventure, to travel might teach me a few things, that I might increase my knowledge, grow my curiosity, step up my courage…at the very least, become a more interesting person.
Because the only thing worse than an addict is a boring addict, right?
In the interest of continued self-justification, I’m going to say RIGHT.
Because there are a lot of ways to “keep on keeping on.” You can stop by that little country store every day after work and get a pack of cigarettes and six-pack of beer to stem your frustration and unwind from a reality that doesn’t fit that vision of life you maybe had long ago. That is indeed one way of coping, and it will likely get you through till your appointed end. As will chasing the jackpot, chasing women, chasing some pills with a shot of tequila….
But heck, wouldn’t you like to escape with a little more bang, a little more pizazz, a little more life?
I would…and I’m hoping that somewhere along this journey of running away to everywhere I may find an answer that will keep me home for Christmas one day. And if I don’t find that, I will at least find, I think, more understanding, more tolerance, and more reason to keep on keeping on….