I knew he was mad at me. After all, I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. His silence was painful, day after day leading up to Christmas. My entire life felt empty. Words indicating how worthless I was to him and how much he despised me filled the quiet rooms. I was hurting deeper than I had ever hurt before and I felt so helpless. I tried to apologize and I tried to serve him, but nothing I could say or do could fix this.

I felt so alone

It was Christmas in the year 2007. My husband and I were going to spend the holidays with his family. I was sick with fear. Would this be the moment when he would choose to stop the silence? Would everyone in his family know how awful I was? He talked with everyone, but I busied myself with my children and tried to block out what had happened from my mind. I was so anxious that my hands shook and my brain was in a fog as I floated around the house. I was finally around other people to chat with, but I wanted nothing more than to disappear and isolate myself.

That morning we woke up early. The children excited to see what Santa had brought them and after the rush of those first magical gifts, everyone gathered around the pile of presents neatly stacked under the Christmas tree. His family had a tradition: the youngest child would open their gift followed by the next oldest and so forth. My little boys were first to open their gifts, followed by my husbands little brothers and finally, it was my turn as his mother spoke my name.

I was excited for my turn, and thought a small gift would help me feel better

I sat anxiously as she searched for a gift bearing my name under the tree. She thoughtfully picked up one gift after another, carefully reading each name, handing the gifts to the recipient. As one minute stretched into what felt like eternity, a few other family members started reading names and handing out gifts in a panic. The room grew more and more silent as nobody knew how to handle the uncomfortable moment.

I felt sick to my stomach and jittery. I wanted to sink into the couch cushions and disappear. Wishing I didn't exist, tears started to fill my eyes. I tried to think of something else to hold them back. I thought if everyone else in the room thought I was okay, then everything would turn out right.

But truthfully, I was dying inside

After a few minutes, my mother-in-law smiled at me and said, "Yours must be hidden." It seemed as if the entire room took a deep breath, and without another word, they passed me by. I turned my head away for a moment to gather myself, sa I was worried my teary eyes would betray me.

A gift was easily found for the next oldest person, my husband, which was a new leather wallet I had carefully picked out for him. The rest of the presents were opened with laughs and smiles.

I tried to smile and be happy for everyone else.

The relief I felt when the attention was diverted from me didn't last long. Soon, the tradition started over with my little boy opening his second gift. I dreaded the moment when it was my turn when my mother-in-law awkwardly once again, turned around in search of a gift for me. This time the search didn't last as long.

Everyone could now see how unimportant I was

The worst part about that experience was the feeling that I was getting what I deserved. I had wanted so deeply to be a good wife. I wanted him to love and care for me, but he just didn't.

As Christmas approaches every year, I can remember that dreadful morning nine years ago clear as day. I remember feeling worthless and unimportant as he and his family passed me by without a second glance. Although my circumstances have changed dramatically and I am now divorced, that memory of being forgotten, everyone in his family seeing it and the dead silence that followed still haunts me. Not because I was in dire need of gifts, but because I was in dire need to be seen and loved.

It has taken me years, but today I can look back and realize that his neglect didn't have anything to do with me. I can see that all my imperfections and mistakes did not account for his actions toward me. He held every one of my character flaws above my head to remind me that I didn't deserve any better, and that all my flaws could be used as excuses for his poor behavior.

I now recognize that just because he didn't value me, didn't mean that I wasn't valuable. I quit letting his actions define me. I can see now that with or without any gift, I am loveable, I am valuable and I am worth seeing. And so are you. You are worth everything.

This story was originally published on Norma Zaugg's blog Roots Hold Me. It has been republished here with permission.

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