I had an astounding Christmas. I had a phenomenal Christmas. I had the best Christmas I've ever had.
We laughed a lot. That is one thing I will remember this Christmas for. We laughed a lot!
That doesn't mean it was without it's challenges, because there were difficult moments. But I still had the most amazing and wonderful Christmas, which 3-weeks later I'm struggling to get my head round.
I travelled with a lovely group of people who were non-obtrusively caring, supportive and great to be around. They allowed me to be me. That has never happened before. I had a wonderful time without anyone finding anything personal about me or my history. If conversation did steer it that way I gentle steered it somewhere else. In the past I've just steeled myself to answer tough personal questions. In the past I thought I had to answer such questions! This time I didn't, I was careful that it didn't go beyond anything I was willing to say about my life. That surprised me!! I discovered there has been a change and it was encouraging to see a little bit of healing which I hadn't realised was there before! What a change!!!
The trip over the Brenner Pass to Italy was driven in beautiful sunny spring like conditions, we could not have asked for any better weather" I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Brixen-Bressanone at the Christmas market and exploring the beautiful little town with an enormous history. My discovery of a very old cloister with incredible paintings on the sides and ceilings was phenomenal! It dripped history and I could easily imagine the monks in years past wandering that cloister as I was, my jaw was dropping at every turn. It was a lovely day!
Christmas Eve in Innsbruck was a real treat. I spend 3-hours in the mountains above Innsbruck enjoying the views of all the mountains around Innsbruck and reaching all the way to the Zillertal and Italy. The views were mind-blowing and the weather was perfect for my photography! I had a lovely wander through the Christmas markets, found and photographed the Triumphal Arch and bought myself a view bits + pieces around the Christmas markets. It was a lovely gentle day ticking off bits unfinished business from previous visits to Innsbruck!
Then, I found I had a few challenges.
On Christmas Eve I came down to dinner to find no place had been set for me. The people around me said they thought I must have made a different arrangement for dinner when they saw my place empty. I said I hadn't and was always coming down to dinner. I walked in to the restaurant went to my seat and saw the empty space where there should have been a place set. I froze, I couldn't focus, I couldn't stop staring at the empty space. I stuttered out "they've not laid a place for me, what's going on?"
A kind lady opposite me said do you want me to find a member of staff to sort this out? I thought "Fi, for goodness sake you are 48 years old and well capable of going to find someone to sort this out". And I heard myself say "please, if you wouldn't mind?" She didn't mind in the slightest and was more than happy to help.
I couldn't do anything. I couldn't move. I was frozen in a place of trauma. It was horrible!!! What was really good was nobody judged me for it. Nobody judged me for freezing. I certainly felt that everyone around me really felt for me and were as bemused as I was.
It took an age for someone to come. At some point I heard myself snap out "ah well, I'll disappear to the salad bar and get myself some salad, maybe the staff can get their act together while I do that". Going to the salad bar helped calm the triggers down but I remained very fragile and shaky. I wasn't really me for the rest of the meal. I realised I had disassociated in the shock of finding my place empty and all the terrible things which that reminded me of.
Eventually a male waiter who served all our table throughout the holiday came to my place with a place setting and was full of apologies and couldn't work out how it had happened and hoped that it hadn't upset me too much. To hear him say "I'm really sorry, it was my mistake, I'm not sure what I was thinking nor how it happened, I truly am sorry and hope it doesn't spoil your evening too much." was immensely healing for me.
I never was really myself for the rest of the meal and remained very wobbled and shaky. When we approached the pudding I discovered another problem. The spoon I'd been given looked clean on one side but it was disgusting on the other. I had a conversation about how I really did not want to draw attention to myself again or cause more difficulties for the waiting staff. BUT the spoon was disgusting and there was no way I was going to eat with it. I debated using the other end of the spoon which was ridiculous. In the end I had to gather myself together and accept I was going to have to ask for a new spoon. As the waiter approached our table I held up the spoon with the dirty side towards him and heard myself say "this spoon is absolutely disgusting, please can I have a clean one." I was gobsmacked to hear myself say that and to hear how I said it. The waiter nodded and disappeared to reappear with a spoon in a napkin and more apologies!
At the end of the meal I went up to my room and went to bed but it was on my mind all night and had a very disturbed night. I got up on Christmas morning still feeling shaky, traumatised and triggered. So when I got on the coach, I went and sat at the lounge at the back where no-one could see me and got myself together and my head in a better place so I when we reached our destination I was able to enjoy the horse drawn sleigh ride and time in resort in a way I didn't think I'd be able to when I first got up.
Christmas evening I had a green shirt, green Christmas tie and flashing brooches on. A nice mix of the masculine and feminine sides of me. Dressing up to me means a shirt and tie. On my way down to dinner I wondered how people might react to me. But I had no negative comments or glances which was a relief! The coach drivers were sat with us for the meal. I had Nigel sat next to me. He bombed a photo someone took of me putting his head on my shoulder! I was amazed, astounded, blown-away, at how I handled than without flinching or taking it for anything else than it was but a bit of fun. We laughed a lot throughout the meal.
One thing that's come out of this holiday is how difficult I find it to go down to the social meal times. But the progress I've made this year meant I was able to actually enjoy aspects of it. My memories of those meal times will not be "how hard I had to work to get through them" - NO - rather how much I enjoyed the meal and social times. Another pointer of healing which has taken place.
On Boxing Day we didn't get to Bavaria because of heavy snow which blocked the mountain passes. We ended up with our 2nd visit to Innsbruck of the holiday. This time it was a very snowy Innsbruck. I'd felt fated never to see Innsbruck in the snow but that wish fulfilled in an unexpected way. I had a wonderful couple of hours wandering round in the snow enjoying the atmosphere it created and the Christmas markets. Yes it was disappointing to not get to Bavaria but I had so much fun in the snow in Innsbruck instead.
The following day was an epic struggle to get through the snow to Belgium as we were hit hard by a snowstorm which swept through Europe that day. We crawled behind snowploughs doing 20km an hour in unrelenting heavy snow fall or crawled along bumper to bumper on snow blocked autobahns going even slower. At one point we travelled 250km in 7-hours coming to a total halt with 231 delay warnings ahead of us on our sat nav. Our coach was stuck in a 25km, 18mile long jam on the A8 south of Stuttgart. We did not think we were going to see Stuttgart that day. In fact Leger were preparing to send out relieve drivers from the UK to rescue us. Every coach returning from Austria and Italy was stuck in that jam, which is German is called a "STAU". And it sure was a STAU in capital letters!!!
The snow did ease off after a while which enabled the snow ploughs to clear a path through and we began to move slowly and but with increasing speed as the ploughs did their work and cleared the autobahns. So we finally got the other side of Stuttgart as sleety rain turned once more to snow. It continued to snow all the way back to Belgium. We stopped in heavy snow in Luxembourg for a 20-minute comfort stop then got stuck and had to reverse the coach to get out of the snow which had gathered round our wheels. In the end it took us 17-hours to get from our hotel in Austria to our hotel in Belgium - a distance of 884km. It was a relief to finally draw up in front of our hotel at 12.30am. We weren't the last coach to reach the overnight hotel. One coach arrived at their hotel at 3.30am!
It was 2am before anyone made it to bed with the coach needed to be unloaded and our cases sorted and sent to the right rooms. they were down to a skeleton staff and didn't do a very good job, putting cases outside wrong rooms. It was a drag that we had to wait so long and also return cases which should have been elsewhere.
The upside of being so late was we got a lie in the next day as we couldn't leave till 10am because of the statutory break our drivers had to take. Then we had a gentle journey towards Calais. We thought we were driving non-stop to Calais but Leger informed our drivers that the previous days delays meant the interchange at Calais had been delayed and instructed us to stop off at PJ's Belgian chocolate factory shop. So we got an unexpected little break there and left with the coach creaking under the strain of all the Belgian chocolate on board!!
We knew we'd missed the ferry we were booked on and also knew that Calais had been closed the day before because of gales, so we had no idea when we were going to get on a ferry and cross the channel.
The interchange went very smoothly and we left at 2.15pm to head to the port and passport control which can take forever but today we were through passport control very fast and heading towards check-in just after 3pm. As we pulled up at check-in our driver was informed that there was a space on the ferry currently loading, did we want it??? "OH YES"
However, after boarding the ferry we didn't leave at the time we were meant to. The captain came over the ship's tannoy to inform us that as we were about the leave port 4 illegal immigrants had leapt on to the ship. So we were being held at Calais port, police and sniffer dogs were on their way to search the ship for them and remove them. In the end it took only 50-minutes for the police and sniffer dogs to complete the job and remove the illegals. I had feared it could take longer than that, the ferries are massive ships. After that it was plain sailing to the UK and we arrived at Dover 2-hours later than scheduled just after 4pm.
The drivers on my feeder coach home gave us a break at services on the M4 before heading up to Bristol and down towards the Westcountry. Relaxing in to the journey I though all our adventures were over now. I couldn't have been more wrong!! All the delays meant that our drivers were running low on driving hours. They actually ran out of driving hours as we passed Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. So they decided to stop a few miles later at Bridgwater services on the M5 in Somerset and then had to arrange taxis for everyone to take them on to their final drop off point.
After a 45-minute wait I found myself in a taxi with 3 other people, 2 of whom were getting off in Exeter with me, the other couple headed for Plymouth! My friend was waiting for me at Exeter and I eventually got home just before midnight, relieved to be home.
But I was also home with many happy memories.
Any some interesting memories of events that didn't go so well but showed me how much progress I have made.
Most of all I cannot believe how easily and gently I interacted with everyone around, I realised wasn't interacting from a place of fear bur from a place of "well this is me, I do worry what your response to me may be, and I am fearful of you and your intentions towards me but this is me and this is who I am and how I roll!"
I am finding it hard to believe how I was with the people around me.
I am amazed by how I communicated and interacted with people and things going on around me.
I realise I had a small level of confidence I haven't had before!
I realised that little level of confidence is about being "me", being "who I am"
I also notice a small level of self-assurance about who I am and what I'm about.
That is new and very exciting!!!
I also realised that my humour which has always been a survival tool and a coping strategy has now become a part of my personality and how I interact with the world and the people I find in it.
I see that as incredibly beautiful and amazing!