Loneliness is something many struggle with, but it is magnified over the holidays. People who are lonely, alone or perhaps are going through a tough time struggle to find joy during the holiday season.
The holidays used to be a struggle for me in my early adult years and sometimes those things creep back in. Here are a few tips to help you during this season of joy, gatherings and even excess to navigate through it and still enjoy your life.
I grew up with alcoholic parents. Despite that chaos, the holidays were still a fun time for me as a kid. I spent the first few years until I was 6 in Cleveland, Ohio and then moved to San Antonio, Texas. Thanksgiving was the start of the holiday season and we had turkey and all the fixins. My parents then set about the business of decorating the house for Christmas and my mother spent endless hours baking cookies.
Unfortunately, the cookie baking time after we moved to Texas, that I sometimes got to help with, turned into her screaming and chasing me out of the kitchen. I’m sure it was the alcohol and this type of thing that usually always occurred in the kitchen whether the holidays or not is why I never learned how to cook until much later in life. Things got bad for my mother for some reason after we moved to Texas or at least that’s when I remember it getting really bad.
I was in Brownies and Girl Scouts growing up and the troops would go caroling around Windcrest (San Antonio, TX) where I lived. We had this cool little city set up under the tree with a train. Some of the buildings and items were from when my mom was a kid and that was always very special to me. There were lit up bells hanging in every window and I loved going to sleep looking up at the bells.
Christmas was a way for me to escape the chaos of my parents drinking and absorb myself in something else that made me happy. It was the only time of year I didn’t have to be on guard as much or survive a war zone. Not that it wasn’t still chaotic to some extent, but it seemed that Christmas overrode the chaos and it was more bearable.
Right before I turned 13 my mother died of alcoholism. My father died too, emotionally. What also died was the holidays. After I completed school the year my mother died, my father shipped my off to my older sisters’ house for half the summer. When I returned home, the house and everything in it had been sold including all the Christmas decorations. I didn’t get any say so in what I got to keep. Many of my things and all my mothers’ things were disposed of.
It’s like my dad was trying to erase the life we had there to somehow alleviate his own pain. It didn’t work. He spent many years sitting on the couch drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and saying very little to me. Holidays also came to a stop. There was never another Christmas or Thanksgiving in our house. No tree, no holiday meal, nothing. Instead I got shipped off to other people’s houses to spend the holidays with them and their families. I no longer had a family of my own to celebrate holidays with. My dad stayed at home and drank himself into an oblivion.
As I got older, it was tough to go to someone else’s family celebration for Christmas. It was a reminder of something I wanted to forget. When I had a family of my own, I started to make my own Christmas tradition. Fajitas and all the fixins for Christmas and other fare for Thanksgiving. There were times we celebrated at other friends homes and enjoyed it because we planned it that way. This year I will have a fajita fest at my own house and welcome many friends. I enjoy being able to prepare a holiday meal for friends and family. Many of my friends are my family as my blood family is very small and not in touch much other than me and my offspring.
So, what does this all have to do with being alone or lonely for the holidays? This Thanksgiving I found myself alone due to several unforeseen circumstances that unfolded. My daughter made other plans and my son was not in town. I had made plans to prepare dinner for a friend who at the last minute went to someone else’s house for dinner, which made it difficult for me to make other plans. I basically spent Thanksgiving on the couch crying. I tried to go somewhere but at that point just couldn’t muster it. Yes, I could have called someone to ask if I could come to their Thanksgiving celebration but when you get to that point, it’s difficult to reach out, at least for me. I know I would have been welcome at many friends homes. However, at that point I was too far into my emotions to reach out to anyone.
With all the holiday parties, festivities and activities going on, here are some tips should you find yourself in that position at anytime during this holiday season:
1. Make plans in advance and make sure they are solidified with everyone involved.
Prepare in Advance is one of the Think Like a Negotiator Strategies. With everyone being so busy, sometimes plans get behind and last minute seems to be the way of life. However, with the holidays, it’s best to make a plan so you don’t leave yourself with nowhere to go. Once you make the plans it might be good to verify that everyone knows what the plan is and agrees to it. That way you will be sure of how the day will go and not get left scrambling to make new plans.
2. Don’t Isolate!
As a veteran, I’ve found since I retired from the military that it’s easy to isolate. I’m sure it’s similar for non-veterans but it seems to be something that veterans go through and it’s a hard habit to break. It’s easy to go into isolation mode. Make a plan not to do it as a defense mechanism. It’s easy to do. You didn’t make any plans, the day comes, you get in your head and talk yourself out of reaching out to someone because it’s too late. It’s never too late, there’s always somewhere to go. I could have gone somewhere on Thanksgiving but chose not to based on where I was emotionally. Make yourself go, you will feel better for it.
3. Be OK with You Emotions
Loneliness can bring on sadness or depression for some. If you find yourself alone and feeling sad, be OK with crying and letting your emotion out. The holidays bring on a lot of stress for people and that emotion may come out as sadness. Be OK with being sad. Cry if you need to, get help, talk to someone if you need to. Don’t try to stuff those feelings. I spent a lifetime doing that until I had to deal with the things from my past and release all that emotion. It’s unhealthy to stuff your feelings and think they won’t come back up somehow. Let it go.
4. If you are alone during Christmas, do something that you like to do
Maybe you made a conscious decision to go it alone. Treat yourself to a special dinner or do something you love to do at home. I plan alone time often and when I do, I plan to do things like work in my garden, do some art or watch my favorite movie. Alone time is good for you. If you plan it, do it up right. Enjoy your time alone and celebrate your holiday in your own way. Call family or friends and wish them well. If I had planned to be alone on Thanksgiving, I would have treated myself to a special dinner, but it wasn’t a plan and the original plan disintegrated and left me with no plan. If your plans fall apart have an alternate plan.
5. Love Yourself
Finally, with whatever you do, love yourself. Self-love is not woo woo stuff. You must love who you are in order to be able to give love and have more joy in your life. That doesn’t mean there are never any bad times but since I learned the importance of self-love, I can tell you that there are fewer times where I struggle with things. Be kind to yourself in your self-talk because what you think about you bring about. Thoughts are things and the more loving and kind thoughts you have the better off you will be.
Remember, the Christmas season is not about spending money and giving gifts. Don’t get caught up in the commercialization of Christmas and think you have to give a bunch of things. It’s more about making memories than giving more things to people and spending a lot of money on things. Things get put on a shelf and forgotten, given away or break. Memories last a lifetime. Make memories this year and enjoy time with family and friends.
Most of all, think about what you are grateful for. That should be a daily exercise that you start your day with. We take so much for granted and don’t realize what blessings we have. Many have lost their homes in fires, hurricanes or other disasters. Lost friends or family to shootings, accidents or illnesses. Many will go hungry or not have a roof over their heads.
Be grateful for what you do have and are blessed with. I’m grateful for you and that you are reading this and have stayed connected to me or are a new friend.
The political correctness climate would tell me I can’t say Merry Christmas, that is has to be Happy Holidays or some other phrase to not offend anyone. My faith in Jesus is the foundation of my life and while I respect whatever you believe, I will end this traditional to my faith.
My prayer for you is that your dreams will come true and that you will find joy and gratitude in every single day.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2019!