Molly Knipe offers 5 keys to being alone but not lonely during the holiday season.
One Christmas when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself I spent the day in bed. I wasn’t alone alone — I had family in town and a boyfriend sitting in the other room wondering what was wrong with me. But my kids, who were small at the time, weren’t with me and it felt like there was no point of going through the motions of Christmas when Christmas, for me, had always been all about my kids.
This isn’t just about Christmas though. This is about any holiday when you find yourself alone and yearning for something that isn’t going to be. I have spent many a Valentine’s day watching Mad Men and composing amusing letters to exes that I was never going to send. I have spent lots of Thanksgivings without the ones I was most thankful for because they were somewhere far away. I have come to the conclusion that staying in bed just makes the day interminably long. And sometimes, there is a season to get through, not just a day. I forbid you to stay in bed for a season.
So here is my short list that is actually a long one when you fill it in for yourself. To be alone for the holidays and not have everything suck I need to do five things – maybe you do to.
#1 — Connect
For me, I need to remind myself that the lonely planet is bustling with people, plenty of whom are willing to see me. Sometimes, you need to let people know you are alone. How else will they know you have had a breakup or a divorce or your partner is on an ocean voyage or your kids are at their mom’s?
Don’t be afraid to be the “orphan” at the turkey dinner. It can be super lovely to share in another family’s tradition and you will inevitably add something to the mix (you have to bring something!) I plan ahead (obviously) so that I don’t find myself on the ominous day scrambling for somewhere to go. The roads have never looked so empty and Whole Foods has never looked so closed than on Christmas with nowhere to be but my car. I promise, a shout out on Facebook about your pending aloneness will have you heaped with invites.
#2 – Give
The world is never more pulsing with need than at the holidays. I work with underserved populations in the mental health field, and something happens around this time of year when people are reminded that it is really hard to afford gifts and a huge feast, and also reminded of their losses. You can shift your awareness to notice all of the giving going on: pretty much everywhere you look there are toy drives and food drives and firefighters delivering princess toys to tiny princesses. For me, giving feels best done face to face.
Some giving takes forethought— you can’t just walk into a homeless shelter and start serving corn bread. You have to sign up ahead of time. But you can donate toys or food or puffy coats to plenty of places asking. The feeling for me of walking into a preschool and having 35 children rush me with board books begging in their little lisps for me to read theirs is indescribable. It’s not for everyone because it can be sad, but spending time at a children’s shelter during the holidays, when the kids are yearning for connection with safe, giving, folks, is deeply gratifying. Elderly people in assisted living are often unable to travel to loved ones this time of year. They benefit from even a conversation. Like I said, the world pulses with need and the list goes on and on. Find a spot and plug yourself in.
#3 – Receive
Of course, you already are. Something potent always happens to me when I’m in yoga and notice the room full of yogis reaching for the sky. The luck, or blessings, or gifts, or grace, or whatever you choose to call it, that we are all receiving, much of the time without noticing. This is a great time to notice what you receive: the sunny or rainy sky, the kindness of strangers, the smile of your dog. In Tucson, a hike on Christmas is usually gorgeous and a great reminder of the natural beauty we are surrounded by and always receiving.
#4 – Accept
A few years ago I noticed sadness creep into my thoughts and take a permanent seat in my mind around mid-November. It doesn’t do that anymore, but it took a few years post-divorce for me to not wish the holidays were something very different. On this particular year, I was in a graduate psychology program and we were learning about narrative therapy. While this is not a lesson in that, I decided to pluck a little wisdom from it and I said to myself, “Self”, okay no I didn’t, but I said to myself, “OK, sadness, have a seat, you can sit here until January and then you will have to go.” It was amazing! Because it alleviated the anxiety that I had to do something about it or fix it. And it was just sadness. It wasn’t clinical depression— I wasn’t at risk for doing something atrocious or staying in my bed all season. I was just sad. Sad sat with me that whole season but it was just one of the players. And that was truly the last holiday I felt that way. I think it was because I stopped trying to fix it, and just let it be.
#5 – Practice
We all practice. I practice yoga, running, trust, love, adoring of my dachshund, writing. One of my kids practices her violin and chopping nuts or any small choppable thing she can find in the house. I try to remember to practice gratitude but sometimes I fall out of practice. You can practice getting through the holidays. Everything is a practice, in that it becomes a habit when you repeat it, and you can change it when you become mindful of how you are practicing it. If you decide to practice happy holidays, commit yourself to the practice and realize practice doesn’t happen in one attempt.
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