I have been feeling kind of blah this Christmas, a holiday that I have always loved. What I love is random kindness from strangers and rituals that give me a sense of place and belonging. Yesterday I was swooning as I was walking around San Francisco – one of those sunny fall days where everyone I encountered was just sweet to me and to one another.
Underneath the swooning for San Francisco, though, was a slow moving river of grief inside of me. Longing for a kind of family experience not on offer from my family produced a burning heartache that I am sitting in right now as I write this. I tried my darndest to “positive think” away the feelings, to exercise the feelings away, to ice skate them away. to shop them away, I even tried to blame my feelings on others but what proves true about feelings of this existential nature is they usually find their way back to us like a lost child who needs us. We are the only ones who can pick this child up and shelter it from the biting cold.
So we have a choice with this wobbling toddler of heartachey feelings; we can pick it up and hold it and care for it while it cries, we can smile and sing to try to distract it (or get drunk) or we could freak the toddler out by telling them how much worse it can get. I realize you might feel insulted at the idea that you have to tend to these feelings. I used to feel that way. “Our families should just be better so we don’t have these feelings at all” or “That friend should just be better”. I know that wish to have it be different and what I know is too much time spent wishing leaves that toddler in the cold way too long, waiting to be picked up while you are wishing. You are not alone.
We long for a deep sense of belonging and safety from our family and closest relationships – being really noticed and having our deepest feelings paid attention to with non-judgement, curiosity and care. Most people on this earth have limited capacity to pay attention to deeper feelings in relationship in this way. A reality we all have to tend to inside if it gets painful. I am so lucky I have so many friendships, a husband and children that do this well. But even I, with all of these blessed souls who really notice me, their love and attention can’t rescue me from these feelings – not ever. I know this but I forget because the holidays make the unrequited longing for being seen by family more bitter and intense and I feel the wish for rescue. You are not alone.
My guess is, if you are reading this article, you have your own version of this kind of heartache. Let’s rest here together in it. Stay here and let’s make it through. You are not alone. I have put together a “surviving the holiday alone” list. The ultimate salve when we are in hard feelings is not being rescued for we can’t be – the ultimate salve is to NOT FEEL ALONE and feel the truth of what we are feeling. So let’s do that now.
Surviving the Holiday Alone List
Tend to Your Feelings:
- Name the feelings you are experiencing…the good and the bad.
- Disconnect from the very long narrative about the feelings and now stop from labeling any as good or bad. Stop listing where they come from, why they are there and whose fault it is and instead just locate the feelings as body sensations. ie Tight throat, heavy chest, buzzing arms, flat, sharp, tingling, upward, thick, loose, flowing, stuck, etc.
- Notice the sensations while breathing and breath steady and continue that breath while noticing the feelings like a yoga pose, if you do yoga, or like lifting a weight. Just stay stay stay. Breathe breathe breathe. Those feelings are just electricity. Let go of your meaning making mind. Come back to just the sensations.
- Pick up a pillow and place it on your lap: imagine all those feelings you just felt in your body are now in the pillow. Hold the feelings with compassion and empathy and say “sweetheart, I am here and I love you.” Do this for several minutes.
- Now breathe in the pain of those feelings on your lap and breath in the pain of every other person on the planet right now feeling just as you are. (There are hundreds of thousands of people feeling just like you right now). When you breathe out breathe out relief or a prayer of peace to you and all those other people. Do this three times.
Plan The Day:
- Establish one or two rituals and do them and do them every year going forward
- Reach out to people
- Volunteer. Helping others and being in community both help get us up and out of our own self focus and feel not alone.
- Move your body.
- Be in nature.
- Practice Random Kindness.
Ok. Now it is your turn. How will you tend to your feelings and plan your day? Write it in the comments if you like and share this article with anyone it would serve. Let’s make sure no one feels alone. You are not alone.