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Spending the holidays alone: I survived Thanksgiving

Are you spending the holidays alone?   This is my first holiday season single, though I’ve been lonely on the holidays most of my life, even when surrounded by people.  I didn’t really realize it at the time, though.  Strange how that works, huh?

I just spent Thanksgiving alone. Totally alone. I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t invite anyone over. I was alone for Thanksgiving.

This was my choice. I’m not sure I’d recommend spending holidays alone. But it was my choice at the time and I survived. And that’s really what I wanted to prove to myself.

How did I come to spend the holidays alone?

My world got turned upside down in 2018, mostly by my own doing. My daughter almost died. I left a nearly 20 year relationship with her father. I moved out of our family home. I stuck to that decision even when my daughter opted to stay behind with her father.

I lived alone for the first time. I spoke my truth and said I wanted a divorce. I fought an unreasonable and irate man for my half of everything entitled to me. I hired a lawyer. I dove into conflict. I held my ground. I sold the home I fell in love with ten years prior. I had multiple moves before deciding on a year rental.  I got divorced six months after I moved out.

I’m learning to operate within boundaries – both setting and holding my own, as well as recognizing and respecting those set by others. I leaned into friendships I’ve had for over half of my life – some I leaned on so hard it nearly crushed us both. I analyzed every relationship in my life, including my daughter and mother, and started work to make them healthier.

I spent days sobbing on the couch. I fell apart and started to put myself back together so many times, all with the help of an amazing support network of friends, therapists, coaches and gurus, some unintentional, some unconventional. My goal is to be okay on my own. I want my relationships to be the gumdrops on top of the gingerbread house, not the icing holding the foundation together.

And so after several different plans fell through, I decided to spend Thanksgiving alone. The weight of “could haves” was weighing heavily. My ex husband hated holidays, socializing, most food and leaving the house. Thanksgiving had just been my daughter and I for years. Sometimes we’d go to an extended family gathering, sometimes it was too much for both of us. Sometimes my daughter would be battling anxiety and depression or ghosts of trauma she endured before we adopted her and was unable to leave the safety of her bedroom. She and I always spent the day together, though.

But this year she wanted to spend it with her boyfriend and his family. I’m trying to build the life I want for myself for the first time and I want her to do the same – now, not when she’s 40 like me. So I didn’t try to talk her out of it.

There was some back and forth on travel, a few variations of spending time with friends, and I even briefly considered hosting my dysfunctional extended family. In the end, I decided to start the holidays alone.

Thanksgiving alone

I knew the day would be hard. In addition to Thanksgiving, it was also my daughter’s 18th birthday. This was the first of either of these big days we’d spent apart since her adoption at age 9. I was also missing a dear friend I’d spent months assuming I’d be with for the holiday weekend. But it didn’t work out like that. These changes triggered all of the shifts, loss and grief I’ve experienced over the past year and I woke up at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving morning with a heavy heart.

I did a quick analysis of the situation. I was home alone. No one was coming over. I’d turned down all offers to go to friend’s homes, so I had nowhere to be. I decided to go back to sleep.

And sleep I did.

I woke up again just after 1 p.m.

My bestie boo and his boyfriend texted, urging me to come spend the day with them and their moms. My sadness was heavy and I didn’t want to bring it there. I didn’t have the energy to pretend to be okay in front of the moms and didn’t want to darken the day for anyone else.

Two other friends reminded me I was welcome at their family dinners. I felt the care and love. I appreciated it very much.

But I strongly felt I needed to be alone for Thanksgiving. I needed to feel the sad and get through it on my own.

My support network has kept me afloat and I will forever be grateful, but a fear of being “too much” for other people to deal with has crept in.  I’ve afraid they’ll get tired of propping me up. I’ve never stood on my own two feet, never thought I was strong, brave or capable enough. Just never thought I was enough.

Being okay on my own, figuring out who I am and what I want in life, these are my goals.

So I went into Thanksgiving like it was my own personal battle with myself. And it really was. I got out of bed at 1:30, ate some spaghetti left from my daughter’s birthday dinner the night before, watched a bit of TV and by 3:30 I was so tired from all the emotions I was feeling I went back to bed to rest for a few hours. I spent most of the day crying, moping or sleeping.

I eventually moved from the bed to the couch for the evening. I chatted with a friend on the other side of the country who was also spending the day alone. He enjoys his time alone and I clung to his promises that I would be okay during my first few weeks of living by myself. He always assures me I’ll survive the hard days. “You’ll be fine, it’s just one day of many.”  He sent me photos of the lovely turkey dinner he made himself and was a sounding board for some realizations I was processing.

I chatted with a Facebook friend, a fellow writer, who was also spending Thanksgiving alone for the first time. I told her I was wearing a stained crop top and too small booty shorts without bra or underwear. I was too worn out to change so this outfit reinforced my commitment to spend the day alone. There’s no way I could go out or let anyone come over looking like that.  (I’ll post my holiday lewk here for your amusement.)

Holiday lewk. I'm not leaving the house today glam.
My pity party “I’m spending the holidays alone” Thanksgiving outfit.

I noticed a meme on Facebook while scrolling as I ate microwave pancakes topped with strawberry jam. I’m not sure where it originated or who to credit, but it said humans aren’t built to deal with stress and pain alone; that we are made to to crave emotional safety, support and connection. This was a WHOA, STOP THE PRESSES moment for me.

Humans are meant for emotional safety and connection.

I forced myself to spend Thanksgiving alone because 1. I was worried my emotional neediness was becoming too much for my friends and 2. A common philosophy I keep hearing is, “You need to learn to stand on your own and to be okay alone.

Spending the holiday by myself was a sort of penance I thought I needed to get through. But now a Facebook meme was suggesting I made the wrong move and put myself in solitary confinement for no reason. And we all know Facebook memes are all the life wisdom we need, right?

So, of course, I shared it. As one does with memes that speak to them. I asked people for their thoughts. I wasn’t attention seeking or having a pity party. I really wanted a discussion. That didn’t quite happen, but I appreciate the people who reached out with virtual love and hugs.

In the end I decided it’s all about balance. I do need to learn to stand on my own, but I also need healthy connections. I survived spending Thanksgiving alone, did some heavy reflecting and processing and woke up ready to get back among people Friday morning. I had coffee with my friend and her husband, did a little shopping, saw a movie with my daughter and then had dinner with some other friends. I’m continuing to find that balance – connection with others instead of dependency, while being confident on my own.

I do not want to spend Christmas alone, so I’m going to plan that in advance.  Have you spent the holidays alone?  Any tips?

Spending the holidays alone and surviving Thanksgiving.

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