I tried so hard not to write this.
I had planned to write something else entirely, and then an event in the news totally made my opinion on it irrelevant. Then two or three other things about my afternoon took a left turn and I felt overcome with emotion. In checking in with myself, it felt bigger than the annoying contract stuff I was dealing with in a different window on my laptop. It was also larger and more ominous than the cloudy weather bringing me down for the day. It was a looming internal ache that I haven’t been truly addressing.
It was Christmas.
I tried so hard not to write this because I didn’t want to be a downer. Me, who champions our rights to feel and express the full force of our humanity, however that may manifest itself and change from moment to moment. Me, who long ago tried to accept that my holidays may never be stellar but I can still try to summon some personal merriment.
And yet, here we are. I’m writing it. My Christmases have always been painful, as far back as I can remember, and I’ve once again not managed to muster up some holiday cheer for myself.
Our relationships, our self-care, our love, our career, our family, our sexuality, our romance, our holidays… these are all things that I feel we can and must define for ourselves, as they work best for each of us and the people we interact with, to contribute to us each living our most fulfilling lives to the best of our ability. And yet, on holidays in general and Christmas in particular, I get so exhausted with the heavy lifting of trying to feel like I matter even though I don’t have close family to be with. Even though I don’t have a set of traditions or rituals to engage in. Even though I don’t generally get presents.
My personal Christmas ritual upon reaching adulthood became to go to church and then volunteer. This year, I’m living in a new place and I have yet to find a church or a volunteering location. Yes, I am aware that Google is always available and my city is teeming with both of those things that I could just walk in to, and no, I’m not seeking anyone’s pity in contrast with those who are in serious need of basic human survival elements.
However, if the whole point of my self-created ritual is to honor my faith with familiar faces and try to do some good, multiple unfamiliar locales might do more harm than good this year. I would have to explain to a whole new set of people why I’m alone on Christmas.
Also, having logged many volunteer hours, I know that Christmas is only behind Thanksgiving in terms of days when many places have too much help tumbling through the doors trying to do good and give back. I am not suggesting that there is ever “too much” good to do for the homeless and underprivileged. I am not saying that volunteering our time or anything else to help others on the holidays is a bad or unnecessary thing.
I am saying that there is usually an element of self-serving in even the most altruistic activities, and I think that’s a perfectly fine reality when it exists in healthy proportion to the “helping” part of helping others. Doing good does make the do-gooder feel good, but the focus ought to remain on the good itself, instead of your feelings, which can quickly morph into feigned sainthood or misplaced martyrdom. When that takes over, and volunteering becomes about showing off what a “good” person you are, or is just a box to check off on a socialite’s checklist or college application, it becomes something else.
There are 365 days of the year and people who benefit from the organized help of others need that help on all of them. And yet, Christmas is the only time when I have felt like I’m volunteering for the wrong reasons. I feel like a bad person because I’ve never had a happy Christmas. I feel less than, and for all of my attention and focus on forgiving myself for less-than-perfect life circumstances, especially for things I can’t control, like the harmful family I was born into, Christmas is like the trump card of the deck, slamming itself on the card table and sweeping all of my chips away with both hands.
Doing “good” or being a “good girl” on Christmas has felt like a mask for my alone-ness. Again, I could not be clearer on the fact that someone at a shelter who needs a hot meal that I can provide likely gives zero fucks about my sad inner monologue or how I got there. But on Christmas, it’s the one time when I have needed the beautiful souls and kind people who utilize the shelters I’ve visited in a way that overpowers any altruism.
I’ve used them to feel less like a loser for not really “doing” Christmas.
That’s what I’ve been saying: “Oh, I don’t really ‘do’ Christmas.” Like it’s an opt-out proposition or I’m ordering a salad without dressing. I’ll have my December to go, hold the Christmas, please!
Which would be COMPLETELY FINE if that’s how I truly felt about it. If I subscribed to a religion that I loved that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, or subscribed to no religion at all and felt no longing for the holiday, then it would be all gravy! If I had chosen not to celebrate because I just didn’t want to, then Huzzah!
But what I’m realizing is that I’ve made myself into a Grinch for pure survival, and that really isn’t me.
It’s not unlike how some people truly don’t crave serious romantic relationships, and others say they don’t, but have really just decided deep down that they can’t have one or life doesn’t hold one in the cards for them or they are somehow not capable of being in a relationship because they’ve never had a successful one.
I would never front like that in other contexts, and yet here I’ve been ordering substitutions for Christmas off the menu when deep down I would like to be roasting some chestnuts with someone or whatever and am just scared that I never will.
I could get a big old tree and buy presents for myself, I suppose, but it’s about the togetherness. I could probably get myself invited somewhere, but I’m also really tired of being The Guest with someone’s family, and while I have in the past been treated like a truly wanted visitor at the holiday gatherings of certain loving individuals who have been in my life, there’s a difference between being sincerely welcomed into someone’s home and being treated like a stray dog because “nobody ought to be alone on Christmas.” That’s the name of a song, not a reason to be around strangers or borderline acquaintances whose artificiality may only exacerbate sadness. Fuck that song; LOTS of people are alone on Christmas. It’s how we handle it that matters.
I’m not sure I’m quite handling it yet, but acknowledging it already feels better. I don’t want to remain a Grinch. My heart isn’t too small at all, it’s just scared and sad. The abiding loneliness that I work to combat within myself doesn’t feel equipped to do battle with Christmas, and I’m not interested in being around others where there is no genuine connection just to say I wasn’t alone. And this is coming from an extremely social, full-blooded extrovert. But Christmas just feels so damned oppressive. I can usually find some degree of joy in shared company, with no deep bonds required. Just, not on Christmas.
The expectations feel too heavy, and even though the way things have been is absolutely not how they have to continue to be, as of this writing, Christmas 2015 is shaping up to be another dud; something to survive, not celebrate.
I want better for my life. I’ve said that I would make a Christmas for myself for the past 15-ish years, and I have yet to make it happen. I can say now, openly and with fresh perspective, that this year might suck but next year will be different.
And hey, maybe it won’t suck. It isn’t too late, and even typing those words feels like my own opening for a miracle.
Well, I tried so hard not to write this, and yet I have. I wrote it for anyone who has lied about having holiday plans because it was easier than dealing with people’s questions or pitying faces. I wrote it for anyone who has been dreading this week and is counting the minutes until it’s over. I wrote it for anyone who starts counting the holidays at Halloween and keeps their head down and just tries to make it to January, in whatever condition.
I wrote it for anyone who feels alone, because that feeling sucks and we deserve better. Which is true every day, but especially on Christmas. I am not physically with you right now, but you are not alone. We’re in this together. Let your heart be (at least a little) light(er).
Image credit: Flickr/CC